Sixteen:Nine
Ronnie Lee, Holocryptics

Ronnie Lee, Holocryptics

May 29, 2019

When DSE was on a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, I wandered down to the other end of the convention center to get a glimpse of the legendarily crazy Nightclub and Bar Show - where endless booths pour free drink samples.

I wanted to see how nuts it really was, but I was also on a mission to see the set-up of a Vegas start-up called Holocryptics, which is building a service around hologram-like virtual DJs that any nightclub or bar can rent by the hour.

Holocryptics provides to operators a packaged kit that includes a built-in media server, projector and mesh direct-projection surface. The DJs are custom videotaped in a studio, and high-end audio recorded, to produce files that look, on a transparent screen, like the bobbing and juking knob-twirlers are really there.

It could cost $1,000s to get a seasoned DJ to do a set at a club. With this set-up, there's a pretty reasonable one-time CAPEX hit, and then a DJ set costs less than $30. And it can get launched and controlled off a smartphone app.

I spoke with founder Ronnie Lee about the roots of his company, how things work, why holograms and how this could - in theory - be applied to all kinds of things, like political whistle-stops and distance learning.

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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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Bjorn Pieper, NDS

Bjorn Pieper, NDS

March 13, 2019

The Dutch software company NDS has been offering a digital signage software solution for 25 years now, and like the handful of other companies that have been around this business that long, they've survived and grown based on the ability to do certain things very well.

In the case of NDS, the company's roots and core business are at airports. That started with getting arrivals and departures data up on passenger terminal screens, and over the years, grown more sophisticated.

Airports are cities, in many respects, and they are the precursors for the smart cities digital signage networks that are starting to bubble up globally. You tie into a lot of systems, and what's visualized on the screens reflects what is going on, more broadly, in the facility or area.

I spoke with Bjorn Pieper, the Chief Commercial Officer for NDS, about how his company works not only with airports, but a lot of big corporations, to make digital signage networks that are truly smart.

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ISE Chats: SodaClick content  and Inotouch transparent LED film

ISE Chats: SodaClick content and Inotouch transparent LED film

March 6, 2019

ISE already seems like a long time ago, and I had to go into my digital recorder's SD card to look over what interviews I had not yet dug out and made ready for podcasts.

This episode features a couple of shorter interviews with companies that I bumped into, in and around ISE's largely dedicated digital signage hall.

The first is with a start-up based in London - called SodaClick - that Jason Cremins of Signagelive encouraged me to go see. These guys do creative templates for digital signage, and the interesting things for me were first, that the output files are HTML5, and second, that the guys behind it are graphic designers first. That second point matters because I have seen affordable digital signage content creation platforms in the past that worked well enough, but offered template designs that totally looked like they were designed by software developers with few or no design chops.

I spoke with SodaClick founder Ibrahim Jan.

The second interview is with a company from South Korea called Inotouch. One of the things I was looking for at ISE was transparent LED on clear film - not the semi-transparent stuff that's part of mesh curtains. Most of what I saw didn't look so hot, the exception being what LG was showing at its mega-booth, and these guys.

Their film was genuinely transparent and they had a tighter pixel pitch than what LG has on offer. It's the sort of thing that would go on windows in retail and on big glass curtain walls - assuming things like heat load are sorted out.

I spoke with Eugene Bae of Inotouch.

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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Lauren Millar & Mark Stasiuk, Fusion CI Studios

Lauren Millar & Mark Stasiuk, Fusion CI Studios

February 6, 2019

If you've been to the Salesforce headquarters in San Francisco, or certain resort casinos, you will have seen and been blown away by giant virtual waterfalls that appear on LED walls and wash down, over and around things like entryways.

It's kind of amazing, and way beyond much of what you see on big digital canvases - like big 4K stock videos or graphics.

This stuff is part creative - part science, and the company that does this kind of work better than anyone is a little studio that works half and half out of LA and Vancouver. Fusion CI Studios got its start doing special effects for things like disaster movies and action flicks. They virtually part Red Seas, burst dams and blow things up.

One of Fusion's co-founders, Mark Stasiuk, took the weird career path of being a volcanologist with a PhD in geophysical fluid mechanics, who taught himself visual effects so he could more effectively explain the science. He got good enough at it that Hollywood special effects people started calling.

That science background is the big differentiator between what Fusion can do, versus creative shops that are all about the design.

I grabbed Stasiuk and co-founder Lauren Millar for a call, and we walked through how this all started, their process, and why this level of visuals is so impactful.

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David Bailey, Aitrak

David Bailey, Aitrak

January 30, 2019

It doesn't matter how slick your software is, or how beautiful and robust a display may be, if the content on a digital sign doesn't attract attention and hold it, at least for a bit.

So tools that help track and analyze how people view advertising, packaging and other marketing messages can be incredibly valuable. But they can also be clunky, expensive and slow.

A startup called Aitrak is trying to change that - using artificial intelligence and computer vision to do predictive modeling on how people will consume specific pieces of campaign creative - where they'll look, what they'll notice first, and how long they'll look.

Eye-track = Aitrak, by the way.

Creatives and media planners can use Aitrak's tools, or send the material to Aitrak to develop the model and insights.

Right now, the first iteration is built around static out of home street furniture posters and other non-motion creative. But Aitrak is working on the same sort of tool for motion digital assets and creative. That would allow media network owners, agencies and brands to pre-select the best combinations of creative for a location in a matter of minutes, and cut their costs dramatic ally.

I spoke with UK-based CEO David Bailey about a cloud-based service he says gives creatives superpowers.

Leo Resig, Chive Media

Leo Resig, Chive Media

January 16, 2019

The big selling point for Chive TV is that the streaming channel's five-hour mix of curated social media content keeps butts in barstools.

The Austin, Texas-based company has some 4,000 bar and restaurant venues running content on one or many of their TVs, and about 500 more come on monthly - with a lot of that growth through word of mouth.

Now Chive has broadened its free streaming content offer beyond just bars - adding venues like gyms, medical clinics and workspace break rooms. There will soon be 10 different channels of content on what's now branded as Atmosphere TV.

Chive was founded about a decade ago by two brothers, and I spoke with one of them - Leo Resig - about how it all started, why they created a streaming TV channel, and how charitable work is a big part of what they do.

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Kim Sarubbi, Cannabis Medical Network

Kim Sarubbi, Cannabis Medical Network

December 19, 2018

Screens in medical waiting rooms is one of the most well established kinds of digital OOH media, and there's been no end of companies that developed networks built around advertising-supported content.

 That's now happening in the United States with medical cannabis clinics, through a pair of signage industry vets who have applied what they learned in mainstream medical centres to clinics focused on cannabis products - as alternatives to things like opioid medications.

Kim Sarubbi has been working with Phil Cohen on medical center content for a quarter century, and answered Cohen's call when he said he was getting back into waiting rooms aimed at the emerging cannabis market, via the Cannabis Medical Network.

They are already in roughly 1,000 clinics with a screen, media player and custom-created content that's designed to educate patients about the potential benefits of cannabis for battling things like PTSD or easing the pain or effects of cancer, epilepsy or other diseases.

I spoke with Sarubbi about the challenges of operating in a still emerging industry and market where the rules can vary, the product gets looked at with raised eyebrows, and the snake oil crowd can easily intermingle with the makers of much more proven and established products and treatments.

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Kaan Gunay, Firefly

Kaan Gunay, Firefly

December 12, 2018

There's nothing new about media on taxi tops, but a San Francisco start-up called Firefly is trying to go about it with a different approach.

Firefly describes itself as the first mobility-based SmartScreens platform - an advertising media firm that gets it footprint and scale from the rideshare industry.

Firefly is working primarily with the drivers for services like Uber and Lyft, offering a supplemental revenue stream in return for fixing a hyper-local, geo-fenced digital sign on the cartop. Firefly absorbs the capital cost, and spins off an average of $300 a month to the driver. That money isn't huge, but it can be enough to significantly offset leasing or insurance costs and make driving for a living worthwhile.

Co-founder Kaan Gunay is a mechanical engineer by training, but in recent years has found his way to Stanford, where he got his MBA and where the roots of Firefly first developed. He's also very active in community good works, and we spoke about how continuing that was, and is, fundamental to how Firefly does things.

At least 10 percent of all media on screens goes to to promote and advertise local not-for-profit organizations and provide public service announcements for non-commercial entities such as charities.

The car-toppers have sensors - for things like air quality - that generate data that's open for government planners, and others, to use.

I spoke with Gunay last week, just as his company was announcing a big $18.5 million seed funding raise.

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Kaijus Asteljoki, Valotalive

Kaijus Asteljoki, Valotalive

December 5, 2018

Workplace communications is one of the most active verticals in digital signage, and a big reason for that is the ability of screen technology to get important information to staff - without hoping they open and read mass emails or see posters on breakroom cork boards.

The Finnish startup Valota saw the rise in business-based digital signage coming, and has been developing a product totally focused on visual messaging in the workplace.

Based outside Helsinki, the company's Valotalive product is a messaging platform built around a growing set of content presentation apps that visualize data from widely used business systems like Salesforce and Microsoft's Power BI.

The platform enables set it and forget it content that's fed via these systems - so when the KPIs for a company change, they change automatically on screens located around facilities. It's a big step up from Happy Birthday wishes and notices about the parking lot being paved on the weekend.

I spoke with CEO Kaijus Asteljoki about the roots of Valotalive, and what he says are the key things end-users need to think about when putting together a digital screen network for their workplaces.

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Ryan Croft, TransitScreen

Ryan Croft, TransitScreen

November 28, 2018

This is inadvertently turning into transit digital signage month on this podcast, having spoken lately with CHK America about epaper transit signs and just last week with Roadify, which aggregates data from transit systems.

This week I'm talking to Ryan Croft, one of the co-founders of TransitScreen, which has made a mark in North America and globally with a subscription service that puts together and presents on screens all the mobility options for people at specific venues.

What that means in practical terms is people coming down in late afternoon to the lobby of their office block, and looking at a carefully-considered and laid-out screen that shows everything from the state of local buses and trains to the availability of Uber, Lyft and some of the other alternative transport options out there these days.

In our chat, we get into how TransitScreen got started, what they've learned along the way, why they've now added a mobile app, and how the sort of data insights all this mobility data is generating might have some interesting new uses.

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Scott Kolber, Roadify

Scott Kolber, Roadify

November 21, 2018

Mass transport data is some of the stickiest content out there for digital signage screens. It's information people tend to want and need, and they'll habitually look at screens to get it.

Tapping into the open data from one transport authority, to show it on screens, is relatively easy. It gets more complicated when you want to show data from multiple systems on a screen, and it gets quite complicated when the signage network wants to run data specific to different cities and different transit systems.

It would be a bear for a software or solutions company to take on, which is the attraction of a Brooklyn-based service called Roadify - which aggregates all that data from different systems and presents it all in one structured format, using its platform and running off a subscription model.

The service is similar to some of the news, weather and sports feed aggregators that have long operated in this sector, except the content is quite different. I spoke with founder and CEO Scott Kolber about the roots of Roadify, and how his company's services are being used.

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Beth Warren, Creative Realities

Beth Warren, Creative Realities

November 14, 2018

Beth Warren of Creative Realities - or CRI for short - came recommended as a speaker for the DSF's recent Coffee and Controversy event in New York.

We'd never met, and while in New York, I seized the opportunity to meet up with her after the event to talk a lot about digital signage in retail - from her longtime lens as the Senior VP of Experience Planning at CRI.

She comes out of the agency world, so she approaches signage in retail from a different perspective and set of learned experiences and observations. We go fairly deep in our chat into what experience actually means - and what genuinely works in retail, versus some of the trickery and gadgets that get touted as delivering "engagement."

We also get a little into what CRI does, and the many twists and turns of its recent history. The company has evolved, and now positions itself very much as a solutions provider that can take retailers from the need and idea through to lighting up the visuals and measuring the impact. 

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2018 DSF Coffee and Controversy, in NYC

2018 DSF Coffee and Controversy, in NYC

November 7, 2018

I was in New York last week for the Digital Signage Federation's annual Coffee and Controversy breakfast event - a panel discussion that each year brings together some of the most influential leaders in the digital signage industry.

I'm on the DSF board and my fellow board members drafted me to run the panel - with Chris Riegel of STRATACACHE, Jeff Hastings of Brightsign and Beth Warren of Creative Realities.

There's only so much controversy you can whip up around digital signage, but I tried ... and if anyone in this industry was going to stir up some shit, it was Chris. He didn't disappoint, nor did Jeff or Beth.

The women who ran the AV for the event very kindly generated an audio recording for me. This is about twice the length of a normal 16:9 podcast, but if you didn't have the chance, time or budget to get to New York last week, you can have a listen to what was said.

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Rick Wood, CHK America

Rick Wood, CHK America

October 24, 2018

Rick Wood's company was founded to bring some order and logic to how mass transport systems present information - like routes and schedules - to passengers.

It was a tall order for CHK America - because many or most transport authorities had their own way of doing things, and not that many were particularly good at making it easy and familiar for people to find their way around.

But the company has seen a lot of success, and its best practises have been widely adopted. When people take unfamiliar buses and subways in cities they visit, there's a reasonable chance the information on the signs they see now look familiar and can be readily understood. Ideally, CHK says people should be able to find out what they need in eight seconds.

It's a mindset smart digital signage people have come to understand ... in essence, you have a matter of a few seconds to inform people before they look somewhere else.

All the understanding of how people seek and consume information is now being applied by CHK, through a spinout called ConnectPoint, to digital displays. The company started with big interactive screens, but now the really interesting work is with dynamically-updated, solar-powered e-paper signs at bus stops.

In this week's podcast, I spend a lot of time talking to Wood about how mass transit users find and use information, and how all this translates from static to digital displays.

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Matt Downey, Freshwater Digital

Matt Downey, Freshwater Digital

October 17, 2018

Matt Downey's time in digital signage traces way, way back to the days when Premier Retail Networks was, by far, the big dog in putting screen networks in retail environments.

His time with PRN - working with clients like Walmart - eventually led him into working directly for one of his big grocer clients. Not long after that, he took a leap and started his own company. I'd say it was a big leap, but he started out with a whale client - his current employer.

Many years later, Freshwater Digital is a well established digital signage solutions provider, with double-digit growth every year and a client list that's rich in big companies that's not only local to Grand Rapids, Michigan, but also includes organizations that are much further afield.

Matt and I get into the roots of Freshwater, and lessons learned. We also go pretty deep into a new area he's going after in a big way - e-paper tags and shelf labels.

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Mark Bennett, MicroGigantic

Mark Bennett, MicroGigantic

September 26, 2018

In an industry that has, for years, had people endlessly blabbering away about how Content Is King - my God that's clever! - it's amazing to me how I can count the number of pure-play digital signage creative shops on one hand.

MicroGigantic is one of those rare shops - a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based boutique agency that does visual storytelling for brands - whether that's retail or corporate.

The company's roots are with one of the biggest brands in the Twin Cities - the mass merchandising retailer Target. Mark Bennett managed the Media Production group at Target - and a big part of that was feeding the many screens sprinkled around the huge stores.

It was a great gig, Bennett says, but he got the seven-year itch to go out on his own, and started MicroGigantic knowing there wasn't a lot of competition for what he wanted to do.

His team does retail, but the real growth these days is for work in areas like corporate - with companies looking to make visual statements about what they do, and what they're about.

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Hongwei Liu, Mappedin

Hongwei Liu, Mappedin

September 18, 2018

Wayfinding is one of those core technologies that make consumer lives better and easier - helping people locate where they want and need to go in places like shopping malls, airports, health care facilities and higher ed campuses.

There are numerous software companies that include wayfinding capabilities in their platforms, but only a handful that have been laser-focused just on delivering that solution. One of the most successful ones is Mappedin.

The company started as a sideline for some students at the University of Waterloo, which most observers would call the top computing school in Canada. Hongwei Liu and his buddies thought they could solve a problem for students finding their way around the sprawling Waterloo campus, and then at a local mall and a casino a couple of hours up the highway.

There was enough there for Liu to quit school in his second year. Just a few years later, he's running a company with 60 employees, some big outside investors, and clients across North America and globally.

I spoke with Liu about Mappedin's roots, what works and doesn't, and how the big moment came when serious research showed good wayfinding can mean millions of dollars in incremental sales for shopping malls and their tenants.

 

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