Sixteen:Nine - All Digital Signage, Some Snark
Michael Provenzano, Vistar Media

Michael Provenzano, Vistar Media

August 14, 2019

Programmatic media buying and selling for the digital out of home marketplace has been going on for many years now, and grown a lot more sophisticated, and a lot more used.

Just as the digital OOH business has matured and expanded in the last few years, so have some of the key players - notably New York City-based Vistar Media, which has been at it now for eight years and is seeing crazy-good growth these days.

 I spoke with co-founder Michael Provenzano about the online roots of his business, and how he took much of the same approach into a medium and supporting tech business that was, at the start, kind of all over the place.

 We had a great chat talking about what Vistar does, why it built its own CMS, the role these days of data, and whether programmatic is the answer for media-based digital signage networks, or maybe just PART of the answer.

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Tom Milner, Service And Support

Tom Milner, Service And Support

August 7, 2019

Much of the focus in this industry is on the hardware and software used to put digital signage networks together, and increasingly, mercifully, on content and creative.

Not that much attention gets paid to the service side of the business - installing screens and fixing devices when things go wrong. Even less attention is paid to keeping the hardware clean.

That's what Tom Milner, and his UK-based company Service and Support, are all about, and have been for 10 years. Milner has built up his install and service business in the UK and Ireland, and more recently, built a book of business in North America for something called Pristine Screen, a service company specifically in the business of keeping screens clean, inside and out.

In this talk, we get into the roots of his business, how it has grown, and the decision to get into a spinoff business that's all about keeping screens pristine.

 

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Ian Dallimore, Lamar

Ian Dallimore, Lamar

June 12, 2019

In the out of home space, Lamar Advertising is huge. The Baton Rouge-based media company is in 160 metro areas in the US, and has more than 3,300 roadside digital billboards.

The company is steadily adding more digital, notably in environments like airports. Lamar just lit up an impressive and expensive network inside the baggage area at the domestic terminal of Las Vegas's airport.

Ian Dallimore heads digital for Lamar - a gig that has him working with out of home specialists, brands and the vendors who feed into the technology ecosystem.

We get into a bunch of things in this chat - including data-driven advertising, programmatic and what people should know when they dip their toes into digital out of home.

 

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Burr Smith, Broadsign

Burr Smith, Broadsign

June 5, 2019

I'm kinda breaking my own podcast rule here by interviewing someone for a second time, but Burr Smith has been a busy guy lately - buying companies and fighting patent trolls.

I spoke with the CEO and owner of Broadsign a couple of years ago, but it was more than time for an update chat given recent events.

Broadsign recently acquired Ayuda Media Systems, which at least some in the industry would see as a competitor. Then it bought another company in Montreal, called Campsite, that's a programmatic ad exchange.

This happened in the wake of a long, expensive but ultimately successful legal battle with a Swedish company that would generally be referred to as a patent troll. While most companies took the path of least resistance and paid "go away" money, Smith fought.

In this podcast, we get into the back-story of the recent acquisitions, and then have a chat about Smith going toe to toe with T-Rex.

 

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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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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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Peter Livesey, Esprit Digital

Peter Livesey, Esprit Digital

October 3, 2018

Anyone with technical chops who uses a subway system to get around would understand that those are seriously challenging environments to put in sensitive display technology - and the UK display technology company Esprit Digital effectively got its start in digital signage doing just that.

If you have been in the signage market for a few years, or if you have used the subway systems in big cities like London, you'll know about the synchronized digital posters in many of the escalator sections. The most well-known are those in the London Underground, which were put in by Esprit many years ago and are still working.

The company, based north of London, has built out its business from everything it learned about heat and airborne grime and ruggedization, and has since developed products for shopping mall concourses, sidewalk ad posters and all kinds of other challenging scenarios.

I spoke with CEO Peter Livesey about the roots of the company, which go back to really low-rez LED signs for retail, and how the company has gone full-circle and added fine pitch indoor and outdoor LED screens to its product line. 

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Kyle Pilot, iGotcha

Kyle Pilot, iGotcha

August 15, 2018

I was in Montreal recently and had a chance to visit the offices of iGotcha, a digital signage and experiential media solutions company that has very quietly built up a nice book of business since launching in 2005.

Working out of an old warehouse building overlooking the historic Lachine Canal, iGotcha works with everyone from banks and a lottery corporation to Cirque du Soleil.

I caught up with Kyle Pilot, one of the co-founders and the longtime CTO. He now runs the company with business partners Greg Adelstein and Hadrien Bessou.

In this chat, we get into what they do, who they work with, and get on a fairly lengthy riff about the merits of technology like System on Chip displays.

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Jonathan Gudai, Adomni

Jonathan Gudai, Adomni

June 13, 2018

A Las Vegas startup called Adomni represents the latest effort through the years to roll up digital OOH networks with the idea of making media buying and execution easy.

Many have tried, few have succeeded, but here's what's different about Adomni. First, they're primarily going after outdoor billboards, and they're not trying to be THE buying and selling solution. You go through Adomni online to buy the unsold inventory on these screens, and almost any media inventory has unsold inventory.

It's also different because the founders looked at the marketplace and what was already out there, thought about the user base, and came up with a user experience that's about as visually friendly and dead simple as AirBnB. Instead of renting a basement apartment for a few days, a small business owner might rent time slots on some boards along a freeway near their main store.

I spoke with one of the founders, Jonathan Gudai, over Skype from his office down near McCarron Airport.

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Sheldon Silverman, Smartbomb Media

Sheldon Silverman, Smartbomb Media

May 23, 2018

If you deal with companies over in Europe, you've probably been carpet-bombed lately by email requests to update your subscription settings for things like product announcements.

That all owes to something called GPDR, the General Data Protection Regulation that goes into effect in the European Union at the end of this week.

You can count me in as someone who barely has the acronyms correct, never mind a grip on what it means. The short story is that it is a law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union, and it also addresses the export of personal data outside the EU.

So if you are in digital signage or digital out of home, in particular, you should care about this. GDPR is a problem for a lot of digital media companies, but an opportunity for those that use anonymous data, like a lot of place-based media operators.

Sheldon Silverman, the CEO of Chicago-based SmartBomb Media Group, has his head around all this. So I asked Silverman, who also heads the Digital Signage Federation's Global Digital OOH Council, if we could do a podcast to fill the rest of us in. Get a pen and paper. This is worth taking notes ...

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Matt Gibbs, UPshow

Matt Gibbs, UPshow

May 16, 2018

A whole bunch of startups have through the years, tried to crack the restaurant and bar business with a digital out of home advertising model that saw them put in screens and media players, hoping to claw back the costs, and more, through advertising.

And a whole bunch of them - most of them, in fact, have failed. Advertising is hard.

So I was intrigued by a three-year-old Chicago company called UPshow that is doing user-generated content and digital signage in bars, and making a go of it on a subscription basis - with no third-party advertising. At least for now.

The bar owners - from small ones all the way up to chains like TGI Fridays and Hooters - actually pay money month to month for the service. The owner/operators like that UPshow's content is fresh, and human moderated, and that customers are engaged. They also like that it is selling more drinks and specials, and generating return business.

I spoke with Matt Gibbs, the company's CMO, and one of its co-founders.

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Jason Bier, Federation For Internet Alerts

Jason Bier, Federation For Internet Alerts

May 2, 2018

One of the time-honored lines used in digital signage and digital out of home media is how the technology gets the right messages to the right people at the right times.

That's all had to do with marketing and advertising, but a non-profit called the Federation for Internet Alerts has a mission to get crucial alerts in front of the right people at the right times and places to save lives and rescue kids.

Based on years of volunteer work from top coders, pro bono support from agencies and web services, and some grants here and there, the organization is sending critical alerts across North America that warn people about imminent threats like tornadoes, and more insidious threats like bad air.

Almost 1.5 million alerts have been processed since the platform started, and while most of that has been for web and mobile, now the organization is talking to digital out of home media companies about how its alerts could be on big digital screens that are everywhere, and always connected.

I spoke recently with the organizations founder and volunteer CEO, Jason Bier.

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Mark Stross, ANC

Mark Stross, ANC

April 24, 2018

ANC got its start about 20 years ago as a rotational signage company that primarily serviced the pro sports business, and through the years, ANC has grown into a big tech services provider that's been putting in the visual systems for many arenas and stadiums.

If you see a big center-hung set of LED boards over an NBA or Division 1 basketball court, or a giant replay board at a ballpark, there's a decent chance ANC is behind it.

More recently the company has found itself getting into digital out of home media, creating the same kinds of visual spectacle you might see in live sports, but instead in public areas or mass transportation hubs. A lot more than a conventional AV systems integrator, ANC is doing a ton of R&D and using product that will do things like light up the whole 360-degree view of an area with sync'd content. You might think, "Well that's not all that new," but ANC's CTO Mark Stross explains why what he's cooked up is different.

I spoke with Stross recently about the idea of taking the spectacle and energy of live events into this new kind of arena of public squares and rail stations, and how he's constantly trying to push possibilities.

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Bruce van Zyl, Sellr/Bev TV

Bruce van Zyl, Sellr/Bev TV

March 21, 2018

Booze is a complicated thing to buy. All the product categories look pretty much the same, so people revert to price, top of mind awareness or labels and names that catch their eye.

One of the ways to improve that situation is by putting digital right into the aisles of liquor stores, where people poke around trying to figure out what they'll like and should buy. A company up in the north Atlanta tech suburbs, called Sellr, is rolling out BevTV displays in stores, with the aim of helping consumers make more informed choices about buying wine, beer and liquor - and hopefully influence buying decisions.

The company got its start in retail hardware, but has transitioned fully into software and content - building up a massive 165,000 item library of curated information about booze that's tied to universal price codes. They make that interactive content available on commercial-grade tablets they install, on their nickel, at eye-level in participating stores.

I talk in this podcast with company president Bruce van Zyl about BevTV's experiences to date, and its plans to have 1,000 units running by this summer.

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Guy Tonti, Unified Brand

Guy Tonti, Unified Brand

March 11, 2018

Auto dealerships have always been an environment well suited to digital signage. There are a lot of things to talk about and sell, and a lot of interest and buying comes down to things like the visual and emotional appeal of the vehicles.

Guy Tonti's company, Unified Brand, spends a lot of its time working with dealerships developing what amounts to custom television channels that are tuned to the dealer environment. Based in Phoenix, the company has carved out a nice, steadily growing niche in the sector, bolstered by work it also does with other locations and regional businesses.

The channels, using digital signage tech, are revenue-producing, customer-centric content plays that are used as an alternative to the TVs you'll still find in many, many auto dealer service area lounges. That idea doesn't work all that well, as competitors' ads might run on a broadcast channel, and U.S. politics is getting so polarized just running CNN or Fox News on a waiting room TV may stir up arguments and complaints.

Intensely local digital signage is an interesting departure for Tonti, who joined and then bought the company after years working with networking giant Cisco, where he was director of worldwide practices for emerging technologies.

Tonti and I caught up in Phoenix, spending time talking about Unified Brand and touching a little bit on his brush with fame, when he was a four-day champ on Jeopardy. He can't be THAT bright, because hey, he's in digital signage.

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Ryan Sterling, GreenScreens

Ryan Sterling, GreenScreens

November 1, 2017

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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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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Robin Carlisle, Framestore Labs

Robin Carlisle, Framestore Labs

July 12, 2017

Robin Carlisle is Global Head of Creative for Framestore Labs, a UK-based creative technology shop that specializes in making beautiful and cinematic real-time visuals.

Labs is part of a larger company that has been doing amazing visuals for years. For example, that’s Framestore’s work in movies like Gravity, which somehow imagineers what happens when satellite debris takes out a space station.

Carlisle’s company is involved in all kinds of projects, and recently, has done work that falls squarely in the digital signage and interactive signage buckets. That includes work done for the London Stock Exchange, Morgan Stanley and Ford.

We connected by Skype, with Carlisle joined by the company’s production head Jonny Dixon, just in case the questions got too deep into the technical weeds. They didn’t.

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