2018 DSF Coffee and Controversy, in NYC

November 7, 2018
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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

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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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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Pierre Gendron, Stingray Media

August 22, 2018
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tingray Digital Media Group is one the world's biggest providers of multi-platform music services, with 11,000 commercial clients in 156 countries.

The Montreal company's core business is piped-in music channels for commercial and residential, but it also has a growing operation in digital experiences for retail - like flashy screen networks in big Canadian sporting goods stores.

That side of the business is led by Pierre Gendron, a former pro hockey player who found his way into digital signage doing an early version of it for company golf tournaments around Quebec. That company evolved and developed into Groupe Viva, which was then acquired in 2015 by Stingray.

Now part of a much larger organization, Gendron talks in this chat about what Stingray offers and how it intends to grow. One of those ways is through acquisition, and we get into why Stingray recently bought Toronto-based NovraMedia, which gives the company a big national bank customer and a stronger digital signage foothold in English Canada and beyond.

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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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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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Art Stavenka, Kino-Mo

July 4, 2018
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I've been to a few trade shows now where the fast-spinning LED light sticks - marketed as Hypervsn - attract big crowds and have a lot of people whipping out their phone cameras. The technology definitely creates buzz, so I wanted to know more about the technology and the company behind it.

 

It uses the phenomena of persistence of vision to create motion visuals that have dimension to them - a sort of hologram.

When these things were one-off blades - like wall fans - I saw no real commercial opportunity. But Kino-mo, the London, UK company behind Hypervsn, has now figured out a way to sync multiple units and create very large motion displays. That changes things.

I spoke with company co-founder Art Stavenka at InfoComm, and asked him some fairly pointed questions about reliability of devices that are furiously spinning all day long. Digital signage ops people don't like moving parts, and this has a lot of them.

It's a relatively short chat, by the normal standards of this podcast, but worth a listen if you've seen this tech and want to learn more.

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Greg Topel, Tanvas

June 27, 2018
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Imagine if you could feel what you see on a touchscreen. If, for example, you could unzip a zipper by drawing your finger down a screen and experiencing that familiar sensation.

That's the premise behind a Chicago startup called Tanvas, that is using haptics technology to enable users of interactive screens to have genuine touch added to their experiences when using touch technology.

As Greg Topel, the company's CEO puts it, smartphones have conditioned billions of people to experience information with flat, lifeless pieces of glass. His Tanvas team argues that's all wrong, and that the sense of touch is critical to real world interactions.

We all order stuff online and wish we could somehow get a sense of things, like the different thread counts of cotton sheets. Using a simple touch overlay on screens, equipped with tech from Tanvas, that would be possible.

I sat down with Topel at InfoComm in Las Vegas, and he explained the roots of the company, commercial plans and most importantly, how this stuff works.

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Brett Jones, Lightform

June 20, 2018
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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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Jonathan Gudai, Adomni

June 13, 2018
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A Las Vegas startup called Adomni represents the latest effort through the years to roll up digital OOH networks with the idea of making media buying and execution easy.

Many have tried, few have succeeded, but here's what's different about Adomni. First, they're primarily going after outdoor billboards, and they're not trying to be THE buying and selling solution. You go through Adomni online to buy the unsold inventory on these screens, and almost any media inventory has unsold inventory.

It's also different because the founders looked at the marketplace and what was already out there, thought about the user base, and came up with a user experience that's about as visually friendly and dead simple as AirBnB. Instead of renting a basement apartment for a few days, a small business owner might rent time slots on some boards along a freeway near their main store.

I spoke with one of the founders, Jonathan Gudai, over Skype from his office down near McCarron Airport.

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Arie Stavchansky, Dataclay

May 31, 2018
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Anyone who works with creative teams knows there is no such thing as a content fairy. Video spots don't magically appear in inboxes overnight. Somebody had to design and render that video, and that work, frankly, takes a while.

So it's a little freaky to talk to a company that can do 1,000s of good-looking, customized videos in a matter of hours. But that's what Dataclay is all about.

The little company operating out of Austin, Texas has written the software and services that can mass-produce data-driven videos at pretty much the click of a mouse. And these aren't crappy, simplistic videos no one would want anyway. They come out of Adobe After Effects, full After Effects templates, and a plug-in written by Dataclay.

Imagine a national realtor being able to mass-produce a piece of video for every listing that comes into its databases - photos, details, the whole nine yards. Imagine a theme park spitting out videos instead of 8 by 10s that families can buy when they leave a ride or the park. Imagine a custom highlights video of every runner in a marathon ... kinda like this ...

I spoke with company founder Arie Stavchansky about how the platform he built brings automation and industrial-scale video production to digital signage, advertising and marketing.

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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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Mark Stross, ANC

April 24, 2018
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ANC got its start about 20 years ago as a rotational signage company that primarily serviced the pro sports business, and through the years, ANC has grown into a big tech services provider that's been putting in the visual systems for many arenas and stadiums.

If you see a big center-hung set of LED boards over an NBA or Division 1 basketball court, or a giant replay board at a ballpark, there's a decent chance ANC is behind it.

More recently the company has found itself getting into digital out of home media, creating the same kinds of visual spectacle you might see in live sports, but instead in public areas or mass transportation hubs. A lot more than a conventional AV systems integrator, ANC is doing a ton of R&D and using product that will do things like light up the whole 360-degree view of an area with sync'd content. You might think, "Well that's not all that new," but ANC's CTO Mark Stross explains why what he's cooked up is different.

I spoke with Stross recently about the idea of taking the spectacle and energy of live events into this new kind of arena of public squares and rail stations, and how he's constantly trying to push possibilities.

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Stan Richter, SignageOS

March 28, 2018
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One of the big challenges on the technology side of digital signage is keeping up with all of the emerging hardware and software options on the market.

It used to be a reasonably simple case of developing software in one OS or another and getting it running on a PC. But now there are Android players, Chrome devices, set-top boxes and a variety of so-called smart displays from different manufacturers, most of them different from one maker to the next.

It's a bit of a mess - particularly if you have a content management system and clients asking constantly if the platform works with this or that.

Stan Richter and his company SignageOS saw all of that, and have launched what's being called a unification platform that makes it easy to get a CMS and its player running on multiple kinds of devices. SignageOS sits in the middle and also handles the management and maintenance of the various devices.

The service is white-labelled, and the idea is for software companies to subscribe to SignageOS and build that functionality and cost into their own licensing fees. The company, based in Prague, just launched a month ago, and have 30 NDAs going with software firms. They've got people at DSE today, way at the back of the hall, and eager to talk to potential North American partners.

CEO Stan Richter, who I first met at ISE, filled me in recently.

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Joaquim Lopes Jr., 4YouSee

February 21, 2018
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I have traded emails with Joaquim Lopes for at least couple of years now, and he has been telling me about his company 4YouSee and its efforts providing software and services to the Latin American digital signage market.

He was at Integrated Systems Europe in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, and when we finally met in person, I suggested we grab a quiet spot and do a podcast chat.

The company is based in Brazil but also does work in other countries. We had a good chat about the marketplace, and his company's products and services, including an interesting creative tool.

I picked up a whopper of a bug at or after ISE, so my voice on this intro probably sounds a bit rough. My edit guy is also on holiday, so I am hacking this episode together myself. Back to more polished work next time.

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Jaffer Haider, Poster My Wall

February 7, 2018
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There's no question that making a proper investment in creative is essential to successful digital signage networks, but there's also no question that a lot of small businesses don't have the budget for full motion graphic design work, or wouldn't even know who to ask to do that work.

A few companies have popped up in recent years offering versions of template tools that allow small business people to produce videos for their signs without having any motion graphic design skills. It's fair to say none of them have really caught fire, though at least one is still around. Sixteen:Nine readers may remember my own crack at this, called Spotomate.

PosterMyWall is a Silicon Valley company that has, for several years now, offered online tools that let people build the creative files to make print posters, and digital versions for big social media channels like Facebook.

Now the company has taken the same toolset and made it possible for users to build simple but polished videos from templates, and download them for all of $15. I got the rundown on the product, which was introduced a few weeks ago, from Jaffer Haider, the company's CEO.

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Dan Garner, Xibo

January 3, 2018
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By far the busiest post on the Sixteen:Nine blog is one that lists the many options out there for free, kinda sorta free, or free to start with digital signage CMS software.

One of the oldest - and among the few that are legitimately free - is Xibo, an open source digital signage solution that started as a student project in the UK many years ago.

It's still around and has grown up and dramatically evolved. Xibo is still open source and still fundamentally free, but a company has developed around it to provide supporting services - things like hosting and technical help. The open source Xibo code in its early days was definitely stuff only propellor-heads could make any sense of and use, but Xibo now has friendly installers and easy user interfaces - making it a product anyone can easily work with.

I spoke by Skype with Dan Garner, the student who first developed Xibo in Brighton, England, back in 2004. He now runs the supporting company, Spring Signage.

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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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