Sixteen:Nine - All Digital Signage, Some Snark
Rick Mills, Creative Realities, Inc (CRI)

Rick Mills, Creative Realities, Inc (CRI)

May 13, 2020

Creative Realities is a solutions provider heavily focused on retail, an industry that has been pretty much shuttered in the United States and everywhere other than Sweden because of COVID-19.

These are rough times for store operators for the people who run them, the people who work in them, and the industries that support retail, like digital signage.

While CRI's CEO Rick Mills agrees it's a dark period, he also has a lot of optimism - particularly for the retailers who have the fundamentals to be around when doors are allowed open again, and for service providers who have the tools and know-how to help address what will be new norms.

Mills and I chatted last week about what CRI is doing, as well as about new pandemic-focused tools like thermal sensing screens that his company has started marketing. We spoke, as well, about his company's outlook, including thoughts of acquiring one or several of the companies who are competitors right now, but might not come out of this situation in one piece.

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Stefan Thorarinson, Pristine Screen

Stefan Thorarinson, Pristine Screen

March 18, 2020

At the best of times, using an interactive screen can be a slightly dodgy experience because of the presence of dirt, grime, bacterial build-up and other stuff you really don't even want to think about.

But in this new age we're living in - hopefully temporary, but who knows - touching an interactive surface that's already been used by dozens or scores of others that day could put you in a hospital bed, or coffin.

One of the counter-measures to the risk of transmission of contagions like COVID-19 is the regular cleaning of that screen, not to mention hand-washing or sanitizing after an interactive session.

Given everything that's been going on - and having walked to the self-serve checkout at my local grocery and thought, "Hmmm, how do I do this safely ... " - it's useful to get some insight from a business that's all about clean screens.

Toronto-based Stefan Thorarinson runs North American Ops and Sales for Pristine-Screen, a UK-based company that's specifically in the business of cleaning and protecting digital signage and digital out of home screens.

We chatted about how a global pandemic has raised awareness and attention for keeping screens clean, and what operators should be doing, and not doing.

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Taylor Hunter, Impactrum

Taylor Hunter, Impactrum

February 5, 2020

I love the notion of transparent LED displays - the idea of taking a big surface and making it active, without also creating a big, solid wall that blocks the view in and out.

There are "transparent" LED display products - tech that has matured to a level that they look great from the front, but still tends to look terrible from the back side that's not illuminated.

There is LED on transparent film. LG's looks great, but the pitch is so wide it has limited application. I've seen much finer pitch LED on film from Chinese companies, but like the companies using metal grids, this looks like crap from in behind.

So I was really intrigued when I was made aware of a new company called Impactrum, which is starting to market a truly transparent film on LED that can have as fine a pitch as 6mm, but looks great front and back. And can be used on the OUTSIDE of buildings.

The company is actually a spinout from a decade-old Korean LED maker. I spoke with Impactrum's US-based President, Taylor Hunter.

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David Title, Bravo Media

David Title, Bravo Media

December 18, 2019

Experiential is a huge buzzword these days in the digital signage world, and it tends to get pretty loosely applied to all kinds of things.

I've seen projects and read PR pieces describing the work as being experiential, and thought, "Ok, in what way?"

A creative company down in the Chelsea district has been doing experiential media for years, and from the moment the elevator opens up into the offices of Bravo Media, you're into experience. There are projections all over the walls and off-the-wall gadgets like vintage slot machines retrofitted to shoot selfies.

I was in New York last week and had a great chat with David Title, the Chief Engagement Officer at Bravo, about what the company does, and how he defines engagement and experience.

This is the last podcast until the new year, as people should have better things to do around the holidays. There are some 180 back episodes to listen to, if you did need something to pass time or fall asleep. 

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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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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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Matt Schmitt, Reflect

Matt Schmitt, Reflect

October 9, 2019

Reflect is one of the longest running companies in the digital signage sector - operating out of Dallas since 2001. The company built up its CMS software business largely in retail, but in early 2017 did something of a pivot into ad scheduling and targeting.

I wondered, when I first got walked through what's called Ad Logic, why Reflect was going in that direction, given the addressable market seemed a little limited and companies like Broadsign had a serious head-start on competitors.

Turns out that Reflect was responding to client needs for something that was kinda sorta digital OOH, but was less about agency-driven media scheduling and more about retail and place-based networks that wanted to monetize their screens with endemic advertising. So in a medical office network, they wanted to schedule and runs ads for, say, big pharma and medical device brands.

I spoke with Reflect's president and co-founder Matt Schmitt about his company's journey, and how Reflect has evolved from a software shop to one offering everything from strategy to creative work and media sales.

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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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Tom Milner, Service And Support

Tom Milner, Service And Support

August 7, 2019

Much of the focus in this industry is on the hardware and software used to put digital signage networks together, and increasingly, mercifully, on content and creative.

Not that much attention gets paid to the service side of the business - installing screens and fixing devices when things go wrong. Even less attention is paid to keeping the hardware clean.

That's what Tom Milner, and his UK-based company Service and Support, are all about, and have been for 10 years. Milner has built up his install and service business in the UK and Ireland, and more recently, built a book of business in North America for something called Pristine Screen, a service company specifically in the business of keeping screens clean, inside and out.

In this talk, we get into the roots of his business, how it has grown, and the decision to get into a spinoff business that's all about keeping screens pristine.

 

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Fab Stanghieri, Cineplex Digital Media

Fab Stanghieri, Cineplex Digital Media

May 22, 2019

Canadians all know Cineplex as the dominant movie theater chain in that country, and the Toronto-based company has also been expanding its reach, in recent years, into other related lines of business.

Cineplex now has entertainment-centric restaurant-bars, is bringing Top Golf into Canada, sells out of home media and runs a thriving digital media group that's doing most aspects of digital signage for major enterprise customers in Canada and beyond those borders.

Fab Stanghieri was a senior real estate guy with Cineplex, charged with building and managing the company's movie house portfolio. He had digital media added to his responsibilities a few years ago, and while it was unfamiliar territory at first, he's embraced digital to a degree that it is now his primary focus in the company.

I was passing through Toronto a couple of weeks ago, and Fab kindly took some time to show me around new office space, which is set up to help ideate, deliver and manage digital signage solutions for Cineplex clients.

 

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Dan Hagen, 10net

Dan Hagen, 10net

May 15, 2019

Dan Hagen is a relatively young guy, and a bit of an Energizer Bunny. I know of him as the 10net guy from Vancouver, but I was surprised to learn in a conversation that he has been involved in digital signage since before it was called digital signage.

He was a funding founder of Mercury Online Solutions, which in the late 90s and early 2000s was a big player in this business. That company sold to 3M, and as way too often happens, things went south quickly when a plucky little company gets absorbed into a monster of a company.

Hagen did a few things but eventually found his way to 10net, which is a solutions provider that does most of its work in Vancouver, BC, but is now trying to establish itself south of the border in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

In our chat, we get into how 10net does things, the kinds of projects it works on, and our shared point off view that sum of the most effective digital signage jobs out there are, at first glance, kinda boring looking.

There's not a lot of sizzle in things like backroom screens for safety messaging on ferries, but they make a real difference.

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Brian McClimans, Peerless-AV

Brian McClimans, Peerless-AV

April 17, 2019

The companies who do the infrastructure that gets screens in place and make video walls look amazing are a huge part of the digital signage ecosystem, but don't get all that much attention.

One of the biggest – if not THE biggest – is Chicago-based Peerless AV, which has been a major part of digital signage for many, many years.

Most people know Peerless AV for its mounting systems for digital signage displays and video walls – something they do very well. But the company has also been doing outdoor displays – not just the enclosures – for more than a decade

The company had a big moment with its marketing about a year ago when it started very clearly and overtly saying We do this, AND we do that. It’s working. The company had a killer Q4 and Q1 of this year was as good or better.

I spoke about where Chicago-based Peerless-AV is at with Brian McClimans, the VP Sales for North America and Asia Pacific.

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Jeremiah Archambault, ENS

Jeremiah Archambault, ENS

April 3, 2019

Every year or so, Jeremiah Archambault rings me up, usually out of the blue, from his office in Victoria, BC, on the very west coast of Canada.

He runs a decade-old company called ENS that has, for that time, been steadily developing a digital signage CMS software and management platform, that's now called SAM. With each call, he's given me an update on what's new with the platform and his seemingly endless testing and refinement. I've always finished off the conversation intrigued by what he was putting together.

A decade on, his company has built up a decent footprint of everything from small to enterprise clients, and he's now at a point where things are getting serious. I spoke with him, this time, from the outbound marketing and inbound support call center he's set up and has running in the Philippines. He's aggressively signing up and on-boarding new business partners, with a particular focus on print and sign shops that now know they need to add digital capability, but want it white-labeled and managed by someone else.

In this podcast, we chat about the roots of the company, and a lot of lessons learned about deployment, hardware and dealing with pesky humans. We also get into how he's about to finally get noisy about his solution, with a freeware model that uses a PC stick he's dead-certain is reliable and ideally suited to digital signage.

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Alberto Cáceres, Trison

Alberto Cáceres, Trison

February 20, 2019

Being in Amsterdam for ISE recently offered a chance to meet up and talk to some people who are squarely focused on business on the other side of the Atlantic.

I knew Trison was a major player in digital signage solutions in its home country of Spain, but I didn't realize the company had a far greater reach than that. In 2018, Trison was in the middle of 2,500 digital signage and related jobs, in 76 countries.

The company started 20 years ago doing audio solutions, in northwest Spain, and has grown into the major solutions provider for retail digital signage in Europe and beyond. A Coruna is home base, but Trison has offices in Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Shanghai, Mexico City and elsewhere.

I spoke with CEO Alberto Cáceres outside the ISE press room.

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Beth Warren, Creative Realities

Beth Warren, Creative Realities

November 14, 2018

Beth Warren of Creative Realities - or CRI for short - came recommended as a speaker for the DSF's recent Coffee and Controversy event in New York.

We'd never met, and while in New York, I seized the opportunity to meet up with her after the event to talk a lot about digital signage in retail - from her longtime lens as the Senior VP of Experience Planning at CRI.

She comes out of the agency world, so she approaches signage in retail from a different perspective and set of learned experiences and observations. We go fairly deep in our chat into what experience actually means - and what genuinely works in retail, versus some of the trickery and gadgets that get touted as delivering "engagement."

We also get a little into what CRI does, and the many twists and turns of its recent history. The company has evolved, and now positions itself very much as a solutions provider that can take retailers from the need and idea through to lighting up the visuals and measuring the impact. 

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2018 DSF Coffee and Controversy, in NYC

2018 DSF Coffee and Controversy, in NYC

November 7, 2018

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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