Sixteen:Nine - All Digital Signage, Some Snark
Hadrien Laporte, Smartpixel

Hadrien Laporte, Smartpixel

December 4, 2019

If you have ever gone through the process of looking for a condo or house in a development that's still just a hole in the ground or an empty field, you've probably spent time in a presentation center looking over drawings, plans and maybe even miniature models of the development.

Those places start to tell the story, but it requires a serious leap of faith to buy a property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars based on some nice drawings, maps and pamphlets.

There are touchscreen displays that digitize that material, and arguably make it better. But if you really want to sell and close, making people feel like they're virtually immersed in the specific property they're looking at is several leaps forward.

I spoke with Hadrien Laporte, a graphic designer who a decade ago started Smartpixel in Montreal, offering software tools and creative services to help truly visualize things like commercial, industrial and residential real estate.

The company does virtual reality, without the embarrassing, isolating goggles, and does it very well. Smartpixel is thriving, has 60 people and 15 more planned for 2020, and is also planning to expand its product. It also does basic digital signage, when asked, but when you can do 3D visualizations of entire real estate developments, putting videos on screens is a bit of a shrug.

I had a great chat with Laporte about the company's roots, how it does things, and where Smartpixel is going.

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Ravi Bail, PiSignage

Ravi Bail, PiSignage

November 27, 2019

The Raspberry Pi micro PC has been on the market for several years now, and is in its 4th generation.

A handful of companies have developed CMS software applications for the Pi - some I'd say more successfully than others.

One that's now been around for five-plus years, and built up both a mature platform and big user base, is PiSignage, an Indian company based in the tech mecca of Bangalore.

I spoke with founder Ravi Bail about why his software consulting firm got into the signage marketplace, and why it went with Raspberry Pi.

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We get into a lot of things, including how PiSignage makes money with a managed CMS that costs subscribers less than $3 a month.

Stephen Gottlich, Gable

Stephen Gottlich, Gable

November 20, 2019

I have heard some people in this industry starting to describe what they do as visual solutions, as opposed to digital signage. I'm not sure that really fits in all cases, but it certainly does for Gable, a Baltimore-area company that's been doing analog signs of all kinds for four decades. About 10 years ago, Gable added digital display solutions.

They work with all kinds of end-users - heavily with retail, but also in other verticals - on visual solutions that cover the full spectrum of options. That might mean a contract that involves a big direct view LED display for a venue, but also the meat and potatoes printed and crafted material that just helps visitors find their way around a venue.

I spoke with Stephen Gottlich, Gable's Senior Vice President of Innovation and Strategy, about what the company is up to, and what the marketplace is looking for and doing.

We also get into what he sees happening more broadly in the marketplace, and what he's seen in numerous technology trips to China.

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Daniel Black, Glass-Media

Daniel Black, Glass-Media

November 13, 2019

Projection on window film is one of those things that I thought had come and gone from digital signage, with too many technical challenges to make the idea really workable.

But projection is having a comeback, and arguably the company doing the most with it for retail and campaign-based marketing is a scrappy little startup in Dallas, called Glass-Media.

I chatted with Daniel Black, who co-founded the company roughly five years ago and is its CEO. The big differences between the first wave of projection in signage, and now, are better technology and smarter vendors.

The film is better. The projectors are brighter. Specialty lenses mean the set-up takes less space. And the big one - laser projectors are supplanting older-style projectors that steadily needed expensive bulbs replaced, and weren't engineered for commercial applications.

The other factor is guys like Black selling this as a solution, with measurables for retailers and brands, as opposed to a technical thing with short term Wow Factor.

If you've been curious about the state of projection in signage, this is a worthwhile listen.

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Trey Courtney, Mood Media

Trey Courtney, Mood Media

November 6, 2019

There's a decent chance that when you walk into a retailer in a developed country, and you hear music or some sort of in-store audio playing, that's Mood Media.

The company is in more than half a million subscriber locations in a 100-plus countries delivering in-store media solutions. While that started with music, it was natural as digital signage technology matured to add on visual messaging.

Now the company has launched something called Mood Harmony, a new platform that grew out of a signage CMS and offers a single user experience to do sound, visuals, social media and even scent marketing off of one platform.

I had a great chat with Trey Courtney, the Global Chief Product Officer for Mood Media, to get the back-story on the company, why it developed Harmony, and how retailers are defining and using technology designed to deliver on customer experience. 

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2019 DSF Coffee And Controversy

2019 DSF Coffee And Controversy

October 30, 2019

A couple of weeks back I was in New York for the annual Digital Signage Federation Coffee and Controversy event, which I moderated.

I was able to grab audio last year and post as a podcast, and this year we managed the same. The audio is OK, at best, but you should be able to hear just fine.

Your big challenge will be discerning who is saying what, because the session was me and five great panelists, all with terrific insights and experience.

The topic was privacy and proof, as it relates to tech being used for retail and advertising insights. The speakers were:
- Dylan Gilbert, Policy Fellow at DC-based PublicKnowledge
- Laura Davis-Taylor, the Co-Founder of Atlanta's HighStreet Collective & LivingRetailLab
- Kym Frank, President of New York-based Geopath
- Amy Avery, Chief Intelligence Officer at New York agency Droga5
- Jeremy Bergstein, CEO of New York agency The Science Project

By all accounts it was a great session that could have gone another hour or more. The DSF is working on video clips, as well, which will be available to its membership.

Please note it is double the length of a "normal" 16:9 podcast.

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Maris Ensing, Mad Systems

Maris Ensing, Mad Systems

October 23, 2019

I wouldn't want the job of trying to boil down what Mad Systems does to an elevator pitch, unless it was a very tall building with a very slow elevator.

Based in Orange County, California, Mad Systems is technically an AV system designer and integrator, but these are not the guys you'd hire to put in some video-conferencing gear and some screens in the lobby.

It's not unfair to suggest the Mad in Mad Systems has to do with Maris Ensing and his engineers being a bunch of mad scientists. Go through the company's project portfolio and you find out they've put together a steam-driven aircraft and a 20-foot high tornado.

The company also did a big part of one of my favorite projects - the alumni center at the University of Oregon, which has a set of very tall, but moveable stacked LCD displays.

Ensing and his team have got involved in all kinds of things over 20 years, but in our chat, he talks a lot about a new AV management system the company has built from nothing - called Quicksilver. Among many things, Mad has patent applications underway for a new kind of facial color and pattern recognition system designed to instantly personalize visits to places like museums.

I'll let Ensing explain that and other things. This was one of my easier podcasts. He had a lot to say and there was little room for questions. Enjoy. 

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IV Dickson, SageNet

IV Dickson, SageNet

October 16, 2019

It's now really common that businesses of all sizes and types who decide to deploy some sort of digital signage network look to a solutions provider who will not only help put it in, but help the client go from the idea stage all the way through to ongoing operations.

Effectively, they're outsourcing the whole shooting match to people who know what they're doing. That helps companies stay focused on what they're good at.

Tulsa-based SageNet has been doing outsourced IT work for 20 years, and about two years ago saw enough shaking among its core customers - and had enough requests for help - to branch into digital signage and make it part of a very rich suite of services.

The company brought on IV Dickson, who has been around the signage business forever, to help build out the signage business and function as a subject matter expert in a company that was more conditioned to selling IT network services.

It's worked out, and the company is now mining a lot of new opportunities in verticals like c-stores and QSR.

I had a great chat with IV about SageNet and SageView, what is described as a one-stop shop for everything signage.

We also talk opera. Yeah, opera.

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Daniel Griffin, Userful

Daniel Griffin, Userful

October 2, 2019

 Like a lot of people in the digital signage industry, I tend to think about video walls in terms of the display hardware, and what's running on those big beautiful screens. I know precious little about what's happening behind the wall to ensure it all looks good. 

Userful has been making waves for a few years now by offering a software-driven product that drives visuals accurately to screens, and allows for the sort of flexibility and instant switches that are needed in scenarios like control rooms.

While traditional video wall systems can tend to have a lot of often expensive hardware and software to control the screen and send pixels where they need to be, Userful has been marketing products that are now cloud-based and require minimal hardware.

I spoke with Daniel Griffin, the company's VP of Marketing and a company long-timer. We talked about how Userful came about and about a business that's still known for video walls, but is finding its way into other aspects of visual communications around workplaces because of its AV over networks capabilities.

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Paul Peng, AUO

Paul Peng, AUO

September 25, 2019

 I was in Taiwan recently for a trade show called Touch Taiwan, and managed to grab 20 minutes with Paul Peng, the Chairman and CEO of display manufacturing giant AU Optronics.

AUO is based in Taiwan, with its main office about an hour south of Taipei in the manufacturing city of Hsinchu. The company has about 42,000 employees globally, including a digital signage business unit that came with the acquisition of the CMS software company ComQi.

AUO makes LCD displays primarily, with a production line that can do glass sizes from Gen 3.5 to 8.5. The bigger the size, the bigger the display.

At one of the two biggest stands at Touch Taiwan, AUO was showing the wide range of display options, from stretch LCDs for retail and transport applications to super-premium 8K displays.

We grabbed some chairs at the back of the AUO stand for the chat, and while Peng does most of the talking, ComQi CEO Ifti Ifhar also gets in on the discussion. The audio quality is a little iffy, just because of where we were ...

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Marshall Thompson, Signet

Marshall Thompson, Signet

September 11, 2019

Workplace communications have developed into a very active, very big vertical for a lot of companies across the digital signage ecosystem - but most of their activity has involved screens positioned around the white collar and, increasingly, blue collar workspaces.

For most companies, workplaces is A vertical. For Signet, it is THE vertical, and the Silicon valley-based company has built up a tidy business being laser-focused on workplaces and particularly on the briefing and experience centers of Fortune 5000 companies.

These are the high-touch, big visual impact designated areas that companies build to entertain, inform and hopefully close major customers - using everything from big video walls to interactive displays.

I spoke with Marshal Thompson, who runs client solutions for the company. We get into what Signet does and how it found its way into corporate communications, the thinking and impact of these briefing centers, and how workplace communications is so important to attracting and keeping talent in hyper-competitive places like Silicon Valley.

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Jeff Hastings, BrightSign (2019)

Jeff Hastings, BrightSign (2019)

September 4, 2019

I've done a podcast interview with Jeff Hastings in the past, but there's a lot going on with BrightSign and it was time for a catch-up with the CEO.

BrightSign will ship about 300,000 little purple digital signage players this year, at a clip of something like 1,200 units a day. The players have become their own hardware category - as in, "Are you planning to use PCs, smart displays or BrightSign boxes?"

In our chat, we talk about why BrightSign devices have so much traction in the marketplace, and why so many software and solutions companies are signing on now as integrated partners.

We get into the thinking behind a service called BSN Cloud that is now coming out of beta testing and into wider release.

And we talk broadly about what CIOs and IT managers need to think about when they start looking at large, scaled digital signage networks. The IT guys I used to refer to as the Dr. No crowd are now very much on board with using special purpose devices that just work, and don't bring the headaches of full PCs and their operating systems.

 

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Dan Baker, AVI Systems

Dan Baker, AVI Systems

August 28, 2019

 If you are on the solutions side of the digital signage business, you have likely, at some point, had to open up and look over an RFP document from an end-user, quietly praying it won't be too onerous and/or stupid.

A lot of digital signage RFPs still - in 2019 - lead with technology, going on and on and on about specs and requirements, and only making a passing reference to content. Which is nutty, because the screens have only nominal value and impact if the content on them isn't timely, relevant and at least kinda sorta visually interesting.

Dan Baker handles the sales engineering for digital signage at AVI Systems, a big Minneapolis-area integrator. He's seen those kinds of RFPs, and knows through experience there's a better way.

He contacted me, offering to talk about his take, and his company's take, on a methodical process that, at minimum, gets end-users thinking about objectives and the content needed to meet them. Some companies are mandated to do RFPs - it's just how their procurement department rolls - but in a perfect world, end-users are usually better skipping RFPs and working with people who know digital signage.

The right advisors can help them get to the content and technology model that will actually deliver on objectives, and keep them from spending big on tech they need, while largely forgetting what will go on the screens.

 

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Jay Leedy, Diversified

Jay Leedy, Diversified

August 21, 2019

There are a handful of big AV systems integrators in North America genuinely active in digital signage, but I'm feeling pretty comfy saying New Jersey-based Diversified is the most active, experienced and directly knowledgeable about this industry.

The company has built and then managed many of the larger networks out there, including most of the big US banks that the average person could name. While some of the other big AV/IT guys have some dedicated resources, Diversified has a whole and big group pretty much doing nothing but digital signage and digital out of home work. The company also put the time and money into hiring a series of subject matter experts on digital signage - one of them being Jay Leedy, who is now Director of Business Development for what many people in the industry know as Diversified's Digital Media Group, or DMG.

Jay's based down in Atlanta but works with people and companies across the country. In this talk, we get into what DMG is all about, how they plug into this sector, and how they tend to work with clients and partners.

We also talk Adobe - a company more active in signage than many of us probably think - and Google, and the adoption rates out there for smart signage.

 

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Michael Provenzano, Vistar Media

Michael Provenzano, Vistar Media

August 14, 2019

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

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

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

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

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Mike Kilian, Mvix, On Workplace Communications

Mike Kilian, Mvix, On Workplace Communications

July 24, 2019

Just about anyone involved on the sales or management side of digital signage these days knows that workplace communications has pretty quickly grown into one of the most active and interesting verticals.

With QSRs, the other hot vertical, you're doing menus and digital promo posters. In the workplace, all kinds of interesting things are possible, and can make a difference.

In this podcast, I spend some time with Mike Kilian of the DC-based CMS and solutions company Mvix. I've done a podcast in the past with Mike, but based on chatting with him at Infocomm, we decided to do a new one talking about the opportunities and challenges of digital signage in everything from offices to factory floors.

It would seem like the rise of big data and IoT sensors would open up a lot of possibilities to visualize data and automate content. But in this conversation, you'll learn it's not that easy to do when IT people are worried about security, and the machines and sensors that could spit out useful data have few standards or common formats.

If you are a business communicator, this is a useful listen.

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Artem Risukhin, Kitcast

Artem Risukhin, Kitcast

July 17, 2019

If you go to any industry trade shows and follow social media activity around them, you'll no doubt have noticed A LOT of tweeting by a company called Kitcast.

They've done a very effective job of using social media to create both buzz and booth traffic, and Kitcast staffers were back at it recently at the Digital Signage Summit in Germany.

I've had a few quick chats with the company at the shows, but wanted to know more about a platform and service that at first glance seems like yet another cloud CMS.

There are a few interesting distinctions. First, while the company is based in San Francisco, its roots are in Ukraine. Second, and the big thing, its service is heavily focused on using Apple TV set-top boxes as the media player, and doing so at the enterprise level.

I spoke with Artim Risukhin about the roots of Kitcast and how it fits in the digital signage marketplace.

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JJ Parker, Tightrope Media Systems

JJ Parker, Tightrope Media Systems

July 10, 2019

Tightrope Media Systems is one of the oldest companies in the digital signage ecosystem, with roots tracing back to 1997 in Minneapolis.

Co-founder J.J. Parker bought a stack of books and taught himself coding to come up with what was then called a video bulletin board system for local schools. They managed to sell a license, and another, and another, and Tightrope turned into a real company with employees.

More than two decades later, Tightrope is still at it, and doing well, with some 40 employees and a digital signage product called Carousel that's focused on two key markets - education and workplaces. 

An interesting note is that Carousel works on Apple TVs. It's not one of those cases where a developer got something to work, and not much more. The platform is integrated with enterprise-grade management platform called JAMF, and Apple's education sales team actually buddy-calls with Carousel.

Parker kindly took a half-hour away from a working vacation in Madrid with his family to walk me through the roots of Tightrope and where things now sit.

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Burr Smith, Broadsign

Burr Smith, Broadsign

June 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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