Sixteen:Nine - All Digital Signage, Some Snark
Mark McDermott, ScreenCloud

Mark McDermott, ScreenCloud

March 25, 2020

ScreenCloud has been around for five years now - a pure software startup that aimed to bring web technology fully into digital signage.

Now the London-based company has roughly 100 staffers in the UK, US and Thailand, and is evolving from having an SMB focus into servicing enterprise business.

I've spoken to co-founder Mark McDermott in the past for this podcast, but I wanted to catch up for a couple of reasons.

First, I wanted to know why such a relatively young platform was completely re-architected recently.

But I also wanted to dig into some thoughts from Mark I saw online about workplace communications and digital signage more generally, in a time when a pandemic has left on-premises screens unseen, and many to most workers doing their jobs at home.

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Tina Williams, Greater Toronto Airports Authority

Tina Williams, Greater Toronto Airports Authority

March 11, 2020

Airports are very different places from when I started my working life, and technology has done a lot to not only change travel experiences, but also help monetize what are, often, very busy public places.

The Greater Toronto Airports Authority runs that city's Pearson Airport. It is the busiest airport in Canada, with some 50 million passengers going through the two terminals each year.

Tina Williams runs the media and partnerships programs at Pearson, which is increasingly using technology for everything from fixed, standardized ad positions to very customized, elaborate brand activations that mix mediums. In one case, an automaker's brand messaging starts with projection mapping and video walls in the parking garage and extends all the way to a micro showroom across from the airport's busiest gate.

I've known Tina for a bunch of years, extending back to when she did similar work at Canada's busiest shopping mall. We spoke last week at an airport that, at times, has felt like a second home for me.

We grabbed a room at an Air Canada lounge, which is why it's got a bit of an echo.

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George Clopp, RMG Networks

George Clopp, RMG Networks

February 19, 2020

RMG Networks has been doing workplace communications and employee engagement since the days the Dallas company was known as Symon Communications.

There have been some interesting twists and turns in the story of RMG - like a curious spell as a digital out of home media company that ALSO did the legacy Symon stuff. But the management team is now squarely focused on the high opportunity workplace vertical.

I had a great chat with George Clopp, the Chief Technology Officer for RMG, about where the company is at, the evolution of its Korbyt CMS, and how what it does differs in the marketplace.

Among the particularly interesting things - content decisions that are determined and automated, using machine learning, or AI. Have a listen.

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David Nussbaum, PORTL

David Nussbaum, PORTL

January 29, 2020

David Nussbaum has years invested in the whole idea of creating what are called holograms - but aren't - for high profile concerts and other events.

If you remember seeing video of the Coachella festival a few years ago, and rapper Tupac “coming back to life” to perform, that was done, and many similar events that followed, using a very old visual trick called Pepper’s Ghost.

Nussbaum was part of the company that bought the patents right after the Tupac event, and he had a hand in nearly all the holograms that came after it for the next few years. Nussbaum then went on his own, creating a company that does that same sort of thing, but in a very different way, and a very different business model and proposition.

He took transparent LCD display technology most commonly used for grocery fridge marketing, and tweaked the hell out of it to create more, better light and visuals.

The result is a company called PORTL and product he calls Holoportl, which does what he calls single passenger holoportation.

That sounds way too Star Trek-y for me, but in simple terms, his company has developed a process to capture people on camera and show them in lifelike size on one of his closet-like display display units.

The idea is that someone - let's say a politician - could make a personal appearance, talk and field questions, without going there.

There are a bunch of potential applications for this sort of thing, and while this is not pure digital signage, one of these units could absolutely find a home in a flagship store.

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Vernon Freedlander, Bannister Lake

Vernon Freedlander, Bannister Lake

January 22, 2020

Dynamic data has grown into a buzz phrase in the digital signage industry, with lots of talk about how the ability to automate and visualize data results in relevant, always updated and fresh content on screens.

It's relatively new to many companies in this industry, but for a few, it's old hat.

A little company in the Canadian tech hotbed of Kitchener-Waterloo has been doing dynamic data for a quarter-century. Bannister Lake's roots are in dynamic graphics for broadcasters, and that's still a big business. But the company also does dynamic data for digital signage, and is growing that side of the business.

If you watched any of the big matches at the US Open tennis tournament last fall in New York, you saw an amazing set of LED displays at the venue showing graphics and stats. That was Bannister Lake under the content hood.

I spoke with industry veteran Vern Freedlander, who's now a part of the Bannister Lake team.

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Jim Stoklosa, Adobe

Jim Stoklosa, Adobe

January 15, 2020

Some very big technology companies have come into the digital signage business through the years, and with the exception of the display guys, most have either exited or their efforts kinda petered out.

Every so often I stumble across something that suggests Cisco is still in signage, but I don't see it.

It would be reasonable to have read news that Adobe had debuted a digital signage CMS, and thought, "Well, I've seen this movie already …" But it hasn't played out that way, and Adobe has for the last 4-5 years been steadily building out Screens - a content management system that grows out of its mature, widely used Adobe Experience Manager platform.

The initial target has been creatives and content managers at companies and agencies that already widely use Adobe products. If they were already developing and pushing content to web and mobile screens, why not also enable in-venue screens?

Now Adobe is kinda sorta coming out of stealth mode and thinking about a broader opportunity, providing an omni-channel CMS for mid-sized to large companies, and their creatives.

I spoke with digital signage industry veteran Jim Stoklosa, who is in charge of AEM Screens.

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David Title, Bravo Media

David Title, Bravo Media

December 18, 2019

Experiential is a huge buzzword these days in the digital signage world, and it tends to get pretty loosely applied to all kinds of things.

I've seen projects and read PR pieces describing the work as being experiential, and thought, "Ok, in what way?"

A creative company down in the Chelsea district has been doing experiential media for years, and from the moment the elevator opens up into the offices of Bravo Media, you're into experience. There are projections all over the walls and off-the-wall gadgets like vintage slot machines retrofitted to shoot selfies.

I was in New York last week and had a great chat with David Title, the Chief Engagement Officer at Bravo, about what the company does, and how he defines engagement and experience.

This is the last podcast until the new year, as people should have better things to do around the holidays. There are some 180 back episodes to listen to, if you did need something to pass time or fall asleep. 

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Lee Horgan, Uniguest

Lee Horgan, Uniguest

December 11, 2019

More and more companies involved on the sell and service side of digital signage seem to be picking out business verticals and getting very focused on them.

It's a tactic that can work very well if that company already has a big history and footprint in a vertical, and that's certainly the case with Uniguest.

The company built up its business by putting in and managing business centers in hotels - those dedicated rooms or stations where guests can do things like print off a boarding pass or presentation deck. The technology company started getting asked by major clients about whether it also offered digital signage solutions, and like any cagey tech vendor, it said "Of Course!"

But the software Uniguest initially developed in-house wasn't all that good, and the management team decided the smarter and easier path was to acquire a company that already had a solid platform, long history and great people.

Uniguest bought the UK company Onelan, and then followed it up by acquiring a second UK software company Tripleplay. I didn't even know, until I had a tour last week of Uniguest's Center of Excellence in Nashville, that they'd also acquired a Pittsburgh company, TouchTown.

I had a great chat with Lee Horgan, the Chief Revenue Officer, about how Uniguest is building up a vertical solution that starts in hotel lobbies and extends all the way into guest rooms.

We also get into how Uniguest sees a big future providing very similar solutions in the senior living industry, where higher-end residences are looking and feeling more and more like very nice extended-stay hotels. 

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Hadrien Laporte, Smartpixel

Hadrien Laporte, Smartpixel

December 4, 2019

If you have ever gone through the process of looking for a condo or house in a development that's still just a hole in the ground or an empty field, you've probably spent time in a presentation center looking over drawings, plans and maybe even miniature models of the development.

Those places start to tell the story, but it requires a serious leap of faith to buy a property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars based on some nice drawings, maps and pamphlets.

There are touchscreen displays that digitize that material, and arguably make it better. But if you really want to sell and close, making people feel like they're virtually immersed in the specific property they're looking at is several leaps forward.

I spoke with Hadrien Laporte, a graphic designer who a decade ago started Smartpixel in Montreal, offering software tools and creative services to help truly visualize things like commercial, industrial and residential real estate.

The company does virtual reality, without the embarrassing, isolating goggles, and does it very well. Smartpixel is thriving, has 60 people and 15 more planned for 2020, and is also planning to expand its product. It also does basic digital signage, when asked, but when you can do 3D visualizations of entire real estate developments, putting videos on screens is a bit of a shrug.

I had a great chat with Laporte about the company's roots, how it does things, and where Smartpixel is going.

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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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Daniel Black, Glass-Media

Daniel Black, Glass-Media

November 13, 2019

Projection on window film is one of those things that I thought had come and gone from digital signage, with too many technical challenges to make the idea really workable.

But projection is having a comeback, and arguably the company doing the most with it for retail and campaign-based marketing is a scrappy little startup in Dallas, called Glass-Media.

I chatted with Daniel Black, who co-founded the company roughly five years ago and is its CEO. The big differences between the first wave of projection in signage, and now, are better technology and smarter vendors.

The film is better. The projectors are brighter. Specialty lenses mean the set-up takes less space. And the big one - laser projectors are supplanting older-style projectors that steadily needed expensive bulbs replaced, and weren't engineered for commercial applications.

The other factor is guys like Black selling this as a solution, with measurables for retailers and brands, as opposed to a technical thing with short term Wow Factor.

If you've been curious about the state of projection in signage, this is a worthwhile listen.

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Trey Courtney, Mood Media

Trey Courtney, Mood Media

November 6, 2019

There's a decent chance that when you walk into a retailer in a developed country, and you hear music or some sort of in-store audio playing, that's Mood Media.

The company is in more than half a million subscriber locations in a 100-plus countries delivering in-store media solutions. While that started with music, it was natural as digital signage technology matured to add on visual messaging.

Now the company has launched something called Mood Harmony, a new platform that grew out of a signage CMS and offers a single user experience to do sound, visuals, social media and even scent marketing off of one platform.

I had a great chat with Trey Courtney, the Global Chief Product Officer for Mood Media, to get the back-story on the company, why it developed Harmony, and how retailers are defining and using technology designed to deliver on customer experience. 

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Maris Ensing, Mad Systems

Maris Ensing, Mad Systems

October 23, 2019

I wouldn't want the job of trying to boil down what Mad Systems does to an elevator pitch, unless it was a very tall building with a very slow elevator.

Based in Orange County, California, Mad Systems is technically an AV system designer and integrator, but these are not the guys you'd hire to put in some video-conferencing gear and some screens in the lobby.

It's not unfair to suggest the Mad in Mad Systems has to do with Maris Ensing and his engineers being a bunch of mad scientists. Go through the company's project portfolio and you find out they've put together a steam-driven aircraft and a 20-foot high tornado.

The company also did a big part of one of my favorite projects - the alumni center at the University of Oregon, which has a set of very tall, but moveable stacked LCD displays.

Ensing and his team have got involved in all kinds of things over 20 years, but in our chat, he talks a lot about a new AV management system the company has built from nothing - called Quicksilver. Among many things, Mad has patent applications underway for a new kind of facial color and pattern recognition system designed to instantly personalize visits to places like museums.

I'll let Ensing explain that and other things. This was one of my easier podcasts. He had a lot to say and there was little room for questions. Enjoy. 

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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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Matt Schmitt, Reflect

Matt Schmitt, Reflect

October 9, 2019

Reflect is one of the longest running companies in the digital signage sector - operating out of Dallas since 2001. The company built up its CMS software business largely in retail, but in early 2017 did something of a pivot into ad scheduling and targeting.

I wondered, when I first got walked through what's called Ad Logic, why Reflect was going in that direction, given the addressable market seemed a little limited and companies like Broadsign had a serious head-start on competitors.

Turns out that Reflect was responding to client needs for something that was kinda sorta digital OOH, but was less about agency-driven media scheduling and more about retail and place-based networks that wanted to monetize their screens with endemic advertising. So in a medical office network, they wanted to schedule and runs ads for, say, big pharma and medical device brands.

I spoke with Reflect's president and co-founder Matt Schmitt about his company's journey, and how Reflect has evolved from a software shop to one offering everything from strategy to creative work and media sales.

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Daniel Griffin, Userful

Daniel Griffin, Userful

October 2, 2019

 Like a lot of people in the digital signage industry, I tend to think about video walls in terms of the display hardware, and what's running on those big beautiful screens. I know precious little about what's happening behind the wall to ensure it all looks good. 

Userful has been making waves for a few years now by offering a software-driven product that drives visuals accurately to screens, and allows for the sort of flexibility and instant switches that are needed in scenarios like control rooms.

While traditional video wall systems can tend to have a lot of often expensive hardware and software to control the screen and send pixels where they need to be, Userful has been marketing products that are now cloud-based and require minimal hardware.

I spoke with Daniel Griffin, the company's VP of Marketing and a company long-timer. We talked about how Userful came about and about a business that's still known for video walls, but is finding its way into other aspects of visual communications around workplaces because of its AV over networks capabilities.

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Marshall Thompson, Signet

Marshall Thompson, Signet

September 11, 2019

Workplace communications have developed into a very active, very big vertical for a lot of companies across the digital signage ecosystem - but most of their activity has involved screens positioned around the white collar and, increasingly, blue collar workspaces.

For most companies, workplaces is A vertical. For Signet, it is THE vertical, and the Silicon valley-based company has built up a tidy business being laser-focused on workplaces and particularly on the briefing and experience centers of Fortune 5000 companies.

These are the high-touch, big visual impact designated areas that companies build to entertain, inform and hopefully close major customers - using everything from big video walls to interactive displays.

I spoke with Marshal Thompson, who runs client solutions for the company. We get into what Signet does and how it found its way into corporate communications, the thinking and impact of these briefing centers, and how workplace communications is so important to attracting and keeping talent in hyper-competitive places like Silicon Valley.

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Jeff Hastings, BrightSign (2019)

Jeff Hastings, BrightSign (2019)

September 4, 2019

I've done a podcast interview with Jeff Hastings in the past, but there's a lot going on with BrightSign and it was time for a catch-up with the CEO.

BrightSign will ship about 300,000 little purple digital signage players this year, at a clip of something like 1,200 units a day. The players have become their own hardware category - as in, "Are you planning to use PCs, smart displays or BrightSign boxes?"

In our chat, we talk about why BrightSign devices have so much traction in the marketplace, and why so many software and solutions companies are signing on now as integrated partners.

We get into the thinking behind a service called BSN Cloud that is now coming out of beta testing and into wider release.

And we talk broadly about what CIOs and IT managers need to think about when they start looking at large, scaled digital signage networks. The IT guys I used to refer to as the Dr. No crowd are now very much on board with using special purpose devices that just work, and don't bring the headaches of full PCs and their operating systems.

 

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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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