Sixteen:Nine - All Digital Signage, Some Snark
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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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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David Bailey, Aitrak

David Bailey, Aitrak

January 30, 2019

It doesn't matter how slick your software is, or how beautiful and robust a display may be, if the content on a digital sign doesn't attract attention and hold it, at least for a bit.

So tools that help track and analyze how people view advertising, packaging and other marketing messages can be incredibly valuable. But they can also be clunky, expensive and slow.

A startup called Aitrak is trying to change that - using artificial intelligence and computer vision to do predictive modeling on how people will consume specific pieces of campaign creative - where they'll look, what they'll notice first, and how long they'll look.

Eye-track = Aitrak, by the way.

Creatives and media planners can use Aitrak's tools, or send the material to Aitrak to develop the model and insights.

Right now, the first iteration is built around static out of home street furniture posters and other non-motion creative. But Aitrak is working on the same sort of tool for motion digital assets and creative. That would allow media network owners, agencies and brands to pre-select the best combinations of creative for a location in a matter of minutes, and cut their costs dramatic ally.

I spoke with UK-based CEO David Bailey about a cloud-based service he says gives creatives superpowers.

NRF 2019 Round-Up: Interviews on ESLs, HTML5, Interactive Lightboxes And Avatars

NRF 2019 Round-Up: Interviews on ESLs, HTML5, Interactive Lightboxes And Avatars

January 23, 2019

This is a special edition of the podcast which I am pretty much whacking together myself, in the wake of running around the NRF show last week in New York.

I had my handy little Tascam recorder with me, so I grabbed some quick interviews with several companies I bumped into, with the idea of stitching them together in a round-up. These are not the biggest companies. Not necessarily the hottest stuff on the show floor. But they caught my eye, or in the case of the first interview, reflect my thinking that I wanted to know more.

Normally I get interviews properly smoothed out by my sound engineer guy, but with four interviews and intro and so on, it was a big ask on short notice. So here I am, fiddling around with Audacity audio software. So this will be a bit rougher than normal, but the content is solid.

One of the things I noticed on the NRF show floor was how there were way more electronic shelf labels than I have seen in the past, which is why I stopped to chat with Rob Crane, the head of global sales for the ESL company Altierre.

I bumped into Tomer Mann, from 22 Miles, outside the Intel booth. He was doing stand-up demos of his company's long-running wayfinding platform. That's well established, but I was interested in what the company was doing in retail, using HTML.

Inside that Intel booth, I chatted with a Spanish company, called Kendu, that comes out of retail graphics and has introduced a hybrid print and signage solution that uses LED animations behind a lightbox frame of print graphics, and also uses gesture for interactivity.

Finally, I was wandering around the Innovation Lab - which is a lot of new companies, but also companies who can't afford a full booth. I noticed people hanging around a floor display, and reacting to the screen. A company that's partially Toronto, partially Berlin, has an avatar chatbot thing that uses AI to drive interactivity. TwentyBN's avatar seems a little gimmicky, but done well it would be useful in spaces where there's a set of predictable questions.

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Angela Vanderburg, Q Division

Angela Vanderburg, Q Division

January 9, 2019

This week we look at how the financial services industry is using digital signage in branches, and more to the point, what works and why.

Angela Vanderburg is the Digital Practice Lead for Consumer Banking and Retail Financial Services for Q Division, the retail-focused digital strategy consultancy that was launched by STRATACACHE. She's a shameless digital signage nerd who endlessly studies how the technology is used and the content choices that were made on networks, all the way down to locations.

We're talking because Vanderburg guided a pair of very significant research exercises in Europe and North America that got insights and data from consumers, and from decision-makers at banks.

In this episode, you'll hear about what the research revealed, why stuff like weather reports actually work well for banks, and how things that I maybe think are gimmicks are, in fact, worthwhile. 

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Beth Warren, Creative Realities

Beth Warren, Creative Realities

November 14, 2018

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

2018 DSF Coffee and Controversy, in NYC

November 7, 2018

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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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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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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Mark Bennett, MicroGigantic

Mark Bennett, MicroGigantic

September 26, 2018

In an industry that has, for years, had people endlessly blabbering away about how Content Is King - my God that's clever! - it's amazing to me how I can count the number of pure-play digital signage creative shops on one hand.

MicroGigantic is one of those rare shops - a Minneapolis, Minnesota-based boutique agency that does visual storytelling for brands - whether that's retail or corporate.

The company's roots are with one of the biggest brands in the Twin Cities - the mass merchandising retailer Target. Mark Bennett managed the Media Production group at Target - and a big part of that was feeding the many screens sprinkled around the huge stores.

It was a great gig, Bennett says, but he got the seven-year itch to go out on his own, and started MicroGigantic knowing there wasn't a lot of competition for what he wanted to do.

His team does retail, but the real growth these days is for work in areas like corporate - with companies looking to make visual statements about what they do, and what they're about.

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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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Henrik Andersson, Instore Screen

Henrik Andersson, Instore Screen

September 5, 2018

Retail is one of the most-chased vertical markets in all of digital signage, but if you ask people who really know this tech, but also really know retail, they'll tell you they've rarely seen it done well, or right.

I tend to agree, and sometimes its not the whiz-bang flashy stuff that makes a difference, but the more pedestrian stuff that does the whole right message/right time thing.

A company called Instore Screen has been chasing retail for many years, and has learned what's needed and works, and developed a product that specifically fits the retailer and consumer brand ask. It does screens that fit the sightlines, limited space and operating realities of grocery, drug and mass merchandise. The high-resolution screens enable the kind of full-motion, eye-grabbing content that drives impulse purchases.

The company's core product is custom-manufactured, pixel-dense LCD screens that fit easily into things like grocery aisle endcaps. Based in Hong Kong, Instore Screen has some top tier customers like Whole Foods, which is using end-cap screens in its new-build stores to explain products and drive sales.

I spoke with Henrik Andersson, the founder and CEO of the 15-year-old company. We get into the technology, shopping dynamics and the argument for LCD over LED as shelf-edge displays.

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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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Brett Jones, Lightform

Brett Jones, Lightform

June 20, 2018

One of the most interesting companies I saw recently at InfoComm in Las Vegas was Lightform, a San Francisco start-up that is making the once dark art of projection mapping available to just about everyone.

It wasn't that long ago that projection mapping was all about very ambitious, very complicated, very expensive projects that only a handful of companies had the chops to pull off.

Now we have a company with a $700 device and related software that makes it possible for just about anyone to do small-scale projection mapping on things like a merchandising display or a wedding cake.

Lightform calls this Projected Augmented Reality - the idea that AR is not something that needs to be seen though the lens of a smartphone.

I spoke with CEO and co-founder Brett Jones, and we did our best to describe to listeners what we were seeing as we walked around the booth.

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Mitch Goss, Zero-In

Mitch Goss, Zero-In

May 30, 2018

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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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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Sakchin Bessette, Moment Factory

Sakchin Bessette, Moment Factory

January 17, 2018

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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