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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Mike Kilian, Mvix

November 15, 2017
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Mvix is another one of those companies in the digital signage ecosystem that ticks along, doing its thing, without making a lot of marketplace noise.

I assumed the software and solutions provider, based in the high tech corridor west of Washington, DC, had maybe 20-25 people. But I found out Mvix has about 70, mostly in the DC area. They also have a sizeable development team in India - not outsourced, but staff.

The company has been around for a dozen years and has put much of its focus on government, healthcare and education, and picked up a lot of business based on an easy to use platform and turnkey services.

I spoke with Mike Kilian, a senior director at the company, about how Mvix goes to market, what they’re up to, and how the company’s platform is opening up to deal with a much wider range of playback devices, like Chromeboxes.

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Sean Levy, MediaSignage

November 8, 2017
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There’s no question that consumers like the word free, and it’s a term that has certainly worked for LA-based MediaSignage, which sees about 100 new accounts opened up everyday for its mostly free digital signage platform.

There are lots of software offers in this business that are free for the first account, but you pay after the second and third, and so on. Or ... the software is free, but if you want more than very basic functionality, you need to send the vendor real money.

In this case, MediaSignage says about 80% of the functionality of its platform is indeed free. And if clients do need the rest of what’s on offer, the most they can pay a month is $100 for an enterprise account, no matter how many players they have in a network.

In this episode, I speak with Sean Levy, one of the two co-founders of MediaSignage. We talk a lot about free, and how that works as a business model. The company has run lean, has no sales people, and leverages the hell out of cloud services. We also get into the technical side of the platform, and talk about where the digital signage marketplace is going.

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Ryan Sterling, GreenScreens

November 1, 2017
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There is a bit of a gold rush aspect to the rise of the cannabis industry in the United States - first in Colorado and now in several states. The rules aren’t all set, but up here in Canada the whole country is supposed to be legalized by next summer.

There’s a lot of money in the business, and a lot of business being done servicing that sector. A handful of digital signage companies, doing various things like content, have started working in the sector, and one of them is a pure-play startup called GreenScreens.

Based in a cannabis-focused incubator in Boulder, Colorado, the company is providing a full signage solution to dispensaries in three states, with designs of being in 500 locations a year from now.

Their screens educate and pre-sell customers, and based on some field experience, move a lot of extra product.

I had a chat with co-founder Ryan Sterling about the origins of the business, the mighty challenge of an industry that is constantly evolving, and the road ahead.

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Peter Cherna, Scala

October 25, 2017
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This week we are doing a little wayback thing, talking to someone who has been working specifically at digital signage for almost 25 years, for a company that’s been at it for 30.

One of the events that’s part of of all the digital signage week things in New York next week is one that’s marking three decades in business for Scala, one of the best known brands in this industry.

Peter Cherna joined the company as a software developer in 1993, and he’s now Scala’s Chief Product Officer - basically the guy making all the decisions around what the content management system does and delivers.

We chatted about the really early days of Scala, which was started in Norway and built at that time off the old Commodore Amiga computer and software platform. He was at Commodore, and like several other developers, got off what was a sinking ship and joined Scala.

We get into a little bit of the history of the company and this industry, but also look at what’s going on with technology these days, and how things are evolving.

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Neil Farr, Acquire Digital

October 4, 2017
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Being a best-kept secret in an industry can be deadly for a company, but it’s worked out OK for Neil Farr and his Leicester, England company Working Solutions, which trades under the brand Acquire Digital.

For 20 years, the company has been developing a meaty, diverse software platform that will do all the core aspects of digital signage, but also allows for a lot of customization.

Farr admits he and his team have not been all that good at getting the name out there in the ecosystem, but it hasn’t hurt them much. Acquire has several high profile clients and jobs - like an amazing three-dimensional pylon on the Vegas strip - and a lot of business just comes in based on references from happy clients and partners.

We caught up recently via Skype, and Farr walked me through the history of the company, what’s different about what they do and offer, and what’s coming with technology that keeps him excited about the business.

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David Labuskes, AVIXA

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

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

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

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

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Peter Fahlman, Telemetry

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

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

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

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

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David Douglas-Beveridge, SmartContent.TV

September 6, 2017
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If you spend any time clicking around the internet, you are very quickly going to bump into a website that is using a slider - a piece of browser functionality that shifts text, images and video in and out of a web page.

The most heavily used slider out there comes from a German company called Themepunch, and that little coding shop has spun off a new company and product called SmartContent.TV.

The company’s digital signage platform is built directly off the Revolution Slider that’s been licensed some 4 million times for WordPress websites - allowing everyone from expert WordPress developers to total newbies to build and launch animated, dynamic digital signage shows for very little money. If you want a sense of what sliders can do, visit the website, it has multiple sliders on the landing page.

SmartContent just came out of beta and is now marketing a solution that runs on $60 Amazon FireSticks and costs about $15 a month to use,.

In this episode, I have a chat with David Douglas-Beveridge, co-founder of SmartContent, to talk about the roots of the product, how it’s used, and where it’s going.

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Zach Klima, WaitTime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Michael Higgins, Harris School Solutions

July 19, 2017
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Public schools would seem like a natural fit for digital signage because of all the communications that circulate, all the time, in K-12 schools.

A software company that’s focused on the education market - Harris School Solutions - recently announced a product that’s an interesting blend of digital signage and smartphone apps. It’s designed to communicate what’s on the menu in school lunchrooms, and get feedback from students and their parents about whether they like the food getting loaded on cafeteria trays.

In this episode, I talk to Michael Higgins about EZSchoolLunch, and about the challenges of developing digital signage software solutions, selling them into bureaucracies and dealing with the long lead times of schools and school districts.

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Robin Carlisle, Framestore Labs

July 12, 2017
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Robin Carlisle is Global Head of Creative for Framestore Labs, a UK-based creative technology shop that specializes in making beautiful and cinematic real-time visuals.

Labs is part of a larger company that has been doing amazing visuals for years. For example, that’s Framestore’s work in movies like Gravity, which somehow imagineers what happens when satellite debris takes out a space station.

Carlisle’s company is involved in all kinds of projects, and recently, has done work that falls squarely in the digital signage and interactive signage buckets. That includes work done for the London Stock Exchange, Morgan Stanley and Ford.

We connected by Skype, with Carlisle joined by the company’s production head Jonny Dixon, just in case the questions got too deep into the technical weeds. They didn’t.

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Steve Rickless, Tripleplay

July 5, 2017
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Steve Rickless, one of the founders of the UK firm Tripleplay, believes likes a lot of people that technology is converging, and thinks his company is in a good spot because it has already converged its technology.

The company started in IP television for the corporate market, but by 2008 was doing a blended hardware and software solution that did IPTV and digital signage off the same user experience, and running off the same boxes.

While start-ups have been trying to adapt low-cost Android set-top as signage players, with mixed results, Tripleplay has for years been using the kinds of commercial-grade set-top boxes you’ve seen behind hotel TVs as digital signage players. They're not necessarily small or pretty, but they just work and work.

From the perspective of Rickless, Tripleplay's CEO, the way forward is one solution doing many things for enterprise customers. He doesn't see that great a future for companies with silo'd technologies that just do one thing.

We spoke recently at InfoComm about the company’s roots, the size of business these days, and where things are heading. The chat was on the show floor, so there’s lots going on in the background.

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Meric Adriansen, D3

June 27, 2017
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I find, more and more, that some of the more successful companies in this business are a bit like stealth submarines. They run silent and deep, and you don’t hear much about them or see them around.

That would apply pretty nicely to D3, a New York company that is in the LED display business. D3 started outside in New York’s Times Square - with some iconic LED boards. Now the company is indoors, with narrow pixel pitch displays in some premium retailers. I’d say who, but that will get the company in trouble with certain publicity-wary clients. Suffice to say, you’d reply, “Oh really …”

D3 is also doing corporate, including a job it CAN talk about - the amazing 13K lobby of the new Netflix offices in Los Angeles.

I saw D3 recently at InfoComm, and asked why the company just had a teeny booth and no LED displays, when it was surrounded by less successful companies with massive displays.

The management team did that because LEDs are already becoming a commodity, D3 Co-Founder and Managing Partner Meric Adriansen told me. The real secret is in the video processing and software and, of course, the idea and the content. It’s also, of course, waaaay cheaper to pull off, and easier for set-up and teardown.

Adriansen and I went to the back of a noisy InfoComm hall to chat, and you can hopefully hear us over the guys who decided to tear down some nearby scaffolding right after we started.

Sigh.

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Eric Henry, Tightrope Media Systems

June 14, 2017
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Tightrope Media Systems has been around the digital signage business for 20 years, and if you’ve heard of the company, there’s a decent chance you thought, like me, that the Minneapolis company was a broadcast software firm that also did a signage CMS.

Turns out it was the other way around, and Tightope started as a digital signage software company doing digital menu boards on old CRT screens for schools. The big driver was coming up with a dumbed-down application that people with more important things to do around a school could use.

That early platform seemed to have another likely home with community broadcasters, which is how Tightrope found its way into that side of the business. These days, it’s about 50:50 digital signage and broadcast.

Tightrope is in Orlando this week for InfoComm, and the big thing the team is showing off is an integration that turns $150 Apple TV boxes into managed digital signage players. It’s something that’s only really been possible in the last few months, and Tightrope President Eric Henry fills me in on how that happened, and the broader story of the company.

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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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Rodolfo Saccoman, AdMobilize

May 16, 2017
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There’s nothing all that new about digital signage networks using video analytics to get some sense of what’s happening with audiences near screens, but AdMobilize is not just another company peddling the same old stuff.

I spoke with CEO and Founder Rodolfo Saccoman about a product and service he says rolls up a wide range of different measurement technologies under one simple, harmonized platform.

Saccoman comes out of the IT side of the hospitality industry and he totally gets the importance of customer service and experience. He also understands buzz, and the insatiable appetite out there for cutting costs. That may explain, in part, why the company’s AdBeacon measurement device runs off the extremely buzz-worthy Raspberry Pi board.

We get into a lot of things in our chat - including how he thinks computer vision and artificial intelligence will work in the future in digital signage and digital out of home.

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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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David Keribin, CityMeo

May 3, 2017
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Most of the companies I sit down with on these podcasts are well-established, and my interview subjects have a lot if history behind them. But I got pitched by a French start-up called CityMeo, and I agreed to meet up for a chat several weeks ago at ISE in Amsterdam, even though I knew zero about them.

CEO David Keribin says his company was started with three IT-engineer colleagues, operating from the premise that all the digital signage solutions on the market "sucked" for day-to-day users.

I thought that was a bit of a reach, but wanted to hear more about the French firm, which in three years has quickly developed a client base in 19 countries and does everything from retail to internal communications in French nuclear plants.

This is the last of the dozen-plus interviews I did at ISE. 

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