Sakchin Bessette, Moment Factory

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

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

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

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

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

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Rob Gorrie, Bricks + Matter

December 20, 2017
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Rob Gorrie is among the most digitally-savvy and sharp people I know - some of that based on the DNA of a family that's been doing marketing for more than a century. But it's also based on a pile of real world experience starting and running digital companies.

The one Gorrie's been focused on for the last few years is Bricks + Matter - a Toronto-based strategy consultancy that works with retail brands and shopping centers to figure out all this emerging digital stuff - how it works, what it means and what to do with it.

Digital signage is just part of the technology stack, so to speak, and in this chat we get into what retailers are doing and worrying about, as well as what works and what doesn't. Rob's a blunt realist and he's not afraid to say how a lot of what's been tried in retail - like sticking screens all over the place - simply has not worked.

We also spend some time talking about Adcentricity, which about 10 years ago was trying to somehow organize and represent the advertising avails of the many, many digital out of home ad networks that were out there back then. It didn't quite happen, and we get into why, as well as how that's in many ways still the story.

It's a great chat with a guy who has a lot to say. Enjoy.

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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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Laura Davis-Taylor, High Street

September 27, 2017
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Laura Davis-Taylor is a really well-known and much-loved expert when it comes to how digital fits in retail.

She was a consultant for many years, but more recently has worked for some very large agencies - dealing with equally large retail and brand accounts.

Now she’s back doing the consulting thing, by her choice. She’s started High Street, a retail experience collective, with a couple of old friends and now business partners. Though just up this summer, the boutique consultancy has already bagged some major accounts.

In this episode, Laura talks about the challenge in retail in the age of Amazon, and how getting people in stores and prompting them to buy stuff is not solved alone by sticking in screens or other kinds of tech.

If you sell to or work in retail, you’ll want to have a listen …

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Rick Mills, Creative Realities (CRI)

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

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

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

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

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

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Lee Summers, Reflect

May 9, 2017
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Lee Summers is only a few months into his job as CEO of Reflect, but neither the industry or the company were unfamiliar when he took over at the company’s Dallas head office earlier this year. In an unusual twist, he’d been on the other side of the table, as one of Reflect’s highest profile clients.

Summers came out of the retail agency business and actually got his start as a creative, but in recent years he’d been the digital innovation guy looking at how to kit out the mammoth Nebraska Furniture Mart in Dallas.

As the saying goes, they do things big in Texas, and this store is a monstrous 600,000 square feet, or about four Ikeas tied together. He was also in charge of the vast multi-tenant retail space around the store.

We get into that project, but talk more broadly about the challenges and opportunities of being a CMS software and services company squarely focused on retail, when bricks and mortar stores are under siege from online.

We also talk about Ad Logic, an advertising and targeting platform that was built for a client and is now being extended for any retailer that can’t find what it wants from ad platforms which are almost all built with online - not stores - in mind.

35 minutes flew by.

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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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Chris Riegel, Stratacache

February 22, 2017
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I have been trying to get Chris Riegel for an in-person interview for almost a year, but the CEO and sole owner of STRATACACHE has been a busy guy in recent months, expanding his business organically, but also through acquisitions of competitors like Scala and Real Digital Media.

We couldn’t make it happen when he was on one of his frequent trips through Toronto, but we managed to carve out time in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, at the ISE trade show.

Riegel gets into a lot of things in this podcast - notably how his company got to north of $500 million in sales in 2016 and how he plans to double that within a couple of years. We also talk about how he got started and how he manages a high-growth company that now has some 400 people, but is very much centered around him.

This is a seriously smart, ambitious guy. He's also a smart-ass and doesn't bother using much of a filter when it comes to things like talking about companies he sees as the real enemy in this business.

Here's a snippet of our talk, with me asking who he sees as the competition ...

Riegel: I would say without sounding crass or arrogant about it, the companies that we regard as competitors are the guys who really understand marketing and marketing in retail, so you take, potentially, an Adobe who understands that market, specifically. In sector, I don't really see much competition there. Really for two reasons. One, this kind of deep retail practice that we built around PRN, the expertise that we have there, is really unique in the industry. Number two, when we go into provide solutions to customers, we'll go into very large retailers. We're building that network, financing that network and doing a managed service over the course of 3 years, 5 years … there's not a competitor in the space that will do type of financial models that we will.

Me: So you're carrying the paper on the hardware?

Riegel: We carry the paper on the hardware, the service, everything.

Me: Okay.

Riegel: A retailer has the pockets, but little dinosaur arms, so they won't reach into those deep pockets. We call it the T-Rex problem.

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Mike Tippets, Hughes Media Solutions

February 15, 2017
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Hughes is one of those big billion-dollar tech companies that have found their way into digital signage in recent years. Most of them come in making noise and exited quietly. But Hughes has stuck around.

This week I’m chatting with Mike Tippets, who is Hughes Global Media Solutions Group, working out of Utah but pretty tightly tied to the Hughes mothership based outside Washington, DC. Hughes fates back to the days of Howard Hughes, but is now owned by EchoStar, a global satellite services company.

We have a good chat about a bunch of things - from the roots of the company as Helius, what Mike and his team have learned about big growth areas like corporate communications, and how Hughes goes to market as much more than satellite guys who also have some software.

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ISE 2017 Bonus Episode

February 13, 2017
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This is a bonus edition. I did a pile of sit-down interviews last week in Amsterdam with different execs for full-length podcasts, and you will hear those over the next several weeks. I also did some stand-ups that are already live, with four already up. These are the other four.

I normally get these things properly sound-engineered but in the interests of speed to market, I did these ones myself - so apologies if the sound and levels are a little dodgy. And there's no music.

The interviews are with RED-V from Italy, Interactivescape from Germany, AirportLabs from Romania and NodeArk from Sweden.

There will still be a regular episode up on Wednesday, with Mike Tippets of Hughes.

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Sean Keathley, Adrenaline

February 1, 2017
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This week, we’re talking experience design with Sean Keathley, the president of Adrenaline, an Atlanta-based company that’s in the business of coming up with the strategy, the content and technologies to make spaces like banks, stores and hospitals really work.

Sean talks about the process involved in putting together a successful project, and he made me happy when he said projects they do start out by asking and getting answered from clients one big question: "Why?"

We get into some of the work the company has done with clients like eTrade and New Balance, and also explore how and where digital display technology works, or doesn’t.

We did this by Skype and we were both fighting raging head colds, which will explain some scratchy voices. Enjoy.

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Special Episode - NRF 2017

January 17, 2017
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This is a special edition of the 16:9 Podcast - special because the format’s a little different and because I’m turning this around too quickly to get it polished up by the guy who sound engineers these things.

So no music. Maybe a bit more background noise. The levels are anything but level. But it'll do, in terms of timeliness versus studio quality.

I was just in New York the last couple of days, attending the National Retail Federation’s big trade show. I wanted to pass on some impressions from the show, but also run a couple of shorter interviews I managed to grab on the floor.

I’ll start with an interview I did with Ken Goldberg, the CEO of Real Digital Media. The well known industry executive was wearing a Stratacache shirt and had a Scala exhibitor badge hanging around his neck, so it was a little bit weird to see.

We talked about the news, just last week, that his company was acquired by Stratacache, on the heels of another software rival, Scala, also being acquired.

After that, you’ll hear an interview with Sam Vise of Unefi, a Toronto company that was at NRF showing an interesting product and service that’s built off off 20 years of providing print visuals for the retail industry, and now also does digital signage, off the same platform.

Finally, I’ll pass on some thoughts about NRF.

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Iles Guran, Armodilo

November 30, 2016
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Software and display companies get a lot of attention in the digital signage industry, but projects don’t happen without the gear that holds screens in place and keeps them protected.

I travelled up to St. Jacob’s, Ontario - just outside the Canadian tech hotbed of Kitchener-Waterloo - to speak with Iles Guran, one of the two co-founders of Armodilo, which has built up a thriving little business making enclosures and stands for what you might call one to one digital signage.

Guran is a graphic and industrial designer first, and you can see it in the curves, material choices, colours and functionality of Armodilo’s products. They’re anything but tablets just protected by a bit of metal or plastic. Armed with not much more than an idea and some reference samples, they booked a big exhibitor trade show when they were starting up, and hoped they’d see some interest. They ended up being swarmed at their little booth, and left the show with one of the event’s big awards.

The company has seen steady growth in the last four years, and had to relocate a year ago to a new facility. They’re already wondering if it’s going to be big enough.

Guran talks about how tablets are being used for interactive digital signage in a bunch of interesting ways, and also goes into both the opportunities and challenges.

We chatted in the company boardroom, which was concrete, metal walls and lots of echo ...

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Phil Lenger, Show And Tell

November 23, 2016
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Phil Lenger of Show and Tell is a busy guy, but he slowed down long enough to sit recently for a chat in his company’s New York offices, near Penn Station.

He even offered a sip or two from one of the many, many bottles of seriously good bourbon he has stocked in the corner of Show and Tell’s meeting space.

But I behaved myself, and so did he. That allowed us to have a reasonably coherent talk about the background of his company, which definitely leads with creative but does a bunch more.

Show and Tell has for years and years developed and pushed content to many of the giant LED displays around Times Square. His team also manages some of them. But the company is in to a lot more than just spectacular ad displays, including retail.

One of the projects you may have seen in your travels is the Fashion Show Mall up by the Palazzo and Wynn in Las Vegas.  We had a good, frank talk about a lot of things, including the current state of much of what’s called digital signage creative.

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Michael Schneider, ESI Design

November 16, 2016
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I had a chance recently to tour the New York studio and offices for ESI Design, which has done some amazing experiential digital work in public spaces, as well as museums and in retail settings.

Michael Schneider is a senior experience designer and creative technologist at the company, and we spent time talking about the design process behind creating big, interesting and memorable digital canvases.

Among many, many projects through the years, ESI Design was the firm behind the giant fence board-like experience at the Wells Fargo office tower in Denver, and a sensor-driven ambient media wall in the lobby of a building in Washington, D.C.

To Schneider, and to the rest of the team at ESI, it’s not about the tech, it’s about the story.

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Leo Coates, The Coates Group

October 26, 2016
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In this episode, I’m having a chat with Leo Coates of The Coates Group, an end-to-end digital signage solutions provider that’s heavily focused on the quick service restaurant sector. The Australian company already has a footprint in 35 countries - everything from rollouts to trials. Now Coates has opened up an office and innovation centre in Chicago - and it’s not a coincidence that Chicago is also the global headquarters of McDonald’s.

One of the most interesting things about Coates is that he’s just 32 years old, having bought the family business from his dad when he was just 24. He’s built it up from there, and expanded some existing business in Australia with McDonald’s and then moved successfully into some giant markets like Japan and China.

In our chat, Leo talks about how the company operates, how data from restaurant systems is critical to what they do, and why he’s building up a team of 20 in Chicago to go after the North American market. We spoke recently in Chicago, just ahead of the company formally opening its offices and showroom.

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