Sixteen:Nine - All Digital Signage, Some Snark
Jimmy Hunt, Spectrio

Jimmy Hunt, Spectrio

April 27, 2022

The 16:9 PODCAST IS SPONSORED BY SCREENFEED – DIGITAL SIGNAGE CONTENT

Spectrio has been around the digital signage and on-premise media spaces for a bunch of years, growing both organically and through acquisitions, and increasingly making digital signage the main focus of the Tampa-area company.

I've known of the company for a long time, but REALLY came to know some of its people in the past year, when we got into discussions about Sixteen:Nine being acquired by Spectrio. That happened, and this podcast and publication are now part of Spectrio.

But my business partners have been fantastic about letting me continue to just do my thing, and make my own editorial decisions. I've wanted to do a podcast for a long, long time with Spectrio, way before this happened. We finally managed to make it work ... in a conversation here with Jimmy Hunt, who is the VP of Channel Sales for the company, working out of Dallas.

We had a great conversation digging into how the company's partner channel was formalized last fall and how it now works for Spectrio. We also get into what Hunt and his people are seeing and hearing in the end-user and reseller marketplace, notably how customers are now tending to fully understand and value the importance of well-executed and relevant content.

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TRANSCRIPT

Jimmy Hunt, thank you for joining me. Can you give me an idea of what your role is at Spectrio? 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. My role is VP, Channel Sales and Business Development. 

Specific to the channel or overall? 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, so my main focus is within the channel. I handle all of the indirect sales, so resellers, channel sales, the sales and the account management side, all roll up to me.

Okay. So you're nurturing a ton of partners? 

Jimmy Hunt: A ton, yeah, and it's been very interesting to develop a good blend across media publishers, AV, IT, and the agency space. 

You've formally launched the reseller program back in November, but I'm guessing that you had resellers prior to that?

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, so I've been in the reseller space for about 15 years. My sole focus has been selling through the channel. Our methodology is pretty straightforward and simple. It's one-to-one-to-many. Previous to Spectrio, I focused mainly on the media and publisher world. So dealing with some of the largest media companies in the country across TV, radio, print, and digital. So we had a program in place yet, but it was great in Q3/Q4 to really formalize that and make it applicable to Spectrio moving forward, as well as the other industries, such as AV, IT, manufacturers, distributors, et cetera. 

How many partners do you have it at this point? 

Jimmy Hunt: So we are roughly over about 120. Prior to that announcement, we had about 60-65 meaningful partners. So we've doubled since then. It's been a busy Q4 and a busy Q1, but it's been great, really doubling down on the things that are working, and we've seen a lot of excitement across space.

I was curious about your qualification of meaningful. I have seen lots of partner pages on websites of companies where I'm looking at their partners and thinking, "I wonder if they even really know each other?"

Jimmy Hunt: That's a really good point. So for us, I always tell my team that we only win when our partners win. So if we're going to be a vendor and we're going to sit on the sideline, then expect for for that partnership to not be meaningful. So when I say meaningful, we really dig in with our partners. We try to position ourselves as true thought leaders to be consultants, to be advisors about our partnerships, but overall the space in general.

We have to make sure that we can not only address the day to day, week to week, month to month, but also help steer our partners and educate them on what's happening in the industry, and a lot of times, it's really just connecting other partners together. Maybe it's a product or service that we may not even sell or be interested in, but if we know partner X over here does this very well, and they're good people, we like working with them, then we'll connect them with a partner Y. 

So this is a lot more than preferential pricing, or wholesale pricing, or whatever you want to call it. You're doing buddy-calling. You're doing support and training and all those sorts of things? 

Jimmy Hunt: Oh yeah. A 100 percent. Again, the only way we win is when our partners win. So we have to make sure that they understand the products and services from a training perspective, from a server's perspective and workflow perspective, really understanding again, from the very first conversation to delivery of signage or whatever the product may be, that we at least have a hand in that. And there's some partners that want us to be super hands on, have things white labeled, and there's some that say, “Hey, we're going to sharpen the spear. We just want you to support us.” 

The good thing about our leadership and the way we built the partner program is that we can cater to any type of scenario, right? So whether we're working with a global distributor or a local agency, we can find a way to dig in and be flexible and fluid to help their goals, and really it's at the end of the day it's understanding what benefits them, how can our product and services and moreover our partnership benefit our partner.

And when you're doing that, there's obviously a lot of digital signage CMS and solutions options on the market. How do you distinguish what Spectrio brings to the table versus the other guys?

Jimmy Hunt: It's three main things, especially in my role. Number one, it starts with that partnership. To be quite honest, when we're talking to new AV, IT resellers or anyone in the reseller space, we actually rarely lead with a product or service. We lead with our ability to be a good partner, and so everything you said earlier, all the training, all the collateral, certifications, et cetera. That's really what we lead with. And I've found that there's a lack of that partner support, partner management. So that means applying as an account executive on a particular partnership and everything under the sun there. 

I'd say secondly, what I'm listening to more and more is content. I think Spectrio is really primed right now to set ourselves apart by not just providing a great software and a great service through digital signage, but then taking it a step further and saying what's going to be on the screen and asking that simple question. Do you have a strategy to showcase the highest quality video content or static imagery possible? And sometimes it's, yes, we have a strategy, but a lot of times it's no, and they haven't even really thought about it. They may have an internal marketing team. They may have an agency. Doesn't really matter to us. We can again work and fit into their strategy. So we're finding right now, one of the biggest things that's setting Spectrio apart is our ability to produce video content for digital signage and really for the partner itself and their clients at scale. 

Dave, we're producing upwards of, I'd say 7,500 to 10,000 pieces of content a month for partners all over the world, and again, that's my background. A lot of the folks come from the reseller space at Spectrio, they come from digital signage background, but I come from a media and content background. So being able to blend those two has been really fun and really exciting, and I think third, to answer your question is, as you're aware, we've acquired a lot of different platforms, right? So now we have what we believe is the best in breed to say, okay this piece of this functionality really applies to this industry and this vertical with these types of clients versus just saying, Hey, we have one platform, use it or lose it. We can really customize our strategy and our solution to go across the board and help many different industries in many different verticals. 

Yeah, I'm guessing that's a bit of a challenge in that, through acquisition, you've acquired a number of CMS companies that have different variations on the same thing, and how you sort out which is best for each. It must be helpful to say, let's build this around content and not worry about features and specs so much. Let's think about what's the best platform for that need is? 

Jimmy Hunt: Exactly, and we have a lot of experience, first of all, for C-suite across the board is really specific and careful about who we're going after from an acquisition standpoint and they have made some really amazing choices, and allowing us to really highlight and compliment what we're doing today without being extremely disruptive and/or taking a 180. I would say, second, especially in my role in the Channel/BD world, it's really about leading the sales conversation with discovery, going back to that core value of what are your pain points, what are your roadblocks for you as a partner, but more specifically, and probably more importantly, for your clients, right? Whether it's working with the AV/IT reseller that focuses specifically in the finance category or whether it's a media company that has 25,000 automotive clients, it's really taking a step back and understanding how we can help you get from point A to point B and then from there that helps determine which platform and what pieces, and what pieces of the functionality we can apply to best help that partner. 

So who's doing the discovery? Because you could have salespeople and channel salespeople who have pipelines to fill, they've got quotas to hit and they don't necessarily think of themselves as content and strategy consultants. 

Jimmy Hunt: That's a great question. It's a unique blend between marketing, product and sales. Through some of our acquisitions, we've just obtained some of the absolute best, most brilliant brightest folks in the space, I'll speak about one specifically, Christian Armstrong came from Industry Weapon. Now he's been doing it for 16 years, and he manages our two largest partnerships, as well as our largest clients through those partnerships. So he has a unique role where he has taken on as a sales engineer as well as a product specialist role, and then we bring in our VP of Product who's just another wonderful hire from a couple of years ago, a guy named Brandon Mullins, who's just a genius. 

He runs all of our product and BD efforts. So having him really scope out from the get-go, “Okay this is something that is viable for the Spectrio. This is a good target”, and then really once we do that, we really try to capture that and productize it. Now, every partner industry's different, but although we are flexible, we still like to put things in a “box” and then scale. For me, it's all about scale and volume. So it's finding the partners that have a lot of endpoints, a lot of clients that we can then go after, and a partner and produce a high volume of revenue as well as endpoints.

That's interesting because I would imagine some of the industry perception of Spectrio is, there's a company that's been growing through acquisition, they're acquiring IP and they're acquiring customers, but I don't know how many people think in terms of, they're acquiring human talent, as you just described. 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah. So I think that's honestly one of my biggest missions this year is to get the Spectrio name and the vision and our methodology out in space. I think you're right, Spectrio is sometimes seen as a big or a growing company that's growing through acquisitions, and we are, obviously, but we have really focused on getting the right people, and I think that allows us to do both. Having Christian, having Brandon and some others as well on board allows us to grow the right way. Even the folks from the ABN acquisition, they are surprising me, and in a good way, every single week. Just how they went to market, obviously focusing on the automotive industry, but how they went to market was different from how Industry Weapon went to market and very different from how I went to market. But we're trying to find the commonalities both from a strategy standpoint, and then also finding the right people to take what they've done in the past, tweak it for a future focus and really grow the partnerships that way. 

What is the size of the company at this point?

Jimmy Hunt: We're a little over 400 people and growing. We have a headquarters in Tampa. I'm based in Dallas, Texas, and we have people all over, but a big population in that Tampa, Miami, Florida region, as well as Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Oh, okay, and the Charlotte office, that was one of your acquisitions, going back 3-4 years, right? 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, the Charlotte offices mostly consist of sales, management and there's a handful of marketing folks there as well. 

Are you active in other countries? 

Jimmy Hunt: We are, yeah. So we are international, I would say a majority of our focus is US and Canada but we are active in other countries. It depends really on how we want to grow our international presence. It will be very specific and strategic and we'll most likely go through resellers and partners. Obviously, it's one of the easiest ways to get traction their fast.

But there are, I guess there's 30 million plus SMEs or small to medium size businesses across the US so there's plenty to have here. But some of our acquisitions in Canada have been very interesting and allowed us to have a different perspective and to really see growth there, as well.

Yeah, you bought Screenscape about a year and a half ago, two years? 

Jimmy Hunt: Correct. Yeah, and talking about a couple of guys that have stayed on. One of my top top sellers that stayed on lives in Canada and really took on that whole channel market himself and has just done very, very well.

In terms of vertical markets, where are you guys seeing growth?

Jimmy Hunt: So I'll start with my team, and then I'll talk about the Spectrio at large, but really from our focus, again, from the channel side, we're are targeting resellers and channel partners in three main categories, and so that's media and agency, TV, radio, print, digital, etc.

Second and probably our largest and fastest growing is AV/IT. So that's where all the big players are and again, through the acquisitions, I would say we work with 60% to 70% of the top players in that space, but there's a whole bunch that we can also go after and then the third is  an interesting mix, and these are more true partners than they are resellers, and that's every one from manufacturers of screens, mounts, et cetera. So think of Sony, LG, et cetera, all the way to a Brightsign and more of that player manufacturers. And those have been really interesting for me because it makes so much sense, right? If someone is out there securing deals and lots of endpoints selling their hardware, and they can have the conversation to say have you thought about a CMS provider? Have you thought about the software piece? That's where we've seen a lot of growth, and those partnerships were fun, right? Because like I said, it's less of a sale. It's more of a true value out of saying, okay, we have this 2,000 location retail chain that we're trying to chase, and we know that they need hardware, but they're also gonna need software. So let’s introduce the Spectrio folks at the right time. 

So that's our chase from an industry perspective. From a vertical perspective, it's probably what you would imagine, it's healthcare, QSR, retail, automotive, higher education. For me, personally, higher ed has been super fun. I'm actually having a blast with that, just because I'm talking about an industry that could really use most of our services. You go on site to a big university or college campus. You can say their auditoriums and their stadiums and basketball arenas that have tons of screens that also need high quality content and as well as wayfinding capabilities for the campus itself. So it's been really fun trying to dig into that vertical more.

They can be messy though, can't they? The higher ed, because you have individual schools that have their own IT departments. 

Jimmy Hunt: Oh my goodness, you're absolutely right. Not only that. It's the schools, it's also the athletic departments, and a lot of the build-outs of the various buildings and infrastructure are all different, right? As you know, you would have one part of the campus be renovated a year ago, and the other one hasn't been touched in 25 years. That's why having the product and sales engineers alongside with me pitching those types of clients has been crucial, and also just understanding what their needs are now versus what will be their needs in two or three years.

There's been endless discussion about how the IT & AV worlds are converging and they ought to be best friends forever and so on. I would say it's only been in the last couple of years when you've really started to see that happen. I was intrigued by Diversified bringing on a new CEO and their founder is not stepping away at all, he's going to be very reactive, but much more mentoring, but their new CEO comes out of IT Services. So they absolutely see where the future is. 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, so without having specific details on why they did that, I think overall, that is going to be the trend we're going to see, and it's not just IT. I think you could slot in content there. I would not be surprised if there's some big changes in the C-suite across the various resellers, bringing in people that have strong content backgrounds as well as IT, I think we're going to see more of a blend, right? 

We're getting to the position where it's almost annoying, I can't go anywhere without looking at screens, and I was in the airport yesterday. I probably sat in and it was technically my day off. I was visiting my family in DC and my team was like, please stop texting us. But I was in the airport just taking videos at the bar, at the restaurant or in the Concourse and all these different types of functionality and services and I think it's becoming so apparent and just consumptions and consumer behavior is really going to help drive this blend of, okay, AV actually needs more of a lock step with IT as well as content. So I'm not surprised by that move at all, and I think it's probably gonna work very well for them.

Yeah. It's interesting that in the last little bit, I haven't seen anybody stand up at a conference or publish something that says, “content is king”, which was an eye-roller for a whole bunch of time. But now it seems to be baked in there that people get it, that this is not about the screens, it's not about the software. It's about what's on the display and you've got to get that right. 

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, David, I think that's absolutely right. I would even take it a step further. I think a lot of times, what I'm hearing is it's all about what's on the screen, but moreover, what story can you tell? And that kind of goes back to the “Mad Men” days of advertising, what story are you going to help that brand tell? It's actually really fun and exciting to see. You could see it come full circle with a new type of media, right? Signage is relatively new. I know it's not new, per se, but in terms of TV and radio, I think digital signage on site is a little bit different, and I think it's been really refreshing to hear people across the board, whether it's this type of industry or that, saying what story can you help us tell? 

Because, in my opinion, I think that is the real value. Because it's not just pushing an ad, it's not just having a menu board. It's what story can you tell, which will then inflict some type of behavior or feeling for the consumers, and if we do that well, then you're going to see all the good things such as higher retention rates, probably higher sales at point of sale, et cetera.

When you're talking to particularly the IT Services people who lead with that sort of thing, what are the questions they're asking and how are they sorting through who they want to partner with? Because I'm guessing things like security come up as being quite important to them. 

Jimmy Hunt: Oh, so I would say security is number one. I would say scale and not just scale within, again, there’s scale in a campus. There's also, if it's a multi location franchise that has locations all over the world or all over the country, can you reproduce this in 500 different cities? I think that in itself is a challenge. I think the installation piece and the survey piece is super important. Again, going back to the infrastructure of how something is built, whether it's a a financial service, it's going to be different than a college campus and that will be different than an attorney's office. So having the ability to not just be pigeonholed to one vertical is super important for us. 

And do you have to, particular running channels, be careful about how you are establishing what your lane is and how you stay in it? Because there are lots of software and solutions companies out there who describe what they do as turnkey. “We can do the deployment, we can do the framing and consulting. We can do whatever you need us to do.” But if you have partners, that's what they want they do.

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, I guess that's been one of the positive challenges and roadblocks that we've had with growth. We start to have a little bit of growth in a particular industry or vertical with a certain reseller type, then you want to pursue that, but it all has to run in parallel to the overall goals, objective of Spectrio. So I would say, outside of my world, we're pretty aligned and locked in. 

I would say with the channel and the resellers, first and foremost, we will always want to lead with being a software company. We want to provide the best CMS. But I think to your point, understanding where we can be flexible and be more fluid with particular partner requests or types, and it could be anything from, how we receive the orders. It can be that simple. It could be, “Hey, we have a certain CRM or some type of software tool that we use to capture orders and send out orders or, billing, et cetera.” But it's being very careful about how we move forward. I think, again, that when we first started the channel partner program officially in Q3, we still have more of a shotgun approach, and that was purposeful. That was a strategy that I wanted to pursue at first, just make sure I was covering all my bases to understand that we didn't leave anything out, and from then that focus has been more and more narrow. 

So now we are hyper-focused on providing the best partnership experience to AV/IT, media and agencies, as well as those hardware providers.

Spectrio started out as doing stuff like music on hold, when people used landline phones and things like that, and in-store music, all those sorts of things, and those still exist within the company. Are they helpful in rounding out the offer for some of the jobs to try to do particularly in retail?

Jimmy Hunt: Yeah, absolutely. So I'll answer that in two ways. First a 100 percent, we were started as this in-store on-hold music and messaging company and that allowed us to scale and scale quickly, and then it is still a really big part of our business today, especially when COVID hit it was hard for us to pick up the phone and try to sell signage when a lot of locations were closed, but there were certain products and services such as the on-hold that went through the roof, and it was because everyone was picking up the phone and trying to figure out if their local pharmacy was open or if their favorite restaurant had changed business hours, and people really trying to take advantage of that, saying, "Okay this is one way that we can actually continue to communicate, update our clients with some type of messaging."

But then I think now, to your point, yes, a 100 percent, if we can offer a more holistic solution, a full suite of services to our partners and to their clients, we absolutely do and I think taking a look at the broader partner world, the ones that are consuming multiple products are the ones that are staying longer, that have lower churn, that have higher ASP, that have higher overall MRR with us, and it just makes sense again, and that kind of goes back to how we started this. 

Let's start the conversation with discovery. Let's understand what the pain points are and though signage may be the sharp end of the spear, what typically happens if we're being a good partner, if we're providing that training and collateral, not just sometimes, but all of our products and services. At some point, I bet we'll have a shot at selling in music or selling in content or selling in WiFi. That's been a charge from day one is let's win the business with what makes the most sense, which is 99% of the time signage. But also having the ability to go, what are you doing for music? And isn't that a pain point, and then really trying to find the commonalities between our products and services. 

Yeah, and I assume your resellers and your end user customers are happy as clams if they ask that question, can you do in-store audio too and you say, yeah, we can, because if you don't, they have to go out and find another vendor. 

Jimmy Hunt: Oh, yeah. You're a 100 percent correct there and it's been interesting talking to some of these some of the leaders in the space. Most of our conversations is around signage, but it's always interesting to see their perspective and to hear their delight saying, hey, obviously we're going to keep the conversations around players and signage, but oh, by the way this client or reseller is asking about music, can you also provide? 

And from my perspective, again, it goes back to being a good partner, but what it does for our partners is it allows them product and vendor consolidation, which sounds just like a simple thing on paper, but it's really not because every vendor a partner brings on, that's typically another individual, another workflow, another billing unit, another escalation point, and so if we can help our resellers and their clients consolidate their vendors, that's sometimes is enough just to win the business. Then obviously the second thing that we really lean on in terms of multiple products and services is product diversification. So again, partnering with Spectrio allows, let's say just a typical AV/IT reseller to go, okay we can give you a signage, we can give you software. But now we can also provide you with music. We can now also provide you with content, and that was a big play for me in the media space, because you think others in the space, they started obviously selling just radio, just TV, just print, but over the years have gone digital and, having that digital component can encompass a lot of different things. So having us provide one or multiple products or services allows our partners just an easier path to success.

Last question: we're now starting to do trade shows again. Finally, I've actually got airplane tickets to a trade show for the first time in two-plus years. Where will people in the signage industry be able to find you guys in the next few months? 

Jimmy Hunt: We've been very active. Again, it's been a challenge across the industry. I think people are starting to get more and more in tune and okay with getting back on the road, rightfully so. It was a devastating, challenging time for everyone and every single industry for two years, and it still is. So we've been super-active. I would say future focus, we will be at DSE. We'll be at InfoComm, and then we are in the very near term, there’s a media event out in LA called Localogy, and I'll be speaking on that. I'll be speaking on a panel about content and digital signage and how to bridge the gap between the two, and it's interesting, that is typically a media publisher conference, but we've actually invited a lot of our friends over at Sony and Brightsign. 

My selfish goal is to help blend these two industries saying, these are some of the largest media companies in the world, and I selfishly want them to be in tune with digital signage, and here are some of the brightest and sharpest individuals in the AV/IT digital signage space, let's actually step out and blend the two. So I'm very excited about that. We'll have a presence at several more, but I'd say InfoComm, DSE and Localogy are the three that we're going to really double down on and we hope to see everyone there. 

Absolutely. All right, Jimmy, thank you so much for taking some time with me.

Jimmy Hunt: Dave, thank you so much. This has been great. Being a fan of it for so long and now hopping onboard has been great.

Jonny Greco, Seattle Kraken

Jonny Greco, Seattle Kraken

March 30, 2022

The 16:9 PODCAST IS SPONSORED BY SCREENFEED – DIGITAL SIGNAGE CONTENT

The spectacle of pro sports used to be almost entirely about what happened on the playing surface, but these days it's also about the venue and the technology and creative used to create memorable and shareable experiences.

If you are paying $75 a ticket, and $12 per beer, there should perhaps be more entertainment than someone belting out national anthems.

The Seattle Kraken are a new team in the National Hockey League, based out of one of the most tech-adept cities in the world, in a brand new arena that has digital screens everywhere. There are 224 LED displays at Climate Pledge Arena, populated with content specifically geared to the game day experience of hockey fans.

I had a terrific chat with Jonny Greco, the very exciteable Senior VP of Entertainment and Experience for the Kraken. We spoke about what fans see before and during games, the thinking behind the creative, and the technology used at the venue.

We also get into his mindset and insights drawn from years and years of delivering experiences - including the over-the-top world of WWE pro wrestling and the mother of all pre-match experiences - the knights and swords opener to Las Vegas Golden Knights hockey games.

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TRANSCRIPT

Jonny. Thank you for joining me. I wanted to read out a description so listeners can get their heads around everything that's going on with your gig. There are 224 LED displays at Climate Pledge Arena, which has more than 28,000 square feet of digital signs. There are 173 displays outside the main seating bowl. So you have one hell of a lot of screens to operate.

Jonny Greco: That's a good intro. You've got all these amazing world-class tools. You get them during a pandemic while the arena is being built. You're about to start a brand new franchise, and now what, where do we go? 

So super excited. Unbelievable honor to be here. I truly think we're just scratching the surface with all of this incredible technology and you'll hear me a lot as a theme as we chat here, and I'm so thankful to be on your podcast, but “story over sexy”. We can have the most expensive toys and all these phenomenal, shiny lights but if you don’t create a compelling story and a narrative that pulls people in doesn't really matter. So I'm always threading that line of technology and the art, where they fuse together to find that really happy galvanization of spirit.

Yeah. I think creative direction is so important. I get press releases every day about the next giant LED display at a sports venue and in a lot of cases, it's a 100 meters/yards along and this big and everything else, they don't talk at all about what's on there and it's just this big ass display and so what?

Jonny Greco: They put up color bars and say, “It's cool. Look at it!” 

So with all those displays, does your gig extend out into the concourses, or are you just talking about the game experience once you get into the seating bowl? 

Jonny Greco: That's a thoughtful question because I think traditionally as we know, game presentation, whether you're juniors, minor league, collegiate, major league sports, game presentations is kind of on the football field, the music, the mascot maybe the cheerleaders, maybe your promotional team the intermission performances or concerts, but everything that lives in the bowl. And I think holistically game presentation has turned into less of a presentation and more of an experience over the last few years especially, and we're looking at this holistic approach: you can't just be in the bowl to hear the song, or oh, they just scored. 

You need to know about this on the entire campus that might be your home base. You should know something happened in my opinion, in the parking lot, as you're walking in, you should know about it whether you're on Twitter as you're looking at it as you're going up the escalator, if you're in line to get a burger. The screen displays should have your goal animation going if you score a goal and you create this kind of connected experience as we roll and again, as you teed it up 28,000 square feet of lead on a 74 acre campus, there are a lot of screens to cover. So you have to do it thoughtfully, then you have to balance the wayfinding and the marketing, and then just the straight energy game presentation, for that moment, while promoting other events that are coming. So there's a lot to juggle and like I said, we're just dipping our toes in the water. So we learn a lot every day and sometimes we get it really right. Sometimes we miss and sometimes we're like, oh yeah, we forgot about that. So we're excited about the evolution game in/game out, event in/event out here in Seattle.

So I have not been to a Kraken game. It's a bit of a drive for me, given where I live. What's the game day experience? As you described, if you're out in the parking lot, or you get off the Monorail. So where do you start seeing the stuff that you're controlling and influencing? 

Jonny Greco: Yeah, I think we have a really connected organization as far as the storytelling of our brand, right? Like early that day, the team had a morning skate. There's going to be content on all of our social channels that's going to tell a little bit of the story of that night. We've got our own app where it's going to talk to you about traffic. It's going to give you your ORCA card so you're able to take that Monorail that you speak about to be able to get in, to help mitigate the traffic. 

So the game day experience is, you could argue, it starts before the game day, but the day of the morning when you're getting messages, you're hearing about what's going on. You're finding out what, what's the strategy going into the game as we play, and it also just ramps up as you get near the puck, things that you had just mentioned that Monorail experience, which you know is a mile or two away, we have an audio file with our broadcasters welcoming fans onto the Monorail, right? We've got this armory sort of indoor space that we activate with our promo team, our icebreakers and our C squad. And, we've got video screens there and we're doing trivia. We're welcoming people in the most hospitable way we can to just thank them for being a part of this. It's not just, once you sit in your seat and you have your beer at the game that you're connected to the Seattle Kraken Climate Pledge Arena, it is way more extensive than that and that's something we're continuously working on because yes, the screens all over that campus are helping you find your way or teach you about what's coming. But we also just want to completely engage with our audience all the time, so they get excited. They know what's going on there. They're being educated about the process, particularly as this building opens, but we can continuously inform our fans to illuminate their experience when we can. 

Now is part of that because going to a sports event now is expensive? For the ticket, for the concessions, for everything. In my days when I would go to a Calgary Flames game, when I lived out west, the game day experience was getting through the gate, grabbing a beer, sitting down, and then the entertainment was somebody singing “O Canada”, and then the game was on and that's it.

Modern pro sports is like a total spectacle, right? 

Jonny Greco: I think it's changed a lot. And don’t do a disservice to O’ Canada. It's a heck of an Anthem. I love it. But I do think humanity looks at experiences differently than we ever have before. It's always evolving. You can go back 20 years and what the experience was about, it was exactly what you explained and that even upwards of 10-15 years ago, it was that, and now people want more bang for their buck, whatever they're paying for tickets or beers or snacks and concessions, time is our most valuable, precious resource and we're understanding that more than ever over the last couple of years. 

So when we have this time, how we spend it is so important to us. So we need to make sure that we're being thoughtful in creating that experience that connects people with the brand, with the team, with the game. But in my opinion it also protects you from maybe a game where the Flames at the Saddledome don't play very well at night and they lose 5-0, but they still had a great experience and they're telling their friends about it. And even though they have, we've done our jobs in creating that fun. Let's just call it. I go to a game cause I want to have fun for a few hours and I still had fun even though some of the things we couldn't control didn't go our way. I think that's just what fans in general are coming to experience regardless of the costs.

It's that way, if you're going to Disney world, if you're going to a Jazz club or you go to the beach like you want to make sure that you have as much of an engaging experience as you can. It's definitely part of the consciousness of us as humans nowadays, for sure. 

You came to this gig, having done a whole bunch of what looked like pretty interesting gigs that are mainly in sports. The three that hit me were live event production for pro wrestling and  video direction for curling at the Olympics in Vancouver, a little different for pro wrestling, and then the big one was working for the Las Vegas Golden Knights. 

Is the spectacle that is the openers of the Vegas Knights games with the, with all that hoo ha going on, ts that you, did you do that?

Jonny Greco: Yeah. Some people would definitely call it hoo ha. I think, yes, I was a part of and we had a hell of a time. Hell of a great leadership who saw vision and put entertainment at the forefront of the experience and then just knowing you were in Vegas, like you were going to do it a little bit different, right? You were just allowed, you had a different kind of permission to get a little wild that fit the region. On brand, in a style that fits the team, and then, you start winning games. There's a lot more permission you have to fail and try different things because people just are in a better mood. People like to win. That's been around for a long time. 

So yeah, I think that list, you just mentioned it. It is a funny list when you go Curling to WWE wrestling, shout out to Halifax. I've been there. We did a show there. I loved it. Absolutely beautiful. But, and then, Vegas and Seattle, the truth is though, the more different opportunities I get blessed to be on and be a part of the more projects and teammates I get to like to collaborate with and contribute to the more I realize just how similar there is to all of it, right? Curling again, what we were talking about, it's an experience you're enjoying, you may love the sport. You may never have seen it before, but you want it to be at the Olympics, but you're going to love the music. You're going to love the natural inherent drama of sport. You may not be a WWE fan, but you probably know who Hulk Hogan is. There's elements where we're all connected in these experiences, and the truth is we all love good. Stories have been around for thousands and thousands of years, and it may be the story within a song, maybe a story in the written form of a book. It may be a micro story of the kiss cam within 30 other promotions at a game in St. Louis that you see, but they're stories inherently every day that we see, and if you can share them in a certain way and you can make your good guys bad guys compelling then all of a sudden people are pulled into it and they care about the story, then they care about, again, whether it's a pro wrestler, a pro curler or a pro hockey player they're all characters in the ensemble, of the show, the entertainment of the film, of the movie, of the story that we want to be a part of. 

Did the work that you were involved in with the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL team there, was that what got you up to Seattle? Did the Seattle people go, “Yeah, we want that”? 

Jonny Greco: I think, like all of us. we’re on these journeys and paths and, I was doing some research on you as I was prepping for this podcast and, it said you had a boss back in the day. The Internet's just a fad. It's not going to last, but you are somebody who was like, no, I see where this is headed and sometimes you gotta just have the guts to do something that isn't necessarily what people expect or see, and one of my favorite quotes of all time is from Henry Ford with cars, and he went on to obviously do pretty well for himself, but he was asked at one point, your clients, your people buying this and the thing was, he says, if I would have asked people what they wanted versus just doing my own thing, “if I would have asked people what they wanted, they would've said they wanted a faster horse” and I love that because it's a little bit about sometimes we need to show people or expose people to things that they don't know they want, they don't know they're going to love this, and if we talk about it, we may talk ourselves out of it. Cause it sounds crazy because it's never been done cause it won't work and all those reasons, yes, that may be the case, but if we can suspend their own disbelief a little bit and just go for it sometimes and be willing to fail because you're going to, I think you get really unique opportunities. So Vegas, an amazing opportunity built off of relationships from previous jobs, the team president there is a great friend and just an awesome human being. I used to work with him back in the Cleveland Cavaliers days when we were working with LeBron James a million years ago, and you stay connected to these people. It was a recipe of pretty interesting elements when we got to Vegas, it worked out well and I've been given some pretty neat opportunities since then, but I do think the opportunities come from more of the relationships then, and your last gig matters. It really does, but I do think it's the body of work as you continue on, and I had actually gone from Vegas to Madison Square Garden to go work for the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers, which was unbelievable to be at Mecca, but I'd only done it for nine months before the Seattle opportunity came and there was a pandemic that happened as well. So there were a lot of variables, whereas what's the right move right now, creatively for my family and everything else.

So it was only a cup of coffee in New York, but I've had a few really neat opportunities and I've been able to meet and connect with some really interesting people through Vegas, and even before that with WWE and some of the other opportunities as well. 

Yeah, and I must have been pretty cool to effectively have a blank slate that like Madison Square Gardens is a pretty old arena, I don't know how old it is, 40 years or something, and there's only so much you can do in terms of LED displays and new technology there versus Seattle is tech central and they went to town with it. 

Jonny Greco: Yeah, they did, and that's a really good point. You've got these beautiful venues and arenas all over the world and you don't really want to mess with them like Wrigley field, you probably should only go so far with how much led you put there. Fenway, same idea. Like it would almost be a disservice to the history of the game in that space.

I think in Seattle, it was really unique, and at the time, what I had read was it was the most LED in any arena, on the planet, and that probably changes every five minutes. But I know a few months ago that was the case. But they had the opportunity cause it was a brand new arena, in this beautiful city that is this transcendent science technology, medical, you think of Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, all of these companies, Starbucks, these companies that are out here that have these pioneers of creativity and technology, it was very fitting out here. But I think you learn a little, in the hockey term, original programming that is innovative, super unique, but then also honors the original six, right? Honor the tradition knows whose great grandpas were here playing the game and what they loved and trying to fuse it together, and I think depending on the city you're in, if you're in Boston, it's going to be a lot different than if you're in Arizona, like how you ratio those two elements.

But again, whether you have one screen or you have 344 screens, make sure you're putting up content. That's interesting. Otherwise people are going to walk right past and they're not going to notice it anyway. 

Yeah. That's one of the things that struck me about what you're up to or what the, what your team's up to is, I've been in a number of new build or renovated arenas in the last few years when we were still doing things like getting on airplanes, and in those cases, they're putting in big LED video walls and everything else, but it was all about commerce. 

It was about running different sponsor messages. If it was an NBA game versus an NHL game, it was about efficiency and so on, and what I'm seeing with what's being done at Climate Pledge is it's about the experience and it's about setting the tone. So you've got like this giant aquarium and things like that, can you describe what people can see? 

Jonny Greco: Sure. Yeah, and I think it's interesting, Dave, when you talk about just the philosophy of other venues. Like you go to the arena formerly known as Staples Center in Los Angeles, they need the digital signage to help with some of their changeovers, right? Like I've been there when they had an LA Kings game that afternoon, and then an LA Clippers game that night, like they needed to switch from black and white design to red and blue within a few hours,completely transforming the arena, and nothing can make that process quicker than like the digital signage abilities. 

So like you said, not even a few years ago. It was signage. It was sponsorship, and it was like, put the logo here and buy a hot dog or whatever else. But now they're trying to connect it to just, again, more of like where you're being sold, but it sure doesn't feel like being sold. I feel like I'm watching something really cool and threading it into the show, and it was a big part of our own storytelling as you entered the Climate Pledge Arena with this grandiose atrium space that we have, where we were like, one of our taglines for the Kraken is, ”Welcome to the deep” right? 

It's the deep fear, fear of the deep, we’re in the deep, right? That's where the Kraken lives, this mythical beast. And, the arena itself is subterranean, it's underground. To do this insane over billion dollar arena build, they literally lifted the historic roof from 1962, took everything else out of it and rebuilt this insanely beautiful arena underneath, and then put the roof back on. To do that, you had to go underneath as well. So as we looked at the layout of the arena, and as we looked at these video screens, part of this really cool grandiose entrance, as you come in, you get to go down these massive escalators with these huge video LED screens, video screens through Daktronics and we said we could put a Pepsi logo on there, but that's not again, that's just a big logo. That's not innovative. There's not a story. It doesn't necessarily make me thirsty. But instead we have the support from our leadership to let's create an atmosphere and what we thought of it's like, all right, you're going down underground. We're going to the deep, we're seeing the Kraken which is an underwater creature. We're in Seattle. Let's dig deep, and as you go down the escalator, let's go underwater. Let's see an Orca that's indigenous to space. Let's see the type of rock formations that you would see at the base of the Puget sound. Let's build out a space to give people again, that kind of experience, and it almost feels like you're like the Atlanta aquarium or something as you go, and you're like, oh, there's a seal. There's a sea lion going by so it was neat that we had that sort of support, and then instead of just a founding partner logo, splattered all over the place, we have a school of fish swimming by as it goes past the Amazon logo, or the Alaska airlines logo. So it's a thoughtful way of fusing the two together where it's like, of course we have incredible partners that we want to honor and showcase, but we also have their support to create this experience that just felt a lot more elegant than even in previous worlds I've been a part of it, it's just not slapping it on there. It's much more of a collaboration and integration of brand fusion together to help it feel just more like an experience than me just looking at a sign. 

Yeah, I'm guessing you've fought this verbal battle a few times with the specialty leasing people and other folks who say yeah, this immersive entertainment stuff is awesome, but I need this Pepsi logo on here or this other logo?

Jonny Greco: Yeah, I think we all have. I think it's one of our biggest opportunities as people in the sports entertainment production world to lock arms with your corporate partnership side of things, because it does bring in a lot of revenue and it does bring in great brand awareness. It does bring in great relationships long-term that help a business work, but you don't want it to just be all or nothing. You don't want it to always be black and white. There's this really neat fusion of gray that you can find that kind of everyone can be aligned on, and it goes back to the point we were making before about, let's show you how this works. It's not always the most quantifiable, but there is a feeling when something just lands well and it's not a perfect science, and again we make plenty of mistakes on our journeys and our professional careers for sure but it is fun when you're in a supportive place that nurtures creativity, nurtures storytelling and lets you try some things sometimes. 

We know we did some things pretty well here, but we also know we've got a lot of places to grow and develop and keep evolving because everyone's chasing, everyone's trying to do a great job together. So let's lift each other up and inspire one another. 

Does the job touch some of the purely commercial aspects of digital signage? I know in some arenas, if somebody scores a goal, and I think you talked a little bit about this before, the concession displays that are showing a beer is $500 or whatever they cost now, it'll go to a replay of the goal and then go back to the beer menu or whatever. Are you doing that?

Jonny Greco: Yeah we're not doing it as well as we'd like yet, but we had some recent meetings about this to do a really thorough walk arounds in the arena itself because when you start and open up a brand new arena this quickly in a pandemic, a lot of is it let's just get it going. Let's get it working, and literally as we're doing this conversation, we just got some decimators to help us with some of our delays on our LED screens on the back wall of our press bridge. Because our fans in that area, this super unique area, they don't have a complete line of sight to our video screens are twins as we call them. So they have these LED screens with our program out, which is awesome, except it's, I don't know what the time is, Two to three second delay on some things, and we all know if you're a little bit late to the joke or the punchline or the goal, it's a little bit less of a connected experience.

So there's constant little technical elevation we're trying to find a more comprehensive experience for people. But I do think we have ways to go. As far as we score a goal that lights up everywhere, that underwater space currently, when we score a goal, that's not being lit up with our goal animation and cutting cameras and stuff, but we know that's where we want to go to just create that moment where even if you're not in the bowl for a second, you feel what just happened? Cause there's not many cooler moments in sports entertainment than that horn going off crowd going nuts, and if you can be a part of it, somehow we want to include everyone. But you know what, when you walk out of the bathroom oh, what just happened? No one wants to be the last one to the dance floor. So we want to help everyone feel like they're the first. 

Is there some sort of a show control system that's running all this? What are you using? 

Jonny Greco: Yeah, so we work with Daktronics and I'll say this right away. 15 people way smarter than me on the technology side that I work with, that could go a lot further into this, but it is show control for all of our ribbons and Daktronics video screens. And then we're using Triple Play for all of our IP TV needs, and that's run through our incredible group from the Climate Pledge Arena side, because they're doing more than just the Kraken games. They have events all the time, a hundred percent. 

So if you're using Daktronics, for that, as you add more stuff, you just go back to them?

Jonny Greco: I think, with technology, you're always looking for, I don't want to say the best, but who helps us tell our story? Who helps us create that experience? Daktronics have been incredible partners and they have a whole lot of their product all over the place and they understand that this is this crown jewel space for their own product as well. So it's just been a really good relationship as far as, Hey, this isn't working or would we be able to develop this? And they're on it. They want this to succeed because they're great partners and we want to keep pushing the envelope, but obviously trying to always see what's out there. Daktronics does a ton of things, but obviously we're working with Ross in our switches and acuity expressions. We got Dreamcatcher for our replay systems. Like you're going to try to grab a whole bunch of different tools and you just want the best tools to create the best kind of narrative that you can and it's rarely going to be just one thing, right? 

There's not a one-stop shop for many things. That's where we are right now, but always looking to evolve what you have, right? 

How many people are working on this? 

Jonny Greco: Ee call it Entertainment experience and production on the Seattle Kraken side, and for that group, which is creating a lot of the social content, we are creating elements like ice projection and half a million dollar shot promotions and, commercial spots and B-roll and everything else. There's 15 of us in that group. So that's on the Kraken inside. So that's your show callers, your scripters we're working closely with corporate partnerships, you're working with your promo teams, and so that group of 15 is split into two. As far as the game presentation side, that entertainment experience, but then also just that content and production side as well, which ranges from creating because we are a brand new team, videos for human resources or maybe working and this is really common in pro sports, working on like a free agent video project that’s super secretive or whatever they like. 

So you're creating the very forward facing stuff, but you're also doing a lot behind the scenes, and when you have no library to pull from last year, oh, remember Dave, last year when this happened, we didn't have that. So that's another role that we talked to a lot of people about, and they were, if you can get it, get that archivist role, get that digital asset management person role in your space. So that's something we're working diligently on. We have a person who's phenomenal and we're testing the waters, working on this and then we'll look to be implementing this, over the summer. But just to build that archive, because, season one happens, but really quickly, you're celebrating your 10th anniversary and remember game six, when that thing happened, you want to have that you want to have those things properly logged and an archived for us and or for the next people who come into this incredible role.

Yeah. I  hadn't thought about that. I guess you've got to do like the player video pieces where, they're smiling and then they do the arm, the cross arms, and don't mess with me look and all that stuff, you gotta have all that, right? 

Jonny Greco: Gladiator shots. Yeah, absolutely, and some of that stuff becomes evergreen, so you can shoot it once and use it for a few years, and some of the stuff, as guys get traded or retire, goes away but they may someday have their Jersey retired here. They may just come back, right? You want to use some of those elements. I learned a lot of that at Madison Square garden. It was interesting how they had archived up until this point, and even there they would admit it themselves. We could do a better job with our digital asset management. We're one year in or half a year in, right like between all those seasons, you're like a hundred years in. So that's a lot of games you've literally filmed. I remember working at the Cleveland Cavaliers, it was the same idea. We had all of this craziness going on with Betamax and 16 millimeter film, and we had to transfer all of that content as DVDs were coming around and then, it's like these video files, is that going to last? So when you have to go back and grandfather in content, that's a much heavier lift, so we're trying to mitigate that as much as we can. 

Yeah, it's interesting. Technically, it used to be a lot harder to pull off what you're doing now, but the flip side of that is there's a lot more that you have to produce than in the old days.

Jonny Greco: Absolutely. You're putting out so much content and you're trying to individualize something on Instagram versus Twitter versus LinkedIn versus in arena versus the app, and that's something like strategy-wise, I think, everyone's working on, how are we unique and original but also how are we creating content that can be used in multiple ways, because you don't need to create, oh we have “Mark Giordano, legendary hockey player, tomorrow night's going to be us honoring his 1000th game, the silver sticks ceremony,” it's really cool. 

Do you need a different sort of acknowledgement or graphic on every single one of those channels or do you keep it very brand centric with a look and then you figure out whatever the content design look needs to be to fit that scale, and then you go from there. So it's a pretty subjective space, but you're always trying. With the narrative and story in mind first, you're trying to work smarter, not harder cause we all work hard, we know that, but there's a lot of content to create, and once you start, you don't want to pull back. You want to only add to it.

So we started out of the gate with a lot. We know we have a lot more stories to tell. We know we can engage Seattle and Kraken fans in such a different way and further it, and like you said, scratching the surface. We've started, but now we've got to keep rising. 

Is the pregame show the big job, the one that sucks up most of the time?

Jonny Greco: Yeah, I think depending on the organization, it can be a little bit different here. It was a big part of the show. We ran into a couple of bumps along the way, just again, with the arena opening, supply chain issues, not being able to load some of our beautiful set pieces for the opening night. And it was honestly one of the more frustrating moments for a lot of us because we weren't able to physically. But we got there and come the new year, we were in place and it's emotional and it does take a lot of our focus and attention, but as cool as the moment is, it can get cooler and we're excited to evolve it and grow it, and now that we have all the pieces in place, take that next iteration up another level. 

Yeah, that was going to be my last question. Now that you've got yourself grounded there and sorted out all the technology and the folks and know what everybody's good at and the drill, what's coming?

Jonny Greco: Yeah, there's a whole bunch of exciting things that I'm not going to tell you about right now, my friend, but starting a new franchise, just because I've been super lucky or super crazy, probably both to have done this now a couple of times, I think you got to look at being a part of a new organization much more than just like a few games or a season. I think to really get your footing and your steps, right? For every part of the business it's two to three years easy. It's not a one-year thing. So there's a lot that we dreamed up a year ago that just wasn't able to come to fruition this year for a million great reasons but as you get into actually activating right pre op mode versus operating mode, very different for us, right? The red light goes on, lights, camera, action. You see how people handle it, you see how the equipment functions, you see what you dreamed up while we were in Zoom calls saying, Hey, what would be cool is a camera that does this and does this well now we're using those said cameras and we're like, oh, what else would be cool. So you want to lock arms. You want to step on each other's shoulders and jump higher on some of these things, and some of the things that you envision just didn't really land the way you had expected for a few different reasons.

And in my case, I know sometimes I just dilute myself a little bit because I get so excited about so many things and I don't keep it concentrated on just a few big ones, and I also like to test and learn. So I like to throw a lot against the wall, and it's like ooh, that was great. Oh, that was terrible. Ooh, that's workable. Oh, that was terrible. I would rather cast that super wide net and work off of that, then be like all my eggs in one basket, and whether it works or not, I'm like I don't want one basket, I want 14 baskets, and that's a philosophical difference, probably organization to organization, sport to sport that, just personally, that's the way I like to function. It's not right or wrong, but it's definitely the way I look forward to evolving in this season too, because there's a lot of stuff that we have ready to go that intentionally we're holding back, like it's ready to go, but we're going to wait. We're going to wait, and plan to do that over the summer, to do that in season two, which generally I don't have that level of patience. I get so excited. I'm like, let's do it. Let's get everybody excited. 

But I do think the chess game, the slow play, sometimes it's really thoughtful and strategic and it just, it helps with the pacing of the whole experience. If you do think of that brand launch, not just the day the logo comes out, not just your opening night, not just your first season, it's something we're building upon it and creating an equity with it's a nuanced art, I think over the next couple of years that we're going to be working on.

This was a lot of fun. I appreciate you taking the time with me. 

Jonny Greco: Oh, Dave, thank you so much for asking. Anytime you want to chat about this kind of stuff. I would love to be a guest. It's an honor to be on the 16:9 podcast and really happy to share some energy with you. 

That's great. Thank you.

InfoComm 2021 Roundtable: Tortured Terminology, With Three Daves, A Kim And A Chris

InfoComm 2021 Roundtable: Tortured Terminology, With Three Daves, A Kim And A Chris

November 4, 2021

A virtual roundtable panel run last week during the InfoComm trade show pulled three Daves, a Kim and a Chris together to talk about the use and abuse of technology terms in digital signage and pro AV.

Run as a version of the Digital Signage Federation's periodic Coffee and Controversy series, the panel included Kim Sarubbi of IoTecha, STRATACACHE CEO Chris Riegel, David Title of New York-based Bravo Media, and Portl founder David Nussbaum, who has a very cool transparent LCD product he calls a hologram mainly because he needs something short and digestible for what is a complicated offer.

We had a great, very frank discussion - there's no other way with these folks - about a variety of topics, from all those things on Linkedin that aren't holograms or aren't even real, to the challenges of marketing complicated technology.

This was a Zoom call, and the full video is available via AVIXA as part of a post-InfoComm conference package, but here's the audio version.

I have not done all the polish at the front and back, just so I could get this out as a bonus podcast. 

Sixteen:Nine podcasts have, forever, been gratefully sponsored by Screenfeed, the digital signage content store. Sixteen:Nine is an online publication and companion podcast produced up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and is a product of Spectrio, a leading provider of customer engagement solutions ranging from digital signage, interactive kiosks, wifi marketing

David Labuskes, AVIXA

David Labuskes, AVIXA

September 22, 2021

The 16:9 PODCAST IS SPONSORED BY SCREENFEED – DIGITAL SIGNAGE CONTENT

There is a whole pile of back seat driving happening lately in the pro AV and digital signage communities about how to run a trade show in the COVID-19 era, and much of the focus has squarely been on Dave Labuskes, the CEO of AVIXA, which runs InfoComm and co-owns the even larger trade show ISE.

The show is happening in about a month in Orlando, and with other big trade shows saying never mind for 2021, there are endless questions and suggestions about the prospects of the show even happening.

It will, says Labuskes, unless there are measures like government-mandated closures. Given that the show is in Florida, that's probably not going to happen.

Labuskes has done some frank interviews lately that went into deep detail about InfoComm and COVID, and the business. I spoke with Labuskes late last week and did not see the value in rehashing and revisiting a lot of what he said, so in our chat we talk a little about how things will come off and why. But we spend a lot more time on bigger picture stuff about how trade shows fit, and whether a niche industry like digital signage can find a well-defined home and community at big, omni AV shows like Infocomm and ISE.

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TRANSCRIPT

Mr Labuskes, thank you for joining me. I wanted to get into a number of things, but I also didn't want to just rehash some recent conversations you had in an hour long interview last week with Tim Albright from AVnation that went into a lot of frank discussion about where InfoComm is at and everything associated with that, but I can’t cCompletely ignore that, and I just wanted to ask, where are things now , has anything changed in the last week since I watched that interview? 

Dave Labuskes: Mr. Haynes, it's good to be here. There have been a couple of other events that have announced cancellations, but there's been nothing that's changed in AVIXA's policy with regards to InfoComm. We still see a runway to a fantastic event with fantastic people conducting fantastic business.

It's been described as being the last trade show standing this fall, but that's not really true. There's all kinds of events going on here, there, and everywhere. 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah. There's a lot that's described that isn't necessarily really true, David. But yeah there's events and trade shows happening every day, all around the world, and I'm actually a little confused. For an industry that is really based on overcoming challenges and doing the impossible and making things happen that nobody believed could actually happen, there is that sort of a sentiment that trade shows can't take place right now and that just simply is not true. They're taking place every day. 

So I have mixed opinions personally. I was supposed to be doing a mixer down at InfoComm and decided not to do that, and that wasn't really so much about I don't think InfoComm should even happen or anything else, it was just as simply a fact of, I didn't quite see how a cocktail party, where everybody was wearing a mask and being asked to stand six feet apart would work terribly well and the optics were weird. 

It's one of those things where I could see a trade show happening, but I didn't see that happening well, and we don't need to get into all of that. I'm curious more about whether or not you're enjoying all the armchair opinions from people who say what you should be doing, but have never actually run a tradeshow? 

Dave Labuskes: Before I had this job, I was a partner at a large architectural engineering firm, and one of the gentlemen that was on the search committee that was interviewing me for this job, James Ford, owner of Ford AV and I'll never forget where he was sitting in the boardroom, he leaned forward and said, “Dave, you've got a really good gig, like why would you want this job?” And I'm like that's a great question, and I try to answer it, and he's like, “But Dave, here's the thing: You're running one of the largest consulting practices in the world and if you have a management meeting and you decide to go liveleft, then everybody's going to leave that meeting and they're going to go left, and the jobs that you're interviewing for you and your team are going to decide to go left, and then 50,000 people are going to tell you, you should go right!”

I actually celebrate varied opinions. I do think a lot of people express an expertise that is perhaps inflated in their own perception. Trade shows, they're a complicated industry. I've been doing this now for eight years and I have people on my team that have forgotten twice what I'll ever know. The interplay between the various different constraints, the challenges that people throw out there as though they're simple challenges. Yeah, they're a little frustrating, but I signed up for it. Nobody made me do this job. I was forewarned, so maybe I'm the one that has an exaggerated impression of my expertise.

Is part of the problem just simply that it's Florida and Florida is this eternally weird place at the best of times, but it's got a particular problem and people all the way up to the governor of the state who don't seem to recognize that, “Hey, maybe there's a bit of a problem happening here.”?

Dave Labuskes: Yeah. I think I'll be a little more politically correct than that, and it was nice for you to try it, but it isn't my first rodeo here. 

(Laughter) I wasn't trying to bait you. I just think that's a big part of it and the people, the armchair opinion makers who say why don't you just move it or why didn't you just do it in another city? There's a little bit of baggage associated with doing that but just simply speaking, it's a part of the country that has a particular exacerbated problem, but doesn't seem to want to recognize that it has an exacerbated problem.

Dave Labuskes: It all comes from the jurisdictions and it all comes down to point of reference, right? You can also just say, is it the problem that the event is in the United States, right? Because if you look at the United States and compare the United States to other countries, we're not necessarily getting a straight-A report card.

What I have said, and I know we don't want to have the same conversation I've had already with others, is that I don't think the brush that should be used in making that decision is Florida. I think the brush that we should use in painting that picture is Orange County. There's parts of California that may or may not be behaving in the same fashion you or I would do.

So I think you have to look at where are you going to fly into, where you're going to be, where are you going to have dinner, where are you going to sleep? Those types of things, and when you get to that stage orange county this morning had 79.4% of their population over the age 18 having had one shot of the vaccine. They've got a mask order that was issued by the mayor strongly recommending that masks be worn inside any public space. They've got plummeting hospitalization rates, death rates, positivity rates at 12.4%, I believe. 

So, I think, unfortunately the world and this country and all of the states have this polarization thing going on, and yeah, would it be more comfortable for people to attend an event somewhere else that are looking from afar and don't take time to do all that research? Probably. The headline, the abbreviated picture, is challenging, but I do think that there are people that are going to make a decision that attending a trade show weighed against other factors just isn't for them this year, and I think they'd make that decision regardless of where it is. 

Yeah. I guess that's the other thing that you didn't know you were signing up for was having an extensive ability to talk in genealogical terms.

Dave Labuskes: This is a true story, David. Last year, I came home from the office, and at dinner I said to my wife and son I spent an hour today reading a scientific study about the efficacy of washing your hands with cold water versus hot water, and that is not something I ever anticipated taking place in my career, I will admit that. (Laughter)

By the way, it is just as good. You just don't tend to wash them as long because it's less comfortable, but... 

I'm just impressed I was able to say epidemiology. 

Dave Labuskes: Happy with that. These are words that were not part of our vocabulary two years ago, right? 

Just drafting off of some of that: CEDIA which AVIXA has a relationship with because you co-own ISC had their event last week or the week before in Indianapolis and I won't go into how that went business-wise or anything else, but I'm curious if you had AVIXA folks there and did they see how things were done? I know they had signage and kind of cues on whether you are comfortable with people coming close and all that sort of stuff. Did those things work? 

Were there things that you learned from that you can take away and apply to InfoComm? 

Dave Labuskes: First part of the question: No, we didn't have anybody from AVIXA at that event that I'm aware of. Not that I know of, but I'm sure there were people there that were AVIXA members. We do have a close relationship with CEDIA. Obviously we have a partnership over a very large joint venture that owns and operates ISC and ISR and DSS. The show itself is owned by Emerald Expositions, and we have our conversational talking relationship with Emerald as well. In fact I have a call next week with Emerald to talk through lessons learned. 

I was in Louisville, Kentucky a couple of weeks ago at a SISO conference, which is the Society of Independent Show Operators. So it's Emerald, Informa, and mostly the for-profit trade show organizers and AVIXA was invited to attend. The industry of trade show organizers and meeting planners and event planners, we've joined arms and we recognize that this is a problem for all of us that we have to share best practices with, we have to share learnings with, we have to talk about what works and doesn't work.

It's kinda like the AV industry and as I'm learning more about it, the digital signage industry where people compete, but they also have a comradery where a rising tide lifts all ships kind of a thing, and so I think all trade show operators are working through this, associations as well are famously collaborating with regards to sharing information and learning and helping each other. So that's a good part of the pandemic. 

I would imagine one of the things that all these organizations collectively learned, if they didn't already know it, is that the whole virtual trade show thing just really doesn't work. Does it?

Dave Labuskes: It certainly didn't work in v1.0 of 2020. I think v1.5, and we're starting to get closer to 2.0, I think there's hope for it. The best visual I saw over the last 18 months is talking about books versus movies, and you don't convert a book to a movie by putting it on a podium and filming somebody turning the pages. And I think that probably is a closely apt description of what we all did with our first version of the virtual events. But I think you can tell a story, very effectively in print or in film, leveraging and celebrating the differences of the media. 

Where I am at now and where AVIXA is driving towards, and you'll see more developments about this in the next couple months is more about how AVIXA delivers on its mission, leveraging physical  events and digital platforms, and how do they interface and interact with each other? How do they mutually benefit each other? What's good in one, that's not good in the other?

Not a lot of good, special effects when you're reading a book, but a lot of great imagination when you're reading a book. Not a lot of ability to be character development through introspection in a movie, but it's really easy to do that when you're reading.

I think if you look at education, you look at delivery of information from provider to consumer, that can be done pretty effectively digitally. I think about human interaction and the break time during class is almost impossible to create digitally. That doesn't mean it is impossible. So I see a lot of assumptions that we made in order to achieve X, we needed to convene people face-to-face being challenged. But I also think that all of the pundits that got online in March and April of last year and said, this is the end of face-to-face, and we're going to be digital for the rest of our lives, have seen that they were probably not right with that either. 

I think the one thing that I took away, or what I have enjoyed about these virtual events is the ability to attend round tables panels presentations on demand. So I don't need to be somewhere or sit at a certain place, set aside things then at 10:00 AM, I'm going to watch this.

Just the simple fact that I got stuff going on. I can't do this today or right now, that I could click on it and see. Yeah, somebody from Brand X explaining this to me on my terms, and if I'm bored, I just click out, I don't have to stand up and walk out of the room and embarrass the presenter or anything like that. That part I like.

Dave Labuskes: I do too, and that's the irony of it is. If one of the things that all of us like is the absence of time and geography constraints, right? So it doesn't matter if that panel discussions take place in London or Nova Scotia or Orlando, you can still receive the outcome of that panel. 

Why are we saying that they should be organized and delivered between 9:00 AM and 4:00 PM Eastern time on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week? That's where I get to this. I think it's more about a digital presence and digital community, a place where people interact when it's appropriate for them to interact, where they can organize their interaction times.

I'm old enough to have been in chat rooms on Prodigy and AOL and you remember you would organize with people like I'm going to be on at eight o'clock tonight for an hour, because you can only afford an hour. Because we were charged by the minute, and then I think that's what we have to recognize. So in that regard, I'm really excited about the fact that I'm not a trade show organizer, instead I’m an association that is committed to an industry and an industry community, and what I can do is build that community both digitally and physically. 

What do you think of the suggestion that the days of the big macro show are cloudy and that regionalized events make more sense, so an InfoComm Southwest, an ISE UK, that sort of thing? And granted that was tried a little bit in the past year, but that was out of necessity as opposed to design. 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah, I'm intrigued by it. But I think the loudest proponents of it are the attendees, not the exhibitors and the attendees don't pay. Doing ten small shows only costs a little less than doing one big show or less than doing then ten times doing one big show. The cost of doing a show has a fixed amount. Even in the smallest show, you're going to pay an X and then get to the big show, you may only be paying 2X where if you're doing a regional show, like 10 times, you are close to 10X, and your ROI on each of those events is smaller because your audience is small. 

Now that's using all the old rules. So if we go back to the last question, if I can segment an audience for an exhibitor and say, I'm going to bring people that have spending authority over half a million dollars that have a project next three months, it's going to require a high-end audio system. That's going to change that algebra, and so I don't think you throw it out the window, but economics has a factor in these things and it's easy to say I would rather go to a small event in Nashville, but the problem is I have to find somebody to pay for it, and even if you say I'm happier to go to a small event in Nashville, I bet you don't want to spend $195 for a ticket to go to that event? 

I get the hunger for it. I get the desire for it, but I don't see a business model around it right now. We've never been successful at small events being profitable. There have been good strategies like, before ISE launched. We did small roadshow events from country to country, it was before my time, but I hear stories from the old timers about the amazing sort of experience of going from hotel room or hotel conference to hotel conference across from Warsaw to Budapest to Rome type thing. And we've done them in advance of launching our Bangkok show. We did it in advance of launching our Mumbai show, but those become feeders to a larger event that has a more sustainable business model. We did a lot of what we used to call round tables, for example, we did the AVIXA round table in Baltimore where you'd have 15, 20, maybe 30 people come to them, and so you were spending a lot of money on an event that served 15, 20 or 30 people, and we just felt like there were better ways of spending the industry's money than that. 

The demise of Digital Signage Expo certainly raised the eyebrows at AVIXA and got you guys thinking, although you've always had digital signage as a component, you've had pavilions for many years, but there was an opportunity and a sense that something needed to fill that void. Granted, it's been refilled to some degree since then, but the show hasn't happened yet so we'll see how that comes off. 

How do you build up the digital signage affinity for InfoComm? Cause I've gone for many years, but I go to have a look at the gear. I'm not a gear head, but I write about it and everything else, but I don't really see it as an end-user show where a big retailer, those kinds of people are going to come to that they maybe they send their gearheads, but more likely it's the integrators that sell into big retail and so on are there are there, so how do you make all that kind of come together over the next couple of years?

Dave Labuskes: Boy, there's so much in that question, David. We should talk more often, I enjoy this.

Yes, it is an unfortunate demise and it didn't get folks in the AVIXA thinking. Yes, we've been looking at the digital signage industry for a long time. I do think it's a community within the larger industry that needs to be celebrated, and that's that other point with regards to small regional shows versus big shows. I think we see lots more shows within shows taking place, and I think that's probably the right solution, and I'm biased. I think AVIXA has the right place to build a home within a home for the digital signage community. 

First of all: there was this interesting dynamic between the association and the show operator, right? From an association perspective AVIXA has been having conversations with DSF, with DS-LATAM, with digital signage of Asia, and the various different entities in Europe. When you move from our association to association, one of the ways I think I actually described it to Rich Ventura, he and I were talking probably years ago and it's like you and I, David, are best friends, but our dads owns the competing gas stations on the corner, and so we can go to school and everything and be friends there but when we came home there's limits. 

That was kinda how I felt like it was and I felt like there's a window there to not have that dynamic. Now, some of that's changed and I respect Questex. I respect Paul and don't know him well, but I know him and I've had conversations with him and he's a smart guy and I believe he's committed to delivering a successful event. I think it's being honest, looking at what does an organization want, what is the community best one? And making honest agreements and commitments to each other, and then keeping them. There are advantages to working together, and I think the end goal is that “home within a home” and “a community within a community.” 

I think the challenge and opportunity for digital signage and InfoComm is the scale of the InfoComm show and the specificity and the heart and relationship with the digital signage community, and I think if we work together, we can build that home within a home. I think it can be more than a guest room. It can be an in-law apartment. It can be a place where it's identified and that's, yeah, I'm disappointed that you're not going to be there, and I know the mixture is just one manifestation of that home within a home, and we look forward to being able to do it in the future. 

Absolutely. One of the logistical problems or mechanical problems, so to speak, with a big show like an InfoComm is: yes, you've created these pavilions through the years of digital signage pavilion and some of the vendors have been in that, designated zone, so to speak, but the biggest players are the display manufacturers, and they've always had their spots, their Primo spots, and they're serving a whole bunch of audiences at InfoComm, not just the digital signage people. So how do you figure out a way to create a show within a show when you've got Sony in the front row, Samsung's got a giant booth in the middle of the hall and so on. You're never going to be able to herd them all into one hall, so to speak? 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah, so what do you do then? I think what you have to do and we're down to the details of tactics, right? But I think you start to curate attendees' journeys. You use content as the honey to attract and people will come where content is and content can be delivered where people are, and that's the challenge of starting a trade show, but we've done that. We know how to form a trade show and it takes time and it takes continual feeding until it becomes a self-feeding cycle, and then you have to create a journey that is guided a bit so the attendees that are coming from retail or the attendees that are coming from the advertising agencies can get to where they will be able to extract value and some of that will require tour guides, not maps and serendipity, because it's too big to just let somebody lose, but we have that problem now with end users in general at the show, you described as gearheads, but about 40% of the attendees at a typical InfoComm are end user buyers. It's part of what makes that show so valuable to exhibitors. 

A lot of them are brought there by channel members. The consultants are bringing their customers, the integrators are bringing their customers. But a lot of them are brought there by us too, with promoting them and developing conference content that would be of interest to them, creating a nucleus of community. It's all very explicit, but it doesn't happen by chance. There are hosted buyers that are brought in to shows around the world. There are groups that are sponsored. There are other associations that are partnered with. Richard runs our Asian subsidiary. He's a genius at identifying influential associations within the geographies and partnering with them to offer programs. Organizations like the Indian Architects Association are partnered with our InfoComm Mumbai event, and they are holding content conferences for architects in conjunction with our event. All of our channels want architects at it. Those types of strategies are part of the town and the team that works on these.

Last question, looking ahead a few months to ISE and it's hard to do the crystal ball thing, but I gather things are calmer in Spain. I don't hear very many people at all saying, hell no, we're not going to Barcelona or anything else, maybe that'll bubble up, who knows? But is ISC in Barcelona going to be normal-ish?

Dave Labuskes: Yes, I think so. Again, like you said, the crystal balls are not crystal clear and now, after the last series of conversations, I think I'm going to put the crystal ball into the same place where I put “pivot” and “agile” and “unprecedented” but yeah, the biggest indicator that you would have about and event like ISC at this stage five months out is sold show floor space, right? 

I don't think we've even opened registration for attendees yet, and show floor sales are, I think they're probably about 8% off of 2020. I guess there's no such thing as quoting me because we're recording this, but it's within that ballpark of the size of the last event at the Rye, which is, really the last event to compare it to. So if it's 90% of that size, 80% of that size, I think that's, that absolutely fits into your technical definition of normal. 

And there were lots of people who said, because you're going to Barcelona, as awesome a place as it is, it may mean you see a slight drop because people who might go to ISC in Amsterdam, because they can drive there, maybe would not go all the way to Barcelona? 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah, but there's other people that are going to drive to Barcelona that wouldn't have driven to Amsterdam. And yeah not a hundred percent a repeat audience, but…

Well, I’m not driving to Barcelona. 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah, me neither. (Laughter)

That's those armchair spectators that you talked about earlier, right? We did the homework to make a determination about that, and we love the Rye. We would love to have stayed at the Rye, but the Rye isn’t big enough to hold the show as it was moving forward in the future and it was starting to have a negative impact on attendee experience and you start to have those different factors impact a show and reach the value of the show. 

I'll just be happy if I can find my way around. 

Dave Labuskes: Yeah, it's a beautiful city. I'll tell you what it's like. It's the opposite of the Rye. It was one of the things I joked with Mike about. Finally I figured out how to get through the Eye without getting lost, and now we've decided to move the show. 

Yeah, me too. 

All right. I appreciate you taking some time with me. I suspect you're a busy fellow these days.

Dave Labuskes: Never too busy for you, sir. Congratulations on your recent deal. I'm really happy for you. 

Thank you!

Paul Miller, Questex

Paul Miller, Questex

June 23, 2021

The 16:9 PODCAST IS SPONSORED BY SCREENFEED – DIGITAL SIGNAGE CONTENT

When news broke back in March that the live events and publishing firm Questex had bought the assets of Digital Signage Expo, there was, understandably, a lot of interest and speculation about whether that might mean the defunct trade show and conference would be revived.

It will be, likely around the same timeframe as the past, and back in Las Vegas. It is also likely it will have the same name - though it might just be called DSE. 

What's also clear is that it will not be a simple re-boot of the old show - which makes perfect sense, since the Digital Signage Expo that ran for 15+ years would politely be described as spinning its wheels - with attendance flatlined and exhibitor counts shrinking.

I contacted Questex when news first broke of the DSE assets being acquired at auction, and have had a few conversations since then with the company, including its CEO Paul Miller.

I wasn't sure how much he could tell me, but we had a terrific, very open chat about what went down, and his company's thinking around a new and different DSE in 2022. 

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TRANSCRIPT

David: Paul. Thank you for joining me. Who is Questex? 

Paul Miller: Hi, Dave, thanks for having me first and foremost. Questex is a media and information services business that produces events alongside its media sites. We have been in existence as a company for about 15 years, just over. We are a company that focuses on really five or six markets, that is the life sciences and healthcare markets, the technology markets, and then we also focus on the areas of travel hospitality & wellness, and all of that is wrapped up around a focus on the experience economy. That's who we are and we do events, we do media websites, we do all kinds of connecting of buyers and sellers in those areas. 

David: So of those properties that you have in the context of the Pro AV world, what would people who are listening to this most likely know, LDI or the Nightclub & Bar Show? 

Paul Miller: Yeah. They would probably know our Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas, mainly because that would have been in history. Some cases would collaborate with DSE and in some cases would just sit alongside so they would know that. 

They probably would know the Lighting Dimension Show, the LDI show that you mentioned. Yeah, that's also one that is quite well known in this space. I would say outside of that, there are events that I think are relevant in the hotel area, in the spa area, in the gym area where we’re connecting owners of hotels & operators of hotels and gyms and spas with various people that want to sell into those spaces. So of course digital signage is a huge area for all of those end users. So they may not know those, but certainly, I think they're areas that we think are very relevant. 

David: We'll get into acquiring assets of DSE, but I was curious when that happened, so I looked up Questex to see who they are and how they work and I get a sense that your typical approach is you have publishing wing as a foundational thing that kind of sets the content for that particular vertical market, and then you grow and market the live event off of that. Is that a fair assessment? 

Paul Miller: Yeah, I think that's a good assessment, Dave.

We believe that we should be engaged with communities 365 days through the year because people don't always wait for an event before they make their decision. So we want to help them through that buying process through content that attracts them to our websites. As they interact with that content, we like to use that data to produce what we would consider a very relevant show. So when you come to the show, it's content that's been popular throughout the year, probably speakers that have been writing content that you can come and meet live. So we see a full connection between how people in the B2B world look for content, and how they go through that buying process, and the event is part of that. 

In many cases, it's an exciting part of it, because people come to actually buy. In some cases, they come to network. In some cases, they come to get educated, and in some cases, all three. So, that idea that we would just do an event, and then see you next year is not really in our DNA. We're more, “Hey, we want to serve you throughout the year, and we'd love to see you live at the event if relevant.” 

David: And I also get a sense that that the events look different depending on the vertical. So you don't necessarily do a full trade show with exhibits for a certain vertical because it really doesn't fit, whereas, for other verticals, it may. 

Paul Miller: That actually is a really astute comment. I think sometimes in our world, not the digital signage world. This is our world at Questex. We sometimes talk about events a little bit like somebody saying, “I'm going on vacation to Africa,” and your first question is what country you're going to because you’re going to have a different experience depending on where you're going. 

In the events world too, there are various flavors. In some events, it truly is sort of a cash and carry. You bring in your goods, you set up your store and people come in and they buy your goods, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. By the way, I do not think that applies to digital signage, certainly on the whole, but that there is a flavor of event that we do that sort of emulates that, that is very much you come in to buy stuff and the exhibitors are there to sell stuff and success is how much did I sell, frankly?

And then there are the educational type events which sort of surround large conferences. I think you'd be familiar with these: great speakers, good education, and some really good networking off-piece at the hotel bar afterward, et cetera, and then you can get into some really specific events which are matchmaking buyers with sellers. This particular buyer is looking for this solution and we're going to put you in a room with this seller. They tend to be more intimate, very VIP, in some cases, we will host those buyers. So we tend to be, and I think your comment is right on. We tend to look for what fits what element of the market at the right time.

I think where it gets exciting, Dave, and this probably leads us into sort of our thoughts around the Digital Signage Expo is that in many cases you can do all three. You can have a great conference, you can have a great show, trade show floor, and you can do great matchmaking, and it doesn't work all the time. We have a feeling that it is relevant to DSE from what we've been hearing from the market, but you're absolutely right on the money. We don't really have a one size fits all approach as a company, and I think given the communities we serve, that would be very difficult for us to shoehorn in certain templates if you will. 

David: Right. So back in, I think you said it was April, but you acquired the assets of Exponation. What did you actually acquire? 

Paul Miller: We acquired the assets of Digital Signage Expo which would have included the trademarks, the websites, the database, the customer database. I think that was about it. A few other URLs, websites that sort of surrounded the industry a little bit. But everything that Exponation had that was DSE-related is what we acquired. 

David: And how did that happen? Was there like a Broker who came to you and said, “Hey, we have this”, or do you have people who just pay attention to this sort of thing? 

Paul Miller: No, it was strange, to be honest. The last year has been strange in many ways. Firstly, we’re very aware at Questex of DSC. We had, as mentioned at the start, we had seen the show, we had visited the show. I wandered over to the show while at our Nightclub & Bar event.

David: Just to sober up? (Laughter)

Paul Miller: Yeah, actually, just to see what it's like at a B2B show that isn't serving alcohol, which is a different field, and actually we had been impressed for many years with the show. We certainly didn't really know the understories and what was really going on, but from a very shallow view, I would say, the show looked very professional. There were great companies, and there was good buzz, and we always said to each other that, that looks like a great event, and that was about it, just for the record. 

Then I forget the actual timing, but sometime in the fall of last year, we obviously saw the story that Exponation had filed for Chapter 7, and that sort of alerted us about that a lot of us that are in the events business, the pandemic has been devastating. It wasn't that it was a surprise, but to be honest as having that sort of very narrow and shallow knowledge of the show, we were like, wow that's a shame that, that was a good looking event and we're probably going to see more of this was our initial reaction. Then what happened, Dave is that we got a notice from, I think it was the bankruptcy court. I can't remember who it was, but anyway, we got a notice that the assets were going to be auctioned to help raise funds, for those people that the debt was owed to if you will.

So we said, okay we like these assets and we've got some things that we could bring to the event, or this was before we knew, by the way, that might be relevant. So we entered into an auction process and it was the first time in my career that I've ever been through such a process and it truly was a person on the phone, basically banging the gavel and saying, “Yep,  sold to the people at the back,” and that ended up being us. We obviously then did a lot of homework before we went into the auction. We got our hands around a little bit. What was the size of the show? What was the target audience for the show? What do we think we could bring to the show? And it checked a lot of boxes for us. Yeah, we went into the auction seriously and we won that auction, and then, of course, you find what actually have we acquired? And that was a fascinating sort of few weeks of research. 

David: I've spoken with you in the past, I've spoken with someone else from your company and a consultant, Brent Gleason, who you've engaged to help out with this. 

I'm curious, as you've done your kind of due diligence and exploration of the industry, what have you been hearing about the industry, your impressions on that, but also, we can go from there to what are you going to do? 

Paul Miller: Sure. So firstly I have to say, and I think you know this that there wasn't a lot of ho-hum type of commentary in the research when we went to the industry. People were very passionate about space, very passionate about this product. Not all of it positive. I think there've been some negative experiences for certain people, but what we did find, Dave, was that this is an industry that is going through terrific growth and that growth looks to be sustainable, certainly, through the next half a decade if not beyond in our opinion, so great sort of 7.5% CAGR growth rates, touches a lot of verticals, and I know that people listening and yourself would know this, but this was our learning, touching verticals as diverse as healthcare, through to retail, through to hotels, houses of worship, hotels. So that was really interesting for us.

We also found and heard that the industry actually wanted a place to gather. They do see this as an industry that has its unique personality. It's not all about one thing or another thing, and there are definitely some trends that are coming in, the digital out of home space for instance, that in my opinion, is akin to what happened between print and the internet, back in the late nineties, a lot of data starts to be kicked off and a lot of backend technology starts to get into play. With digital signage becoming the forefront of that, it's where people first interact. So we got very excited very quickly. Some of the comments frankly, were hard to swallow or people saying, “Hey, the event was not what it used to be.” “It was starting to lose a little bit of its luster.” 

Obviously when the show was canceled last year. Some people were really quite upset about the lack of refunds and what went on there, and I fully understand that. We had to cancel a lot of events last year as well. It was a very tough scenario for everybody, but the industry we felt as we got into it had an opinion, and it was a strong opinion and people wanted to talk. We had incoming people calling us saying, “I want to talk to you about what you've bought here and let you know what you've got.”

And actually Brad was one of those, by the way, Brad said, look, I have a lot of history with the show, and I'd love to help reinvent it along the lines that I feel, and I think what the industry feels it should have been going in any way. So look, we have the ability to “start again” in many ways. I don't think the Exponation had that ability. They had a product, they had to try to grow that product. We've acquired a set of assets, but we have a real strong ability to listen to the community and try to create a new experience for the community that they're telling us they want. And that's unique. So, we purposely were have been extremely patient. We just said, let's listen, and the more we listen, the more we're finding that the industry wants an event, it wants a place to gather, but it doesn't really want your grandmother's DSC. 

I think the event has reached its limit, if you will, in terms of value and people wanted to do something else going forward, without losing some of the great things about the event, seems like it was a fantastic place for the industry to network and meet once a year. We don't want to lose that. That's a super reason for having an event. So, it's been a real experience. I mean, this is a very good acquisition from my experience, acquired through auction had gone into Chapter 7 through the pandemic and it has a set of stakeholders that really want to have a say. I mean, nobody said, sorry, I don't want to talk about it, or, I don't really have a comment. Everybody had something to say and I think that's great. That shows some passion. It shows some engagement. It’s just that not all of the comments were positive, I have to be honest.

David: Oh, for sure. When we chatted in the past, I said, I don't think there's enough to do at a trade show with a whole bunch of exhibit stands and everything, the way it was done in the past. There's a diminishing number of companies that want to spend those kinds of dollars, and I just didn't see it. Is that what you’re hearing more broadly? 

Paul Miller: Not really, no. I get your point, and we actually gave people the ability to tell us what they really want. Now, I will say that the number one thing that's coming back is that we want to meet people that are going to buy our product. So we want to meet, we don't really want to just get together and talk to each other. But it's a very expensive meeting to just talk to other people in the industry. So there's been a lot of questions to us like, do you reach people in the hotel industry? Do you reach people in the restaurant space? Do you reach people in other areas where digital signage is needed and can be engaged with? 

And when we've explained, as I did up top, that these are the markets we're in, people have gone, if you can get those folks to attend an event, we absolutely will bring a booth and we absolutely will exhibit, but you gotta bring buyers. You're not going to get away with putting up an exhibit and meeting without competitors across the aisle, that’s not enough. 

David: Right. I know with Exponation, they worked their butts off trying to get brands to show up, to a level that they were putting them on advisory boards and things like that, just to make them feel like they should be there. 

Paul Miller: Yeah. Look, I've been in the events space for sort of 25 years. It is not easy, particularly when, and this is where it comes back to the strategy of Questex, I think compared with Exponation, we're a huge believer in content.

I think I've said this to you before content is still king or queen, but the kingdom is data. Once you have people and you've attracted them, around content, it's really about understanding what their needs are, what they're looking for, engaging with them, and I think if you're a pure-play event company, what you do is you put on an event once a year, you're sort of reliant on a lot of partners to produce that content for you, and not in your environment. So you don't get the data as much, and I think that makes it very difficult in complete deference to what Exponation was trying to do. 

I think they were trying to do the right thing, but when you don't have that daily engagement with the community, it's quite hard to hit it out of the park on every single thing. You're going to find your content probably gets a bit tired, sometimes the loudest voice gets to be the speaker, as opposed to the one that everybody wants to hear. There are certain things that data takes out of the room. It takes that emotion out of the room and it says like this audience is engaging with this type of content, that's what they want to see live. That I think gives you a little bit more data-driven decision-making around what the industry wants, as opposed to my gut feel or what somebody just told me at the bar last week at the show. 

David: So, based on everything you've been hearing, everything your team has been doing, do you have the bones of an idea of what we’re going to see?

Paul Miller: Yeah we do. I think that's a good description. I'm not sure we're fully fleshed out, but I can certainly tell you a few things that we're going to do. 

Number one, we are going to relaunch the show. Just to be clear from the top, we are going to relaunch the show. We do think that the show has to be repositioned somewhat to be a broader show to bring in those customers, as I mentioned, We're looking at experiences around a broad-based agenda of life and business and mid the re-emergence of society and the global economy. So this is more about where does digital signage fit in the “roaring 20S”? So we are looking to bring back the event. We're looking at next Spring and we are looking at Las Vegas. I can't go much further than that at this point in time, because we are obviously trying to secure venues and we're trying to secure dates, and that by the way, is easier said than done in a post-pandemic environment and everybody wants dates.

But we do have our Nightclub & Bar rebranded as our Bar & Restaurant event in Las Vegas next spring. There's the possibility of bringing that together again if you will. We will have an exhibit floor but also adding things like show floor experiences, very inclusive. You know, “let's demonstrate some applications, do some showcases, have some themed presentation stages.” So a lot of buzz on the show floor, but at the same time, a really engaging conference program, lots of curated presentations, tracks based on innovative applications, why do this, what are the outcomes, what you should be looking for?

And last but not least we are hoping to have multiple layers of networking at the event. That's one thing that this community told us is, “Please don't lose the networking!” 

As I think, you know more than I know, great parties, great places for the industry to come together and celebrate, learn to buy, to sell. So yeah, we were even looking at guides around Las Vegas itself, tours of installations so people can learn, form real-life applications, not just what somebody might tell you what could happen. Let's curate some tours, and we do that by the way, for our Bar & Restaurant event, we take people behind the scenes at a Nightclub behind the scenes of a Vegas restaurant, so they can see everything from point of sale applications through to what's going on in the kitchen, and how does the food come out? We think that the audience, the community is telling us it wants more, hands-on more, show me what works, more education, more demos and bring it all together as an event that is an experience beyond just, ”I walk the show floor and I meet a couple of friends at the bar.”

David: Yeah. I've certainly heard many times and when I did a little survey asking about, where should a trade show go? The comment that's stuck in my head was, I know when I go to something like DSE, I'm landing, and that's what I'm doing that week, or for the next two, three days, that's my subject matter versus an ISE or an InfoComm, which are great shows, but they're Omni shows covering a whole bunch of different vertical industries and technologies and everything else and you don't have this aggregate of people who are just there for digital signage. Now you could go to a party and talk to 20 people, and they're all doing things that have nothing to do with digital signage, but they're in AV. 

Paul Miller: Yeah, by the way, I think both are relevant. A lot of respect for ISE and InfoComm and the AVIXA Association in general, I think they do great stuff by the way.

And I think there is relevance in attending a show that is broader than just the sort of industry that you're in. I think that's where you do see adjacencies and ideas that might be applicable. But what was loud and clear from this community was we wanted our own place. There's enough going on in the digital signage space for us to need to focus on our industry, our solutions, our ecosystem for us to want our own place, and that, by the way, was one of the key learnings over the last 8 to 10 weeks of listening to people. 

There wasn't one person who said, I don't think the industry needs its own place. There are a few people who said can I afford the time to go to all of these events? And I think that's a relevant comment and that's all about saying, well, we have to win your respect to get your time, and we have to have a program that you walk away after two or three days or a week, and you go, “Wow, I'm going to recommend this to my friends because these guys really put something on that it creates a fear of missing out if I'm not there, and I think more importantly than all of that actually creates business interactions. People actually do write orders and they do write RFPs at the event.” That's what we're here for at the end of the day. 

So yeah, I think the need for an event that's focused on this particular community is clear: that's actually a box that was checked very clearly. it wasn't a 50-50 decision.

David: There will be people who listen to this and think that's great that you're doing a show, but spring in Las Vegas or just spring in general in the trade show industry is very crowded. There's a lot going on and you're putting this in between ISC and InfoComm, which are AV shows, there's NAB, all these other ones that happening around then there, I've heard many people say it would be lovely if an event like this was in the fall instead.

Paul Miller: Yeah. Unfortunately, the fall is also busy. It's got its own interesting issues and particularly around the pandemic where shows have been moved around, and they're off cycles. The feedback that we got, Dave, was again, you're right, “It's crowded. Please don't put it over the top of another show because we don't want to be forced into a decision. Do we go to this or this?” 

The feedback we got was, “We liked where it was before,” which was, around that April timeframe, spring timeframe. So we've taken that into account and we didn't have any huge set of people saying, “Hey, move it to November or get it out of the way.” The other option we had by the way was to think about, do we put it alongside our lighting show, which is in the fall, October, November. 

The more we get into it, the more it becomes clear to us that actually, the lighting show is not as relevant as an audience, they tend to be lighting designers, people that are doing the rigging of lighting, et cetera. A better audience would be people that are buying stuff for their restaurant for us. So yeah, we're never going to get a date that's going to satisfy everybody, unfortunately. Our feeling is we have the best chance to bring the right set of buyers to this event in the spring of next year. 

David: And if you do it somewhat in tandem with an existing show like your Bar & Restaurant show, I imagine there's some efficiency around Ops people, like, you don't have to bring double the staff. You may bring more than you would for one show, but not of double compliment. 

Paul Miller: Yeah, the efficiencies come with, obviously the show place itself. So if we do go to the Las Vegas convention center, obviously you get efficiency. If you do two in one, if you will. 

From our team perspective, maybe Dave, in terms of we could send seven people rather than two sets of five, for instance, which is where I think you're going. But I'm not sure, I think what we're looking at for this event is and also by the way, for the Bar & Restaurant event, as you can imagine, the experiences there are pretty high end. You've got people launching new dreams. You've got people launching new bar and restaurant concepts. So I think that it would be the same as at a reinvigorated DSE. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not looking for cost efficiencies, let me put it that way. That wouldn't be the reason for doing it. 

David: When do you think you'll have a launch or an announcement saying we're going to do this? 

Paul Miller: We're in the midst of recruiting an advisory board. We're getting some great traction there, by the way. I can give you a few names if that helps. I would say we are a matter of weeks away from a full announcement and maybe not many weeks. 

David: Yeah, and I guess you really have to be because planning cycles are long, right? People are already budgeting for 2022. 

Paul Miller: We gotta get moving, yeah.

It's not just the budgeting aspect of this. It's the sales team that has to be implemented. You've got to have your content team in place. Your advisory board needs to meet so we can start to get around the sort of flavor of the show. So no, we gotta get our skates on, no doubt about it.

David: So who are some of your advisors that you can say? 

Paul Miller: Some that I can say, and by the way, there are a number of others that we think are going to be really exciting for the community to hear about, but we've got Rich Ventura, B2B Business line manager at Sony, I think previously the chairman of the DSF. We've got Rick Robinson, Chief Strategy Officer for Billups, leading voice in the out-of-home industry, and by the way, a play on the advisory board, just for the record is these four quadrants, there's the industry veterans, those people that really know this space, the new voices, and the new faces. We said we're going to reinvigorate, let's get some new voices. So Jackie Walker, digital signage subject matter expert at Publicis Sapient is one of those. 

We've got a number of others. Laura Davis Taylor retail & reality, we've got some people here that I think are going to bring some really great new voices and faces alongside the veterans, also strategic partners that we're looking at, and of course, people like yourself in the media. We'd like to have a balance of all of the above and if we're going to deliver on our promise of a reinvigorated show, I think the definition of insanity is doing something the same way and then expecting a different outcome, so we've got to make some changes here and reinvigorate the advisory board, get new names and voices and faces involved, but don't throw away the baby with the bathwater either, make sure you've still got the people that know what they're talking about. 

David: The last question I suppose is will it be called Digital Signage Expo or it'd be something else, or is that TBD?

Paul Miller: Yeah, that's a great question. We have, interestingly, sometimes for how things happen without doing more sort of fundamental research, but internally we're using the DSE acronym quite a lot. I don't know is it Digital Signage Expo? Is it Digital Signage Experience? Is it DSE? At the moment where we're sticking with brand equity. Words and all that come with digital signage expo, but it's interesting internally, and we do refer a lot to it as DSE, and sometimes that just turned into the experience as opposed to the expo. So a little bit more about the industry, a little bit less about the product itself.

I would say a personal front, from what I've heard from customers, Digital Signage Expo is fine. People are calling it DSE anyway, and I don't know if I want to go through a massive rebranding exercise at the same time we're doing a relaunch of the event. 

David: Yeah. It's more of the communications and the people you bring on board and everything else. 

Paul Miller: I think so, yeah. At the end of the day, I think it is: have we delivered a product that people go to and say you know what, these guys are on the path to creating a must-go-to event, we did some business, it was great to meet the community again, and I learned a lot. If we can check those boxes, I think we can then start to think about, okay, what now? And at the moment, we're just fully focused on producing something that people walk away from Vegas going, “These guys nailed it, they listened and we've got an event that's a must go for our industry, and they want to listen to some more on how we can make improvements from stage one.”

So I think at the end of the day, that's what really matters. Yes, people have a lot of opinions. Yes, there's a lot of baggage. Yes, there's a lot of words that we're using right now that I hope resonate with the industry. But at the end of the day, it's did we deliver? 

David: All right, Paul, thank you. I appreciate your time. 

Paul Miller: Dave, it's a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

 

Michael Schneider, Gensler (from InfoComm Connected 2020)

Michael Schneider, Gensler (from InfoComm Connected 2020)

July 8, 2020

The 16:9 PODCAST IS SPONSORED BY SCREENFEED - DIGITAL SIGNAGE CONTENT

I was kinda sorta off last week and did not record a new interview, but I have this audio track from a recent online event that's well worth sharing.

The pandemic shifted InfoComm 2020 from Las Vegas to online last month, and one of many educational sessions held at InfoComm Connected was about experiential design.

I was the host, and my guest was Michael Schneider of the giant global design firm Gensler. I've known Michael for a few years, first at ESI Design and now at the New York City offices of Gensler, where he runs the Media Architecture team.

The session was called Designing Contact-Free Building Experiences, and was a chat about how the global health care crisis is forcing a re-think of using and navigating public and commercial building spaces.

Where much of the experience in big buildings lately has been about Wow Factor, health safety and utility are now in the mix.

The session was a video call, with a chat recorded ahead of time and then live Q&A. About 20 minutes in, you will hear the tech jump in with a few questions.

I'll have a fresh podcast, with transcription, next week.

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2019 DSF Coffee And Controversy

2019 DSF Coffee And Controversy

October 30, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paul Peng, AUO

Paul Peng, AUO

September 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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NRF 2019 Round-Up: Interviews on ESLs, HTML5, Interactive Lightboxes And Avatars

NRF 2019 Round-Up: Interviews on ESLs, HTML5, Interactive Lightboxes And Avatars

January 23, 2019

This is a special edition of the podcast which I am pretty much whacking together myself, in the wake of running around the NRF show last week in New York.

I had my handy little Tascam recorder with me, so I grabbed some quick interviews with several companies I bumped into, with the idea of stitching them together in a round-up. These are not the biggest companies. Not necessarily the hottest stuff on the show floor. But they caught my eye, or in the case of the first interview, reflect my thinking that I wanted to know more.

Normally I get interviews properly smoothed out by my sound engineer guy, but with four interviews and intro and so on, it was a big ask on short notice. So here I am, fiddling around with Audacity audio software. So this will be a bit rougher than normal, but the content is solid.

One of the things I noticed on the NRF show floor was how there were way more electronic shelf labels than I have seen in the past, which is why I stopped to chat with Rob Crane, the head of global sales for the ESL company Altierre.

I bumped into Tomer Mann, from 22 Miles, outside the Intel booth. He was doing stand-up demos of his company's long-running wayfinding platform. That's well established, but I was interested in what the company was doing in retail, using HTML.

Inside that Intel booth, I chatted with a Spanish company, called Kendu, that comes out of retail graphics and has introduced a hybrid print and signage solution that uses LED animations behind a lightbox frame of print graphics, and also uses gesture for interactivity.

Finally, I was wandering around the Innovation Lab - which is a lot of new companies, but also companies who can't afford a full booth. I noticed people hanging around a floor display, and reacting to the screen. A company that's partially Toronto, partially Berlin, has an avatar chatbot thing that uses AI to drive interactivity. TwentyBN's avatar seems a little gimmicky, but done well it would be useful in spaces where there's a set of predictable questions.

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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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Andrea Varrone, Digital Signage Expo

Andrea Varrone, Digital Signage Expo

February 14, 2018

Trade show managers like to attend other trade shows to see what's going and how things are done, as well chat up exhibitors who might also want to hang a shingle at that trade show manager's own event.

So it was no surprise last week to find Andre Varrone - who runs Digital Signage Expo - walking the maze that is Integrated Systems Europe.

Her own show is coming up in just a few weeks, so we agreed to sit down and talk about why she was at ISE, but more to the point, what digital signage people will see at the end of March at DSE.

We found a place up above the crowd, which worked pretty well until near the end, when someone starts singing. Stupid me thought interviewing above the audio area, around happy hours, was clever.

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Mike Blackman, Integrated Systems Europe

Mike Blackman, Integrated Systems Europe

January 10, 2018

Integrated Systems Europe is now just a matter of weeks away, with the doors to the massive pro AV trade show in Amsterdam set to open on February 6th.

The show has broken attendance records in recent years, and it looks very much like the 2018 number will exceed last year's count of 73,000-plus.

ISE covers off a lot of different technologies, but of the 1,200 or so exhibitors this year, more than a third of them list digital signage as one of their product or service categories. That vendor count is twice the number of vendors who set up at DSE.

I managed to get ISE's managing director Mike Blackman to slow down for a half-hour to talk about why ISE keeps growing, who attends, and what's new and different for 2018.

We spoke by Skype, and unfortunately, the connection is a little chunky in spots. But it's still worth a listen if you are going or want to know more about the show.

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ISE 2017 Bonus Episode

ISE 2017 Bonus Episode

February 13, 2017

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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Special Episode: Chats From ISE 2017’s Exhibit Halls

Special Episode: Chats From ISE 2017’s Exhibit Halls

February 7, 2017

This is a special edition of 16:9 Podcasts - interviews recorded in and around the RAI Amsterdam at Integrated Systems Europe this week in Amsterdam.

I am doing a bunch of sit-down podcast recordings this week in and around the giant pro AV show, to be streamed in the coming weeks, but I also wanted to grab some quick interviews about things I see in my travels around the many exhibit halls here.

On this episode, you will hear from a series of companies, large and small, including Sony, Sharp, NodeArk and Condeco. These interviews were recorded today and I am posting this as I wait for the press room happy hour to start.

Oh, it has! Yay. 

I'm heading back home this weekend, and next week's podcast will be the normal format.

Also, look for a new 16:9 Projects Podcast, with Michael Tutton, coming this Friday.

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Special Episode - NRF 2017

Special Episode - NRF 2017

January 17, 2017

This is a special edition of the 16:9 Podcast - special because the format’s a little different and because I’m turning this around too quickly to get it polished up by the guy who sound engineers these things.

So no music. Maybe a bit more background noise. The levels are anything but level. But it'll do, in terms of timeliness versus studio quality.

I was just in New York the last couple of days, attending the National Retail Federation’s big trade show. I wanted to pass on some impressions from the show, but also run a couple of shorter interviews I managed to grab on the floor.

I’ll start with an interview I did with Ken Goldberg, the CEO of Real Digital Media. The well known industry executive was wearing a Stratacache shirt and had a Scala exhibitor badge hanging around his neck, so it was a little bit weird to see.

We talked about the news, just last week, that his company was acquired by Stratacache, on the heels of another software rival, Scala, also being acquired.

After that, you’ll hear an interview with Sam Vise of Unefi, a Toronto company that was at NRF showing an interesting product and service that’s built off off 20 years of providing print visuals for the retail industry, and now also does digital signage, off the same platform.

Finally, I’ll pass on some thoughts about NRF.

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Mike Blackman, Integrated Systems Europe

Mike Blackman, Integrated Systems Europe

January 11, 2017

Integrated Systems Europe is coming up at the start of next month in Amsterdam, and Mike Blackman is the guy who has built ISE up to be the largest pro AV show on the planet. It’s also the biggest digital signage show in terms of footprint and exhibitors, though signage is just one element of the event.

Any show that’s just weeks out is in crazy-busy mode, but Mike took some time recently to talk about the show’s roots, how it’s grown and how it works.

We talk about what to expect this year, how to plan out a visit, and how to navigate and survive a show that will likely pull more than 65,000 people and span across 14 buildings.

The good news, if you are now thinking about going, is that there are still hotel rooms available and there’s a lot of different ways to get to Amsterdam.

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Andrea Varrone, Digital Signage Expo

Andrea Varrone, Digital Signage Expo

December 14, 2016

Digital Signage Expo is coming up in late March in Las Vegas. It will be the 14th version of the big trade show and conference.

I sat down with DSE Show Director Andrea Varrone when she was up in Toronto last week, to run through what people should expect to see in 2017 at and around the show..

We talked about a lot of things - like what’s new and different about the upcoming show, and how the event is doing. Varrone talks about the mighty challenge of trying to grow the attendee base when more than half of it is brand new with each passing year. She has to, as she says, keep refilling the attendee bucket.

We get into some of the exhibitor rules that have made some companies cranky, and also touch on the future of a couple of spin-off shows aimed at education and corporate communications, which didn’t exactly draw mobs last month in Chicago.

If you’re a regular at DSE, or thinking about it for 2017, you’ll want to have a listen.

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Florian Rotberg, Invidis

Florian Rotberg, Invidis

August 3, 2016

This week I’m speaking with Florian Rotberg, the managing director at the Munich-based digital signage consulting and events firm Invidis. Florian talks about the background of his company, and his impressions of the global digital signage market.

Rotberg goes into detail about the differences between the North American and European/EMEA market, and the challenges American and Canadian companies run into trying to expand across the Atlantic.

We had our chat in a noisier than expected press room in June at InfoComm, just ahead of the Digital Signage Summit he put on there.

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