Sixteen:Nine - All Digital Signage, Some Snark
Marshall Thompson, Signet

Marshall Thompson, Signet

September 11, 2019

Workplace communications have developed into a very active, very big vertical for a lot of companies across the digital signage ecosystem - but most of their activity has involved screens positioned around the white collar and, increasingly, blue collar workspaces.

For most companies, workplaces is A vertical. For Signet, it is THE vertical, and the Silicon valley-based company has built up a tidy business being laser-focused on workplaces and particularly on the briefing and experience centers of Fortune 5000 companies.

These are the high-touch, big visual impact designated areas that companies build to entertain, inform and hopefully close major customers - using everything from big video walls to interactive displays.

I spoke with Marshal Thompson, who runs client solutions for the company. We get into what Signet does and how it found its way into corporate communications, the thinking and impact of these briefing centers, and how workplace communications is so important to attracting and keeping talent in hyper-competitive places like Silicon Valley.

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Jeff Hastings, BrightSign (2019)

Jeff Hastings, BrightSign (2019)

September 4, 2019

I've done a podcast interview with Jeff Hastings in the past, but there's a lot going on with BrightSign and it was time for a catch-up with the CEO.

BrightSign will ship about 300,000 little purple digital signage players this year, at a clip of something like 1,200 units a day. The players have become their own hardware category - as in, "Are you planning to use PCs, smart displays or BrightSign boxes?"

In our chat, we talk about why BrightSign devices have so much traction in the marketplace, and why so many software and solutions companies are signing on now as integrated partners.

We get into the thinking behind a service called BSN Cloud that is now coming out of beta testing and into wider release.

And we talk broadly about what CIOs and IT managers need to think about when they start looking at large, scaled digital signage networks. The IT guys I used to refer to as the Dr. No crowd are now very much on board with using special purpose devices that just work, and don't bring the headaches of full PCs and their operating systems.

 

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Dan Baker, AVI Systems

Dan Baker, AVI Systems

August 28, 2019

 If you are on the solutions side of the digital signage business, you have likely, at some point, had to open up and look over an RFP document from an end-user, quietly praying it won't be too onerous and/or stupid.

A lot of digital signage RFPs still - in 2019 - lead with technology, going on and on and on about specs and requirements, and only making a passing reference to content. Which is nutty, because the screens have only nominal value and impact if the content on them isn't timely, relevant and at least kinda sorta visually interesting.

Dan Baker handles the sales engineering for digital signage at AVI Systems, a big Minneapolis-area integrator. He's seen those kinds of RFPs, and knows through experience there's a better way.

He contacted me, offering to talk about his take, and his company's take, on a methodical process that, at minimum, gets end-users thinking about objectives and the content needed to meet them. Some companies are mandated to do RFPs - it's just how their procurement department rolls - but in a perfect world, end-users are usually better skipping RFPs and working with people who know digital signage.

The right advisors can help them get to the content and technology model that will actually deliver on objectives, and keep them from spending big on tech they need, while largely forgetting what will go on the screens.

 

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Jay Leedy, Diversified

Jay Leedy, Diversified

August 21, 2019

There are a handful of big AV systems integrators in North America genuinely active in digital signage, but I'm feeling pretty comfy saying New Jersey-based Diversified is the most active, experienced and directly knowledgeable about this industry.

The company has built and then managed many of the larger networks out there, including most of the big US banks that the average person could name. While some of the other big AV/IT guys have some dedicated resources, Diversified has a whole and big group pretty much doing nothing but digital signage and digital out of home work. The company also put the time and money into hiring a series of subject matter experts on digital signage - one of them being Jay Leedy, who is now Director of Business Development for what many people in the industry know as Diversified's Digital Media Group, or DMG.

Jay's based down in Atlanta but works with people and companies across the country. In this talk, we get into what DMG is all about, how they plug into this sector, and how they tend to work with clients and partners.

We also talk Adobe - a company more active in signage than many of us probably think - and Google, and the adoption rates out there for smart signage.

 

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Michael Provenzano, Vistar Media

Michael Provenzano, Vistar Media

August 14, 2019

Programmatic media buying and selling for the digital out of home marketplace has been going on for many years now, and grown a lot more sophisticated, and a lot more used.

Just as the digital OOH business has matured and expanded in the last few years, so have some of the key players - notably New York City-based Vistar Media, which has been at it now for eight years and is seeing crazy-good growth these days.

 I spoke with co-founder Michael Provenzano about the online roots of his business, and how he took much of the same approach into a medium and supporting tech business that was, at the start, kind of all over the place.

 We had a great chat talking about what Vistar does, why it built its own CMS, the role these days of data, and whether programmatic is the answer for media-based digital signage networks, or maybe just PART of the answer.

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Mike Kilian, Mvix, On Workplace Communications

Mike Kilian, Mvix, On Workplace Communications

July 24, 2019

Just about anyone involved on the sales or management side of digital signage these days knows that workplace communications has pretty quickly grown into one of the most active and interesting verticals.

With QSRs, the other hot vertical, you're doing menus and digital promo posters. In the workplace, all kinds of interesting things are possible, and can make a difference.

In this podcast, I spend some time with Mike Kilian of the DC-based CMS and solutions company Mvix. I've done a podcast in the past with Mike, but based on chatting with him at Infocomm, we decided to do a new one talking about the opportunities and challenges of digital signage in everything from offices to factory floors.

It would seem like the rise of big data and IoT sensors would open up a lot of possibilities to visualize data and automate content. But in this conversation, you'll learn it's not that easy to do when IT people are worried about security, and the machines and sensors that could spit out useful data have few standards or common formats.

If you are a business communicator, this is a useful listen.

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Artem Risukhin, Kitcast

Artem Risukhin, Kitcast

July 17, 2019

If you go to any industry trade shows and follow social media activity around them, you'll no doubt have noticed A LOT of tweeting by a company called Kitcast.

They've done a very effective job of using social media to create both buzz and booth traffic, and Kitcast staffers were back at it recently at the Digital Signage Summit in Germany.

I've had a few quick chats with the company at the shows, but wanted to know more about a platform and service that at first glance seems like yet another cloud CMS.

There are a few interesting distinctions. First, while the company is based in San Francisco, its roots are in Ukraine. Second, and the big thing, its service is heavily focused on using Apple TV set-top boxes as the media player, and doing so at the enterprise level.

I spoke with Artim Risukhin about the roots of Kitcast and how it fits in the digital signage marketplace.

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JJ Parker, Tightrope Media Systems

JJ Parker, Tightrope Media Systems

July 10, 2019

Tightrope Media Systems is one of the oldest companies in the digital signage ecosystem, with roots tracing back to 1997 in Minneapolis.

Co-founder J.J. Parker bought a stack of books and taught himself coding to come up with what was then called a video bulletin board system for local schools. They managed to sell a license, and another, and another, and Tightrope turned into a real company with employees.

More than two decades later, Tightrope is still at it, and doing well, with some 40 employees and a digital signage product called Carousel that's focused on two key markets - education and workplaces. 

An interesting note is that Carousel works on Apple TVs. It's not one of those cases where a developer got something to work, and not much more. The platform is integrated with enterprise-grade management platform called JAMF, and Apple's education sales team actually buddy-calls with Carousel.

Parker kindly took a half-hour away from a working vacation in Madrid with his family to walk me through the roots of Tightrope and where things now sit.

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Burr Smith, Broadsign

Burr Smith, Broadsign

June 5, 2019

I'm kinda breaking my own podcast rule here by interviewing someone for a second time, but Burr Smith has been a busy guy lately - buying companies and fighting patent trolls.

I spoke with the CEO and owner of Broadsign a couple of years ago, but it was more than time for an update chat given recent events.

Broadsign recently acquired Ayuda Media Systems, which at least some in the industry would see as a competitor. Then it bought another company in Montreal, called Campsite, that's a programmatic ad exchange.

This happened in the wake of a long, expensive but ultimately successful legal battle with a Swedish company that would generally be referred to as a patent troll. While most companies took the path of least resistance and paid "go away" money, Smith fought.

In this podcast, we get into the back-story of the recent acquisitions, and then have a chat about Smith going toe to toe with T-Rex.

 

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Ronnie Lee, Holocryptics

Ronnie Lee, Holocryptics

May 29, 2019

When DSE was on a few weeks ago in Las Vegas, I wandered down to the other end of the convention center to get a glimpse of the legendarily crazy Nightclub and Bar Show - where endless booths pour free drink samples.

I wanted to see how nuts it really was, but I was also on a mission to see the set-up of a Vegas start-up called Holocryptics, which is building a service around hologram-like virtual DJs that any nightclub or bar can rent by the hour.

Holocryptics provides to operators a packaged kit that includes a built-in media server, projector and mesh direct-projection surface. The DJs are custom videotaped in a studio, and high-end audio recorded, to produce files that look, on a transparent screen, like the bobbing and juking knob-twirlers are really there.

It could cost $1,000s to get a seasoned DJ to do a set at a club. With this set-up, there's a pretty reasonable one-time CAPEX hit, and then a DJ set costs less than $30. And it can get launched and controlled off a smartphone app.

I spoke with founder Ronnie Lee about the roots of his company, how things work, why holograms and how this could - in theory - be applied to all kinds of things, like political whistle-stops and distance learning.

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Fab Stanghieri, Cineplex Digital Media

Fab Stanghieri, Cineplex Digital Media

May 22, 2019

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

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

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

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

 

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Dan Hagen, 10net

Dan Hagen, 10net

May 15, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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Neeraj Pendse, Elo

Neeraj Pendse, Elo

April 30, 2019

Elo has been doing touchscreens for 40 years - way, way before marketers started cooking up phrases like customer engagement technology. Over that time, the company has shipped more than 25 million units.

So Elo knows touch, and interactive.

Based in Silicon Valley, the company has in the last few years made a pretty big push into digital signage with everything from countertop displays to big 70-inch touchscreens that look like giant tablets.

I spoke recently with Neeraj Pendse, the company's VP Product Management. His responsibilities include Elo’s large format and signage products, the EloView service, and the commercial Android roadmap and devices. We get into a lot of things - including what works and doesn't in interactive design, how Elo differs from touch overlay companies, and why a touchscreen manufacturer developed and now markets device management software.

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Sean Matthews, Visix

Sean Matthews, Visix

April 10, 2019

Sean Matthews managed to break away from booth set-up at Digital Signage Expo - well, actually he was probably happy as a clam to get away from the noise and bustle - to sit down and talk about Visix, the Atlanta-based CMS software company he's ran for many years.

While many of his software competitors have been all over the place chasing whatever vertical presented an opportunity, Matthews has pretty steadfastly kept Visix focused on a couple of key vertical markets - higher education and workplaces. There are more than 1,000 Visix systems operating on college and university campuses.

We had a wide-ranging talk outside the North Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center, and you'll probably pick up some of the bustle ahead of the show opening. Matthews gets into the roots of Visix, what's worked for the company, and where things are going.

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Jeremiah Archambault, ENS

Jeremiah Archambault, ENS

April 3, 2019

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

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

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

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

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Bjorn Pieper, NDS

Bjorn Pieper, NDS

March 13, 2019

The Dutch software company NDS has been offering a digital signage software solution for 25 years now, and like the handful of other companies that have been around this business that long, they've survived and grown based on the ability to do certain things very well.

In the case of NDS, the company's roots and core business are at airports. That started with getting arrivals and departures data up on passenger terminal screens, and over the years, grown more sophisticated.

Airports are cities, in many respects, and they are the precursors for the smart cities digital signage networks that are starting to bubble up globally. You tie into a lot of systems, and what's visualized on the screens reflects what is going on, more broadly, in the facility or area.

I spoke with Bjorn Pieper, the Chief Commercial Officer for NDS, about how his company works not only with airports, but a lot of big corporations, to make digital signage networks that are truly smart.

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ISE Chats: SodaClick content  and Inotouch transparent LED film

ISE Chats: SodaClick content and Inotouch transparent LED film

March 6, 2019

ISE already seems like a long time ago, and I had to go into my digital recorder's SD card to look over what interviews I had not yet dug out and made ready for podcasts.

This episode features a couple of shorter interviews with companies that I bumped into, in and around ISE's largely dedicated digital signage hall.

The first is with a start-up based in London - called SodaClick - that Jason Cremins of Signagelive encouraged me to go see. These guys do creative templates for digital signage, and the interesting things for me were first, that the output files are HTML5, and second, that the guys behind it are graphic designers first. That second point matters because I have seen affordable digital signage content creation platforms in the past that worked well enough, but offered template designs that totally looked like they were designed by software developers with few or no design chops.

I spoke with SodaClick founder Ibrahim Jan.

The second interview is with a company from South Korea called Inotouch. One of the things I was looking for at ISE was transparent LED on clear film - not the semi-transparent stuff that's part of mesh curtains. Most of what I saw didn't look so hot, the exception being what LG was showing at its mega-booth, and these guys.

Their film was genuinely transparent and they had a tighter pixel pitch than what LG has on offer. It's the sort of thing that would go on windows in retail and on big glass curtain walls - assuming things like heat load are sorted out.

I spoke with Eugene Bae of Inotouch.

Lauren Millar & Mark Stasiuk, Fusion CI Studios

Lauren Millar & Mark Stasiuk, Fusion CI Studios

February 6, 2019

If you've been to the Salesforce headquarters in San Francisco, or certain resort casinos, you will have seen and been blown away by giant virtual waterfalls that appear on LED walls and wash down, over and around things like entryways.

It's kind of amazing, and way beyond much of what you see on big digital canvases - like big 4K stock videos or graphics.

This stuff is part creative - part science, and the company that does this kind of work better than anyone is a little studio that works half and half out of LA and Vancouver. Fusion CI Studios got its start doing special effects for things like disaster movies and action flicks. They virtually part Red Seas, burst dams and blow things up.

One of Fusion's co-founders, Mark Stasiuk, took the weird career path of being a volcanologist with a PhD in geophysical fluid mechanics, who taught himself visual effects so he could more effectively explain the science. He got good enough at it that Hollywood special effects people started calling.

That science background is the big differentiator between what Fusion can do, versus creative shops that are all about the design.

I grabbed Stasiuk and co-founder Lauren Millar for a call, and we walked through how this all started, their process, and why this level of visuals is so impactful.

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David Bailey, Aitrak

David Bailey, Aitrak

January 30, 2019

It doesn't matter how slick your software is, or how beautiful and robust a display may be, if the content on a digital sign doesn't attract attention and hold it, at least for a bit.

So tools that help track and analyze how people view advertising, packaging and other marketing messages can be incredibly valuable. But they can also be clunky, expensive and slow.

A startup called Aitrak is trying to change that - using artificial intelligence and computer vision to do predictive modeling on how people will consume specific pieces of campaign creative - where they'll look, what they'll notice first, and how long they'll look.

Eye-track = Aitrak, by the way.

Creatives and media planners can use Aitrak's tools, or send the material to Aitrak to develop the model and insights.

Right now, the first iteration is built around static out of home street furniture posters and other non-motion creative. But Aitrak is working on the same sort of tool for motion digital assets and creative. That would allow media network owners, agencies and brands to pre-select the best combinations of creative for a location in a matter of minutes, and cut their costs dramatic ally.

I spoke with UK-based CEO David Bailey about a cloud-based service he says gives creatives superpowers.