Beth Warren, Creative Realities

November 14, 2018
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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

November 7, 2018
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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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Matt Downey, Freshwater Digital

October 17, 2018
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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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Jeffrey Martin, Right Media Solutions

October 10, 2018
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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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Pierre Gendron, Stingray Media

August 22, 2018
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tingray Digital Media Group is one the world's biggest providers of multi-platform music services, with 11,000 commercial clients in 156 countries.

The Montreal company's core business is piped-in music channels for commercial and residential, but it also has a growing operation in digital experiences for retail - like flashy screen networks in big Canadian sporting goods stores.

That side of the business is led by Pierre Gendron, a former pro hockey player who found his way into digital signage doing an early version of it for company golf tournaments around Quebec. That company evolved and developed into Groupe Viva, which was then acquired in 2015 by Stingray.

Now part of a much larger organization, Gendron talks in this chat about what Stingray offers and how it intends to grow. One of those ways is through acquisition, and we get into why Stingray recently bought Toronto-based NovraMedia, which gives the company a big national bank customer and a stronger digital signage foothold in English Canada and beyond.

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Mitch Goss, Zero-In

May 30, 2018
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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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Paul Weatherhead, AV Junction

March 7, 2018
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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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Sakchin Bessette, Moment Factory

January 17, 2018
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Fantastic creative is at the heart of any great digital signage project, and when I am asked to rattle off the names of creative shops capable of doing top-level work, Moment Factory is automatically in there.

The Montreal-based creative technology group has evolved from a small collective doing VJing and just, basically, have a fun doing cool stuff, to arguably being the premier multimedia shop on the planet for jobs that involve big screens and projection mapping.

Moment's people projection-mapped the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. That's their work in the LAX International Terminal. And at Singapore's Changi Airport. Moment Factory did the reasonably modest, but awesome, ceiling display in Oakley's flagship store in New York.

Moment does digital signage, but they also do live shows on cruise ships, light up bridges and even design multi-purpose media systems for stadiums.

Saky Bessette, Moment's creative director and one of the founders, was kind enough to take a few minutes from his crazy work days to talk about a company that now has 250 people and offices all over the world, and the thinking behind all that great work.

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Mike Kilian, Mvix

November 15, 2017
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Mvix is another one of those companies in the digital signage ecosystem that ticks along, doing its thing, without making a lot of marketplace noise.

I assumed the software and solutions provider, based in the high tech corridor west of Washington, DC, had maybe 20-25 people. But I found out Mvix has about 70, mostly in the DC area. They also have a sizeable development team in India - not outsourced, but staff.

The company has been around for a dozen years and has put much of its focus on government, healthcare and education, and picked up a lot of business based on an easy to use platform and turnkey services.

I spoke with Mike Kilian, a senior director at the company, about how Mvix goes to market, what they’re up to, and how the company’s platform is opening up to deal with a much wider range of playback devices, like Chromeboxes.

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Ryan Sterling, GreenScreens

November 1, 2017
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There is a bit of a gold rush aspect to the rise of the cannabis industry in the United States - first in Colorado and now in several states. The rules aren’t all set, but up here in Canada the whole country is supposed to be legalized by next summer.

There’s a lot of money in the business, and a lot of business being done servicing that sector. A handful of digital signage companies, doing various things like content, have started working in the sector, and one of them is a pure-play startup called GreenScreens.

Based in a cannabis-focused incubator in Boulder, Colorado, the company is providing a full signage solution to dispensaries in three states, with designs of being in 500 locations a year from now.

Their screens educate and pre-sell customers, and based on some field experience, move a lot of extra product.

I had a chat with co-founder Ryan Sterling about the origins of the business, the mighty challenge of an industry that is constantly evolving, and the road ahead.

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Yahav Ran, Synect Media

October 18, 2017
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When I get asked about digital signage installations that I think really have it together, I tend to talk about Microsoft’s retail stores, and more recently, the crazy one by many 100s video wall at the check-in counters at Orlando’s airport.

Turns out both projects were pulled together by Synect Media, a Seattle-area agency that is as much an integrator as it is a creative design studio.

Yahav Ran started the company in 2011, really on the back of work he was doing for Microsoft. But his experience in digital signage goes back a lot longer, to his days with the Israeli video wall software company Cnario.

Those two jobs, and a bunch of others, have made Ran a very busy guy these days, working on and pitching projects built around video wall content and solutions. I managed to slow him down recently and ask about his company and the thinking and execution on really big digital canvases.

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Kristin Russell, Arrow Intelligent Systems

August 8, 2017
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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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James Fine, Telecine

June 21, 2017
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James Fine has been around the digital signage ecosystem since the earliest days. He founded Telecine in the mid-80s to do high-end video production for the corporate sector. By the mid-90s, he was getting into signage, putting networked screens in Quebec casinos.

We talk about the early days of the business - like spending $25,000 for 62-inch plasma displays for a retail job. That’s $25K PER display.

Things have changed, and both the industry and his business have grown. Telecine now does a turnkey solutions service for a variety of clients, and the work has won awards - notably for the great data-driven signage you’ll see if you visit a Bloomberg office.

Fine and Telecine are from Montreal, and one of the things we get into in this chat is why there are so many great creative shops coming out of that city.

We spoke last week at InfoComm.

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Rick Mills, Creative Realities (CRI)

June 6, 2017
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If you have followed the digital signage business for a few years, you have probably seen stories about the financial tailspins of a set of companies that eventually got blended together as Creative Realities, or CRI for short. Sitting in the cheap seats watching it all go down, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking, Well, this won’t end well.

Then the company merged with another company, ConeXus World. Which had me thinking, Who? And then, Why???

Turns out there was a master plan here, started years earlier. Rick Mills, the CEO at ConeXus, had long had roll-up plans in the digital signage business, and picking up CRI was his first, but not his only move.

He brought some structure to the business, calmed things down, including clients, and in the last couple of quarters, brought a company that had been hemorrhaging red ink into the black.

Now he’s aggressively hiring people, looking to expand, and planning to acquire some smaller competitors to become one of the big boys in the digital signage solutions business.

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Luis Villafane, Maler

March 21, 2017
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Luis Villafane have been email pen pals for years, but I only met him in person for the first time last month in Amsterdam, at ISE. It was a treat, because the guy not only knows the signage business in and out, but is blunt and funny as hell.

If you are a regular 16:9 reader you will remember some of his frank and funny guest posts, like a plea to vendors and service providers to Have The Cojones To Admit And Share Mistakes.

He runs Maler, a digital signage service provider based in A Coruna, on the northwest tip of Spain. Maler is all about managing digital signage networks, and a small team runs some very big networks, like KFC in the UK. Maler recently signed on as the sponsor of the companion 16:9 podcast, called Projects. But that's not why we're talking. He was on my "gotta talk to" list months ago.

In our chat, we talk about how the company got started, what they do, what's genuinely important when it comes to running stable networks, and what makes Luis crazy.

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Jacob Horwitz, Installation & Service Technologies (IST)

December 21, 2016
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Deployment is a huge part of any substantial digital signage project, but it’s not a side of the business that gets a lot of attention.

Jacob Horwitz started, runs and owns one of the biggest pure-play digital signage deployment companies out there - INSTALLATION & SERVICE TECHNOLOGIES, or IST. The company is based out of Kansas City, and has quietly done many of the larger digital menu board deployments in the US to date.

In fact, it was a massive job for Burger King that switched the focus for IST from doing point of sales work, to digital signage. Horwitz hasn’t looked back since.

We spoke recently via Skype.

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