Rich Ventura, NEC Display, on ALP

October 31, 2018
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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

October 24, 2018
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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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Hongwei Liu, Mappedin

September 18, 2018
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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

September 12, 2018
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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.

Refik Anadol, On Digital Data Sculptures

August 29, 2018
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If finding a free half-hour to talk is any indication, Refik Anadol is one busy, popular guy right now. That likely owes a lot to the mind-blowing data visualization work he's been doing lately in public spaces.

He's a Turkish-born digital media artist who now has a busy studio in Los Angeles doing what he calls parametric data sculptures for public art spaces.

If you have been in downtown San Francisco, you may have seen a big LED video wall in the lobby of a Salesforce tower that seems to have a corner glass window with live expanding foam - or something. It looks real, but it's just three-dimensional digital art, driven by data.

More recently, he's done several sync'd up visualizations on the LED walls of an expanded section of Charlotte, North Carolina's airport. What's happening on the screens there is all based on real-time data from airport operations. So what you see on the screens is shaped by things like luggage-handling systems.

Kinda crazy.

I caught up with Anadol recently at his LA studio, to get a sense of what he and his team does, and we have a broader discussion about visualized data.

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Kyle Pilot, iGotcha

August 15, 2018
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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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Gordon Feller, Meeting Of The Minds (Smart Cities)

July 18, 2018
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I can't say I've been all the enthralled by what I've seen so far with smart cities initiatives that involve digital out of home media companies. For the most part, they're just digital posters with some wifi and maybe some sensors tossed in so the things can be called "smart."

Those things exist to run ads, and the "smart" thing is largely a veneer to get the ad concession, and for city governments to get free stuff that purports to make their burg seem somehow innovative.

BUT ... there's a lot of potential there, and when you talk to someone who spends all his time thinking about and working on smart city initiatives, you learn there are some good things happening not only with broader smart initiatives, but also with efforts that DO involve media companies.

I wrote a mildly snarky piece recently about this stuff, and Gordon Feller sent me a note suggesting I have a look at a report he did for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America. He's a longtime Silicon Valley tech exec and founder of Meeting Of The Minds, a non-profit public-private partnership that's all about creating smarter cities.

We had a frank talk about what's happened to date, where it really works, and what he sees as the vast potential for smart cities that work with media companies and digital signage technologies.

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Nick Fearnley, Signstix

July 11, 2018
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I am guilty of thinking about SignStix as yet another smallish digital signage CMS company scratching out a living with low-cost subscriptions and equally low-cost Android stick players.

Based in Yorkshire, England, SignStix is a lot more than that. The company is indeed small, but doing some stuff that is a little bit mind-blowing. It does digital signage, but for some significant clients it is doing a lot of back-of-the-house data-mining and aggregation for communications that go beyond screens.

What I found really interesting is learning from CEO Nick Fearnley how the company is using the intelligence on system on chip "smart" displays to do things like manage and aggregate geo-fencing data from trucks moving in and out of a retailer's loading docks. It's stuff that would much more normally be done by full PCs, and it is completely counter to the suggestion still out there that these smart displays aren't all that bright.

Fearnley and I chatted at the back of one of the halls at InfoComm, last month in Las Vegas. You'll enjoy the chat, and particularly  his Yorkshire accent.

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Jason Bier, Federation For Internet Alerts

May 2, 2018
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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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Bryan Crotaz, Silver Curve

February 28, 2018
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The top prize at the Digital Signage Awards that were announced and handed out recently in Amsterdam was a project to modernize the display system at the cradle of cricket - Lord's Cricket Ground in London.

The project was pulled together by a small London consultancy called Silver Curve, which is run by one of the brightest minds in digital signage, Bryan Crotaz.

Bryan had been telling me about the project for more than a year, but he was only recently in a position to make some noise about it.

In our conversation, we talk about the effort to modernize and greatly simplify the display control system on the ancient grounds, and how he used very technologies like HTML5 and Raspberry Pi to make it all happen.

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Manolo Almagro, Q Division

December 13, 2017
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Just last week Manolo Almagro pulled the curtains back on a new company he's started, under the umbrella of Chris Riegel's ever-growing STRATACACHE empire.

It's called Q Division, a retail tech consultancy that in many respects is the sum total reflection of 20-plus years that Manny has been around tech, in a crazy variety of ways.

His roots go back to desktop publishing for print, but somehow or other he ended up working with an agency that had McDonald's as a client - and he was behind putting digital menu boards into the QSR chain back in the 90s, before flat panels were even around. They used Macs and big-ass rear-projection cubes to pull it off.

He's since been an early adopter and, in many respects, an evangelist and guru for a lot of emerging technologies for online, mobile and in retail.

I caught up with him late last week, and we had a great conversation that got a little out of control here and there.

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Michael Clarke, Citilabs

November 22, 2017
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The digital out of home media industry has been growing rapidly, and as awareness has built, there’s been more and more of a push from brands and media buyers to provide better, deeper detail on the actual audience.

The old way of selling audience for outdoor was gross traffic counts and extrapolations on what they meant. The new way is big data, and a Sacramento company called Citilabs is working with the out of home industry’s main guys on audience measurement, Geopath, to provide what they call a complete knowledge of how Americans move around their country.

When you have a deep understanding of patterns, volumes and demographics, you can fine-tune advertising and make it more effective and attractive.

In this episode, I talk to Citilabs CEO Michael Clarke about what the company does, how it does it, and what that means not only for digital out of home advertising, but for interesting stuff like data visualization.

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David Labuskes, AVIXA

September 20, 2017
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I was in the Washington, DC area last week for what turned out to be the rebranding of Infocomm as AVIXA - a loose acronym for the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association.

The trade association had invited me, and a pile of other trade journalists, for a press conference and follow-ups about … something. They wouldn’t say what and had us signing NDAs promising we wouldn’t spill the beans ahead of time.

It’s a lot more than just a name change for Infocomm, which will still be the name of the big annual trade show and versions of it in other countries. The new AVIXA branding reflects much deeper thinking by the InfoComm board and executive team, which is run by CEO David Labuskes.

On the tail end of a crazy-busy launch day, and in the middle of a cocktail party, I managed to grab Labuskes for a chat, to find out what AVIXA is all about, and what it  means for people and companies in the digital signage industry.

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Peter Fahlman, Telemetry

September 13, 2017
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A lot of companies run by creatives and software developers have found their way into the digital signage business on the backs of projects they delivered, but I wouldn’t really see that happening with a company that’s all about online payments.

That’s exactly, though, the back story on Telemetry, a Vancouver, BC start-up that grew out of a need by the sister company to visualize all the data they were generating from transactions. The software team looked around the marketplace for applications that would do the job, and when they concluded what was out there didn’t fit, they wrote their own.

With home-grown digital dashboards around the office showing the team what was going on in the business, CEO Peter Fahlman and his colleagues concluded what they had was a great tool - but also something they could productize … without really even knowing what digital signage was all about.

Now Telemetry is a full, cloud-based digital signage CMS, tightly tied in with Google’s Chrome services. Enabling real-time dashboards is, to me, the particularly interesting aspect of what the company does, but Fahlman tells me in this conversation that they’re more than just live pie charts and graphs.

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Zach Klima, WaitTime

August 30, 2017
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If your digital signage screens are there to make something faster, better or easier for the people who are looking at them, you are doing good things.

That’s the idea behind a Detroit start-up called WaitTime - a digital signage and smartphone app solution that uses cameras and artificial intelligence software to give  people at sports and entertainment venues mission critical information like which washroom lineups are shortest, and where to go to get intermission beer and drinks quickly.

The data that comes out of those camera feeds and software inform game and concert-goers where lines are shortest, which is great for fans - but also for venue operators. The screens load-balance lines and reduced the number of times people abandon lines at concessions. That means more sales.

CEO and founder Zach Klima says the systems tend to pay for themselves at arena and stadiums in less than a year.

In our chat, we talk about the roots of the platform, how it works, who’s backing it, and how it can play nicely with the digital signage companies who already service the sports and entertainment venue market.

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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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Hacking Dangers In Digital Signage, with Gary Feather, CTO, Nanolumens

August 2, 2017
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I’m changing up the podcast a little bit this week.

I have my own rule that I want to talk to a bunch of other companies first before I talk to one a second time.

I’ve also made this podcast about people and not issues.

But this week I am talking to Gary Feather, CTO of the display company NanoLumens, even though I spoke with his boss Rick Cope last summer.

Here’s why. Feather is running a webinar next week on security, and the steps he thinks any substantial digital signage operator out there should be taking to ensure their screens and systems are not compromised by hackers.

The risk is not just about keeping some teenagers from getting naughty movies up on the screens in a store, though that’s definitely not good. It’s also about ensuring the connected media players driving screens are not the side door access into private and mission critical systems within businesses. Target’s big hack three years ago came in through the HVAC systems.

It’s an important subject, and we spend this podcast previewing a little of what he plans to talk about August 8th.

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Robin Carlisle, Framestore Labs

July 12, 2017
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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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Jose Avalos, Intel

March 8, 2017
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Jose Avalos has been leading Intel’s digital signage practise since 2009 - evangelizing for the use of Intel chipsets and related technologies for the devices that play back content. When he got started, he says Intel was inside about 10 percent of the boxes used in digital signage. Now it’s more like 75 percent, he says. So from that measure, it worked.

But since 2009, smartphones and then smart TVs really bubbled up, and Intel has seen low cost ARM processors being touted and used inside set top boxes and sticks and smart displays as media players - cutting out the need for Intel CPUs.

In our chat, we talk about Intel’s role in this sector, the implications of ARM processors and system on chip displays, and what they’re doing about it. We also get into Intel’s dabbling in the software side of the business, and talk about IOT.

Jose’s a talker, but I did get a few words in here and there. Enjoy.

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Dan Dawson, Grand Visual

March 1, 2017
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The production and creative technology firm Grand Visual does some of the most interesting data-driven creative work you'll find in the digital signage and digital out of home industry, so I was really happy to learn co-founder Dan Dawson was available at ISE to chat for a few minutes.

Dawson is the Chief Creative Technology Officer at the London-based company, which has been around for more than a decade and works with some of the world's biggest brands - including Pepsi, Google, McDonald's and Virgin - on technology-driven media campaigns. You may remember things like the Green Giant showing up via augmented reality at Grand Central Station or flying saucers and aliens seen invading London through the lens of bus stop digital screens.

We get into a lot of things in our chat - the creative process, the technology, strategy, what works and what is just buzz. We talk about programmatic content and media targeting, and we get into how data is a really powerful tool for marketing and messaging.

 If you touch on creative, listen and learn from a master.

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