Sixteen:Nine - All Digital Signage, Some Snark
Stephen Gottlich, Gable

Stephen Gottlich, Gable

November 20, 2019

I have heard some people in this industry starting to describe what they do as visual solutions, as opposed to digital signage. I'm not sure that really fits in all cases, but it certainly does for Gable, a Baltimore-area company that's been doing analog signs of all kinds for four decades. About 10 years ago, Gable added digital display solutions.

They work with all kinds of end-users - heavily with retail, but also in other verticals - on visual solutions that cover the full spectrum of options. That might mean a contract that involves a big direct view LED display for a venue, but also the meat and potatoes printed and crafted material that just helps visitors find their way around a venue.

I spoke with Stephen Gottlich, Gable's Senior Vice President of Innovation and Strategy, about what the company is up to, and what the marketplace is looking for and doing.

We also get into what he sees happening more broadly in the marketplace, and what he's seen in numerous technology trips to China.

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IV Dickson, SageNet

IV Dickson, SageNet

October 16, 2019

It's now really common that businesses of all sizes and types who decide to deploy some sort of digital signage network look to a solutions provider who will not only help put it in, but help the client go from the idea stage all the way through to ongoing operations.

Effectively, they're outsourcing the whole shooting match to people who know what they're doing. That helps companies stay focused on what they're good at.

Tulsa-based SageNet has been doing outsourced IT work for 20 years, and about two years ago saw enough shaking among its core customers - and had enough requests for help - to branch into digital signage and make it part of a very rich suite of services.

The company brought on IV Dickson, who has been around the signage business forever, to help build out the signage business and function as a subject matter expert in a company that was more conditioned to selling IT network services.

It's worked out, and the company is now mining a lot of new opportunities in verticals like c-stores and QSR.

I had a great chat with IV about SageNet and SageView, what is described as a one-stop shop for everything signage.

We also talk opera. Yeah, opera.

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Dan Baker, AVI Systems

Dan Baker, AVI Systems

August 28, 2019

 If you are on the solutions side of the digital signage business, you have likely, at some point, had to open up and look over an RFP document from an end-user, quietly praying it won't be too onerous and/or stupid.

A lot of digital signage RFPs still - in 2019 - lead with technology, going on and on and on about specs and requirements, and only making a passing reference to content. Which is nutty, because the screens have only nominal value and impact if the content on them isn't timely, relevant and at least kinda sorta visually interesting.

Dan Baker handles the sales engineering for digital signage at AVI Systems, a big Minneapolis-area integrator. He's seen those kinds of RFPs, and knows through experience there's a better way.

He contacted me, offering to talk about his take, and his company's take, on a methodical process that, at minimum, gets end-users thinking about objectives and the content needed to meet them. Some companies are mandated to do RFPs - it's just how their procurement department rolls - but in a perfect world, end-users are usually better skipping RFPs and working with people who know digital signage.

The right advisors can help them get to the content and technology model that will actually deliver on objectives, and keep them from spending big on tech they need, while largely forgetting what will go on the screens.

 

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Jay Leedy, Diversified

Jay Leedy, Diversified

August 21, 2019

There are a handful of big AV systems integrators in North America genuinely active in digital signage, but I'm feeling pretty comfy saying New Jersey-based Diversified is the most active, experienced and directly knowledgeable about this industry.

The company has built and then managed many of the larger networks out there, including most of the big US banks that the average person could name. While some of the other big AV/IT guys have some dedicated resources, Diversified has a whole and big group pretty much doing nothing but digital signage and digital out of home work. The company also put the time and money into hiring a series of subject matter experts on digital signage - one of them being Jay Leedy, who is now Director of Business Development for what many people in the industry know as Diversified's Digital Media Group, or DMG.

Jay's based down in Atlanta but works with people and companies across the country. In this talk, we get into what DMG is all about, how they plug into this sector, and how they tend to work with clients and partners.

We also talk Adobe - a company more active in signage than many of us probably think - and Google, and the adoption rates out there for smart signage.

 

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Fab Stanghieri, Cineplex Digital Media

Fab Stanghieri, Cineplex Digital Media

May 22, 2019

Canadians all know Cineplex as the dominant movie theater chain in that country, and the Toronto-based company has also been expanding its reach, in recent years, into other related lines of business.

Cineplex now has entertainment-centric restaurant-bars, is bringing Top Golf into Canada, sells out of home media and runs a thriving digital media group that's doing most aspects of digital signage for major enterprise customers in Canada and beyond those borders.

Fab Stanghieri was a senior real estate guy with Cineplex, charged with building and managing the company's movie house portfolio. He had digital media added to his responsibilities a few years ago, and while it was unfamiliar territory at first, he's embraced digital to a degree that it is now his primary focus in the company.

I was passing through Toronto a couple of weeks ago, and Fab kindly took some time to show me around new office space, which is set up to help ideate, deliver and manage digital signage solutions for Cineplex clients.

 

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Dan Hagen, 10net

Dan Hagen, 10net

May 15, 2019

Dan Hagen is a relatively young guy, and a bit of an Energizer Bunny. I know of him as the 10net guy from Vancouver, but I was surprised to learn in a conversation that he has been involved in digital signage since before it was called digital signage.

He was a funding founder of Mercury Online Solutions, which in the late 90s and early 2000s was a big player in this business. That company sold to 3M, and as way too often happens, things went south quickly when a plucky little company gets absorbed into a monster of a company.

Hagen did a few things but eventually found his way to 10net, which is a solutions provider that does most of its work in Vancouver, BC, but is now trying to establish itself south of the border in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

In our chat, we get into how 10net does things, the kinds of projects it works on, and our shared point off view that sum of the most effective digital signage jobs out there are, at first glance, kinda boring looking.

There's not a lot of sizzle in things like backroom screens for safety messaging on ferries, but they make a real difference.

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Jeremiah Archambault, ENS

Jeremiah Archambault, ENS

April 3, 2019

Every year or so, Jeremiah Archambault rings me up, usually out of the blue, from his office in Victoria, BC, on the very west coast of Canada.

He runs a decade-old company called ENS that has, for that time, been steadily developing a digital signage CMS software and management platform, that's now called SAM. With each call, he's given me an update on what's new with the platform and his seemingly endless testing and refinement. I've always finished off the conversation intrigued by what he was putting together.

A decade on, his company has built up a decent footprint of everything from small to enterprise clients, and he's now at a point where things are getting serious. I spoke with him, this time, from the outbound marketing and inbound support call center he's set up and has running in the Philippines. He's aggressively signing up and on-boarding new business partners, with a particular focus on print and sign shops that now know they need to add digital capability, but want it white-labeled and managed by someone else.

In this podcast, we chat about the roots of the company, and a lot of lessons learned about deployment, hardware and dealing with pesky humans. We also get into how he's about to finally get noisy about his solution, with a freeware model that uses a PC stick he's dead-certain is reliable and ideally suited to digital signage.

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Eric Virey, Yole Developpement

Eric Virey, Yole Developpement

February 27, 2019

I have always felt sorry for any poor soul who gets the arm put on them to go to a trade show and get schooled up on digital signage - because there are so many hardware and software companies selling variations on what is essentially the same stuff.

I would really feel sorry for someone walking into a big display show, charged with finding the most suitable LED display technology for a project. There are 100s and 100s of options out there, and lots of terms being thrown around that seem to have different meanings.

There's chip on board. SMD. Mini-LED. Micro-LED. Glue on Board. 4 in 1 LED. On and on it goes. It's "My head's going to explode!" territory.

The LED video wall business is the sort of thing that begs independent, educated analysis, and happily, there are a few people out there doing that work. Like Eric Virey, a Frenchman who lives in Portland, Oregon, and spends his working life looking at and decoding the LED display business.

Virey, a Senior Technology & Market Analyst for the French market research company Yole Developpement, kindly gave me some of his time recently to help clear some of the fog. There was something up with his mike, so the sound quality is not as good as I'd like. 

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Alberto Cáceres, Trison

Alberto Cáceres, Trison

February 20, 2019

Being in Amsterdam for ISE recently offered a chance to meet up and talk to some people who are squarely focused on business on the other side of the Atlantic.

I knew Trison was a major player in digital signage solutions in its home country of Spain, but I didn't realize the company had a far greater reach than that. In 2018, Trison was in the middle of 2,500 digital signage and related jobs, in 76 countries.

The company started 20 years ago doing audio solutions, in northwest Spain, and has grown into the major solutions provider for retail digital signage in Europe and beyond. A Coruna is home base, but Trison has offices in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Shanghai, Mexico City and elsewhere.

I spoke with CEO Alberto Cáceres outside the ISE press room.

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Jeffrey Martin, Right Media Solutions

Jeffrey Martin, Right Media Solutions

October 10, 2018

Jeff Martin has been around the digital signage industry for pretty much as long as the industry has existed - running the ops side of some very large retail networks.

He was one of the co-founders of SignStorey, which at its peak ran screen networks in a wide range of groceries across the United States in the early to mid-2000s. That company was acquired in 2007 by CBS, which turned into Outfront. It was a BIG deal at the time, with CBS paying more than $71 million for a digital signage company ... 11 years ago.

In 2011, Martin went out on his own and got ahead of a trend towards managed services and solutions, founding what is marketed as Right Media Solutions. Based in New England, the company runs the digital signage networks for multiple clients, across all 50 states.

I had a great chat about the old days of digital signage, particularly in grocery stores. We talk about what worked then and what works now.

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From The Archive: Michael Schneider On Experiential Digital Design

From The Archive: Michael Schneider On Experiential Digital Design

September 12, 2018

No new podcast this week ... sorry.

I had two postponed interviews last week, combined with a short work week and then me spending two of those four days in a succession of airplanes getting to and from a client. I'm kinda remote now, and so are they.

I have two chats scheduled for Thursday, and more in the hopper. I'm also happy to get suggestions on people/companies I should be making subjects of an episode, so send your suggestions along.

That stated, it's an archive week. Enjoy this podcast chat from late 2016 with Michael Schneider, who was with the experiential design firm ESI Design at the time, but sent me a note last week to say he's joined the NYC office of the big, global architecture and design firm Gensler, as Creative Technology Director – Hardware.

He's left a great firm, but gone to another great one. Smart, soft-spoken guy, involved with some phenomenal projects.

Mitch Goss, Zero-In

Mitch Goss, Zero-In

May 30, 2018

There are lots of companies out there that call themselves turnkey digital signage solutions providers, but far fewer who can do so with straight faces.

A company called Zero-In has been doing just that for the last decade, and has developed a nice book of business doing the whole nine yards of signage work - from creative to deployment and ongoing operational management.

The New York company's customers include everyone from big banks and retailers to Shake Shack - the burger and shakes chain started just steps away from where Zero-In now has its main office in the Flatiron district.

I spoke with company founder Mitch Goss about the challenges and opportunities of building and running networks for clients.

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Alan Brawn, Brawn Consulting

Alan Brawn, Brawn Consulting

May 9, 2018

One hell of a lot of the people involved in some way with the digital signage business - as a vendor or end-user - have spent a day or more learning the fundamentals from Alan Brawn.

With his son Jonathan, Alan runs a small San Diego-based consulting firm that has been heavily focused for the last many years on education. By his count, some 40,000 people have attended sessions that help people understand what and what not to do, and what Alan calls the seven key elements of digital signage.

Alan could be retired, and he lives in a part of the U.S. where people dream of retiring, but he loves what he does.

This is a chat I've been meaning to do since I started the podcast, and I was very happy I finally got my act together and made it happen.

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Paul Weatherhead, AV Junction

Paul Weatherhead, AV Junction

March 7, 2018

Paul Weatherhead was working for a systems integrator in Toronto, spending a lot of time trying to find and hire freelance pro AV contractors to do work for him on remote jobs.

Like a lot of people in his position, he started thinking there had to be a better way. The difference is that he did something about it - starting a new multi-national marketplace that connects integrators and solutions providers with freelance AV people who work gig to gig.

The set-up bears similarities to ride share services like Uber, and lodging ones like AirBnB. AV Junction sits in the middle - helping connect parties and facilitating things like payments.

The company is still early stage, but already has hundreds of contracting companies and freelancers in the system, covering some 25 countries.

I spoke with Weatherhead about how all this works, and how he gets past the challenges of vetting service providers and ensuring he's not setting up integrators with a bunch of knuckleheads.

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Bryan Crotaz, Silver Curve

Bryan Crotaz, Silver Curve

February 28, 2018

The top prize at the Digital Signage Awards that were announced and handed out recently in Amsterdam was a project to modernize the display system at the cradle of cricket - Lord's Cricket Ground in London.

The project was pulled together by a small London consultancy called Silver Curve, which is run by one of the brightest minds in digital signage, Bryan Crotaz.

Bryan had been telling me about the project for more than a year, but he was only recently in a position to make some noise about it.

In our conversation, we talk about the effort to modernize and greatly simplify the display control system on the ancient grounds, and how he used very technologies like HTML5 and Raspberry Pi to make it all happen.

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Rob Gorrie, Bricks + Matter

Rob Gorrie, Bricks + Matter

December 20, 2017

Rob Gorrie is among the most digitally-savvy and sharp people I know - some of that based on the DNA of a family that's been doing marketing for more than a century. But it's also based on a pile of real world experience starting and running digital companies.

The one Gorrie's been focused on for the last few years is Bricks + Matter - a Toronto-based strategy consultancy that works with retail brands and shopping centers to figure out all this emerging digital stuff - how it works, what it means and what to do with it.

Digital signage is just part of the technology stack, so to speak, and in this chat we get into what retailers are doing and worrying about, as well as what works and what doesn't. Rob's a blunt realist and he's not afraid to say how a lot of what's been tried in retail - like sticking screens all over the place - simply has not worked.

We also spend some time talking about Adcentricity, which about 10 years ago was trying to somehow organize and represent the advertising avails of the many, many digital out of home ad networks that were out there back then. It didn't quite happen, and we get into why, as well as how that's in many ways still the story.

It's a great chat with a guy who has a lot to say. Enjoy.

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Manolo Almagro, Q Division

Manolo Almagro, Q Division

December 13, 2017

Just last week Manolo Almagro pulled the curtains back on a new company he's started, under the umbrella of Chris Riegel's ever-growing STRATACACHE empire.

It's called Q Division, a retail tech consultancy that in many respects is the sum total reflection of 20-plus years that Manny has been around tech, in a crazy variety of ways.

His roots go back to desktop publishing for print, but somehow or other he ended up working with an agency that had McDonald's as a client - and he was behind putting digital menu boards into the QSR chain back in the 90s, before flat panels were even around. They used Macs and big-ass rear-projection cubes to pull it off.

He's since been an early adopter and, in many respects, an evangelist and guru for a lot of emerging technologies for online, mobile and in retail.

I caught up with him late last week, and we had a great conversation that got a little out of control here and there.

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Mark Boidman, Peter J. Solomon Company

Mark Boidman, Peter J. Solomon Company

October 11, 2017

If you want to get a sense of what’s really going on with the digital out of home media business and the technology ecosystem that feeds into it, you need to pay attention to Mark Boidman.

That’s his gig - looking at the opportunities and risks of the business, as a partner running the marketing services wing of New York investment banking house Peter J. Solomon Company.

That company has been deeply involved in the sector for the last five years, putting Boidman right in the middle of the business as an advisor and the lead on some big mergers and acquisitions.

With me in my home office and him talking at his iPad at the company’s midtown Manhattan offices, we had a great chat about the state of digital OOH and what’s going to happen. We also revisit his lost career as a cruise ship host. No, really.

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Laura Davis-Taylor, High Street

Laura Davis-Taylor, High Street

September 27, 2017

Laura Davis-Taylor is a really well-known and much-loved expert when it comes to how digital fits in retail.

She was a consultant for many years, but more recently has worked for some very large agencies - dealing with equally large retail and brand accounts.

Now she’s back doing the consulting thing, by her choice. She’s started High Street, a retail experience collective, with a couple of old friends and now business partners. Though just up this summer, the boutique consultancy has already bagged some major accounts.

In this episode, Laura talks about the challenge in retail in the age of Amazon, and how getting people in stores and prompting them to buy stuff is not solved alone by sticking in screens or other kinds of tech.

If you sell to or work in retail, you’ll want to have a listen …

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Kristin Russell, Arrow Intelligent Systems

Kristin Russell, Arrow Intelligent Systems

August 8, 2017

Kristin Russell jokes about Arrow being a massive company few people even know about - with $24 billion in annual sales and some 18,000 people walking around with Arrow on their business cards, in 90 countries.

She runs Arrow Intelligent Systems, which does everything from design engineering and integration services to global logistics. One of the key areas for the business unit is digital signage, and while Arrow has been on the edges of the industry for years, it got a lot more involved when it acquired Seneca Data a couple of years ago. The company picked up a tech firm highly respected in the industry for its media players and video wall servers.

We met recently at Seneca’s offices in Syracuse, NY, and got into a lot of things in our chat.

Russell talks about how Arrow is very different from traditional distribution companies, and how the company mantra is to be thinking and working on ideas that are five years out and real.

We get into her background as CIO for the state of Colorado. Among her accomplishments in that gig was attracting Arrow to Denver, with no sense she’d end up there, running a large division with its own P&L.

We also talk about her being a Global President of a fast-growing company, in an industry that is still overwhelmingly male.

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