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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High Coghill-Smith, ONELAN

April 25, 2017
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ONELAN has been around the digital signage market for many, many years, but the company is far better known on its UK home turf, and in other parts of the world, than it is in North America.

That’s changing, as ONELAN starts to build into the US and Canada with a really well respected software and hardware solution, as well as what Hugh Coghill-Smith calls the wrap. That’s the company’s managed services piece.

Coghill-Smith, ONELAN’s longtime sales and marketing director, sat down with me at ISE back in February to talk about the company’s past and present, how they work with jumbo clients like Dubai Duty Free, and the big spike ONELAN is seeing in the meeting room signs market.

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Martin Romanowski, SmartSign

April 18, 2017
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Martin Romanowski is the CEO of the Swedish CMS software firm Smartsign, which has been providing a digital signage solution all the way back into the late 1990s. His company is best known in Europe, and it has offices in eight countries and users in more than 30.

Romanowski and I chatted at ISE in Amsterdam, where his crew had a large booth. One of the big messages was about Smartsign’s ease of use. He agreed easy is an over-used pitch in this business, but when his guys talk about it, he says they really mean it.

Romanowski gets into how the company is seeing great year on year growth, and why the heck there are so many digital signage software companies based in Sweden and Norway.

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Ke-Quang Nguyen-Phuc, Quividi

April 12, 2017
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A lot of companies have come in and out of video analytics for digital signage, but the one constant has been Quividi - a French company with an anonymous pattern detection product a lot of people will tell you is the gold standard for this tech.

I sat with CEO Ke-Quang Nguyen-Phuc during a break at ISE a few weeks ago, and got the rundown on the company and what’s going on with this technology, now and in the future. We talk about the distinction between face recognition and face detection, and what the technology can do for network operators and brands.

We also get into the insights delivered by audience analytics, including how long people really look at screens, and what screens generate the least attention. It's a little technical here and there, but you'll learn stuff.

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Jerome Moeri, Navori

April 5, 2017
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I’ve known Jerome Moeri, the CEO of Navori, for more than a decade, but we’ve never had much of a chance to have a good long chat. That changed at ISE a few weeks ago, when we slotted half an hour to talk about how the Swiss software company got started and where it is going.

Jerome’s a soft-spoken guy, but if you lean in to listen, the story is quite interesting. Navori’s been around for 20 years and the company’s first backers were LVMH, the luxury goods conglomerate that has brands like Louis Vuitton. We get into how the company got started and has grown, and how it now has well in excess of 100,000 software licenses out in the field, including 25,000 on one network in the Middle East.

Jerome talks about the five keys to good software, including a good explanation of native signage players versus web-based ones.

We also talk about Navori’s plans, which include possibly buying some competitors.

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Burr Smith, BroadSign

March 29, 2017
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Burr Smith is the CEO of BroadSign, arguably the most successful CMS software company when it comes to advertising-based networks. His Montreal-based company has contracts with many of the top digital out of home ad networks in North America and Europe.

Things are really good around BroadSign these days. Staff numbers are growing, a New York office just opened and the company has a big party tonight on the Vegas strip.

But it hasn’t always been like this. Smith not only runs the company. He owns it, and steered it through a really rough patch in which the company ran into money troubles when the recession hit in 2008 and 9. That ultimately led to BroadSign filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Smith talks candidly about that period, and how he and a loyal core group scratched their way through and out of that. He also talks about where things are at now, and why his company has broadened into a supply side platform for programmatic advertising.

We spoke a few weeks ago at ISE in Amsterdam.

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Luis Villafane, Maler

March 21, 2017
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Luis Villafane have been email pen pals for years, but I only met him in person for the first time last month in Amsterdam, at ISE. It was a treat, because the guy not only knows the signage business in and out, but is blunt and funny as hell.

If you are a regular 16:9 reader you will remember some of his frank and funny guest posts, like a plea to vendors and service providers to Have The Cojones To Admit And Share Mistakes.

He runs Maler, a digital signage service provider based in A Coruna, on the northwest tip of Spain. Maler is all about managing digital signage networks, and a small team runs some very big networks, like KFC in the UK. Maler recently signed on as the sponsor of the companion 16:9 podcast, called Projects. But that's not why we're talking. He was on my "gotta talk to" list months ago.

In our chat, we talk about how the company got started, what they do, what's genuinely important when it comes to running stable networks, and what makes Luis crazy.

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Francesco Ziliani, SpinetiX

March 15, 2017
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SpinetiX has been on the digital signage scene for more than a decade now, and if you are in the business, you may know them as the Swiss guys who market a really nice little aluminum-clad, solid state playback box. They had that 10 years ago, when a lot of signage networks were still going in with desktop PCs.

What always stumped me was the price - which seemed really high. But in talking to the guys for the last couple of years I came to understand a couple of things - the boxes come with a slick software platform installed and included in the price, and the things last and last. There are SpinetiX boxes that were installed in 2007 that are still happily doing their thing 10 years later.

In a world of $45 Raspberry Pis and $100 Android boxes, a $700 box will seem high. But Spinetix says a really good Total Cost Of Ownership number realized when an operator starts thinking in terms of four, five and even 10 years of operation. Amortize a box and software over five years and it gets pretty affordable.

I met with CEO Francesco Ziliani to talk about his company, when we were both at Integrated Systems Europe a few weeks ago. It was a bit of a cliche, but he brought along chocolate because at trade shows, that's often also known as lunch.

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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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