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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Robert Heise, Global Display Solutions

Robert Heise, Global Display Solutions

May 8, 2019

Most people think about northern Italy for wine, food, fashion and beautiful scenery, but it's also home to some well-established technology companies like Global Display Solutions, or GDS.

The company has been around for decades and built up a very solid business for rugged, industrial-grade displays for use-cases like bank ATMs.

GDS expanded into digital signage and digital out of home, and those areas are now a big part of the company's business. GDS gets used for things like drive-thru displays and digital street furniture.

Robert Heise is an EVP and GM with GDS, and runs the US business. We hooked up for this podcast to talk about the company's roots, and how what they do and sell differs from the competition.

We also spoke about the potential and limits for direct view LED as digital posters, and the huge potential GDS sees for electronic ink.

 

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Neeraj Pendse, Elo

Neeraj Pendse, Elo

April 30, 2019

Elo has been doing touchscreens for 40 years - way, way before marketers started cooking up phrases like customer engagement technology. Over that time, the company has shipped more than 25 million units.

So Elo knows touch, and interactive.

Based in Silicon Valley, the company has in the last few years made a pretty big push into digital signage with everything from countertop displays to big 70-inch touchscreens that look like giant tablets.

I spoke recently with Neeraj Pendse, the company's VP Product Management. His responsibilities include Elo’s large format and signage products, the EloView service, and the commercial Android roadmap and devices. We get into a lot of things - including what works and doesn't in interactive design, how Elo differs from touch overlay companies, and why a touchscreen manufacturer developed and now markets device management software.

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Brian McClimans, Peerless-AV

Brian McClimans, Peerless-AV

April 17, 2019

The companies who do the infrastructure that gets screens in place and make video walls look amazing are a huge part of the digital signage ecosystem, but don't get all that much attention.

One of the biggest – if not THE biggest – is Chicago-based Peerless AV, which has been a major part of digital signage for many, many years.

Most people know Peerless AV for its mounting systems for digital signage displays and video walls – something they do very well. But the company has also been doing outdoor displays – not just the enclosures – for more than a decade

The company had a big moment with its marketing about a year ago when it started very clearly and overtly saying We do this, AND we do that. It’s working. The company had a killer Q4 and Q1 of this year was as good or better.

I spoke about where Chicago-based Peerless-AV is at with Brian McClimans, the VP Sales for North America and Asia Pacific.

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Jane Boyce, Tru Vue

Jane Boyce, Tru Vue

March 20, 2019

When I was in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago, I made a point of having a look inside a bar at the Venetian that had a big, fairly spectacular video wall. An industry friend had seen it, and said while the content was great, the wall badly, badly needed anti reflective glass.

I looked ... and it did.

Big displays and slick software get much of the attention in digital signage. I'd argue not enough attention gets paid to other components that may seem boring by comparison, but make or break installations.

One of those components is the glass in front of screens. Engineered glass can eliminate or minimize reflection. Reject UV. And protect very expensive screens from damage.

Great technology and great content doesn't amount to much if you can't see the damn screen because of reflection from the surroundings.

A company called Tru Vue - which has ginormous manufacturing plants in Illinois and Minnesota - does what it calls technical glass, or engineered optics. Their process applies a transparent coating to sheets of glass that kills reflection and can actually improve what people are looking at through that glass.

I was interested in talking to Tru Vue because digital signage is a new market the company is just starting to open up. The great majority of the world's top museums and art galleries already use Tru Vue glass in front of their Picassos and other art treasures.

So, logically, if the glass makes a Picasso look better, it's probably going to do a pretty good job making burgers and shakes look tasty on a drive-thru digital sign.

I spoke with Tru Vue CEO Jane Boyce ...

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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.

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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Sam Phenix, Planar/Leyard

Sam Phenix, Planar/Leyard

February 13, 2019

I managed to squeeze in a few podcast interviews in and around ISE last week, and this is the first - a long-planned and finally realized talk with Sam Phenix, who is the VP of research and development for Planar and Leyard.

That puts her in the middle of everything happening in the display market right now, from LCD and OLED to light field displays.

We spoke right at the blended company booth, in the middle of the show, so it's a little loud. And some people just flat ignored how there were two people with a microphone in the middle, and kept on talking around us. Oh well.

It's a really great, frank discussion about all the emerging display tech out there.

 

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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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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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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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Rich Ventura, NEC Display, on ALP

Rich Ventura, NEC Display, on ALP

October 31, 2018

NEC Display has been fairly quietly involved in analytics for a long time now, but it just got very serious and noisy about that capability, with the launch of something called ALP - which is short for Analytics Learning Platform.

It's a retail intelligence program that uses cameras and other sensors, AI, big data, cloud computing and network appliances to give retailers a better sense of what's going on in their stores.

Tied to digital signage, a retail intelligence platform can optimize messaging based on who's in there, how long they're in there, and the historical patterns of what those people tend to buy. The gold for retail operators is understanding conversion ratios - the what really happened stuff when messages were pushed.

There is no shortage of retail intelligence platforms out there, but none that I know of built from the ground up with signage as a core element. I spoke with NEC's Rich Ventura, who drove the project, to talk about ALP's roots, how people in the signage ecosystem plug in, and how it all fits. 

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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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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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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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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.