Sixteen:Nine - All Digital Signage, Some Snark
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.

Angela Vanderburg, Q Division

Angela Vanderburg, Q Division

January 9, 2019

This week we look at how the financial services industry is using digital signage in branches, and more to the point, what works and why.

Angela Vanderburg is the Digital Practice Lead for Consumer Banking and Retail Financial Services for Q Division, the retail-focused digital strategy consultancy that was launched by STRATACACHE. She's a shameless digital signage nerd who endlessly studies how the technology is used and the content choices that were made on networks, all the way down to locations.

We're talking because Vanderburg guided a pair of very significant research exercises in Europe and North America that got insights and data from consumers, and from decision-makers at banks.

In this episode, you'll hear about what the research revealed, why stuff like weather reports actually work well for banks, and how things that I maybe think are gimmicks are, in fact, worthwhile. 

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Kaan Gunay, Firefly

Kaan Gunay, Firefly

December 12, 2018

There's nothing new about media on taxi tops, but a San Francisco start-up called Firefly is trying to go about it with a different approach.

Firefly describes itself as the first mobility-based SmartScreens platform - an advertising media firm that gets it footprint and scale from the rideshare industry.

Firefly is working primarily with the drivers for services like Uber and Lyft, offering a supplemental revenue stream in return for fixing a hyper-local, geo-fenced digital sign on the cartop. Firefly absorbs the capital cost, and spins off an average of $300 a month to the driver. That money isn't huge, but it can be enough to significantly offset leasing or insurance costs and make driving for a living worthwhile.

Co-founder Kaan Gunay is a mechanical engineer by training, but in recent years has found his way to Stanford, where he got his MBA and where the roots of Firefly first developed. He's also very active in community good works, and we spoke about how continuing that was, and is, fundamental to how Firefly does things.

At least 10 percent of all media on screens goes to to promote and advertise local not-for-profit organizations and provide public service announcements for non-commercial entities such as charities.

The car-toppers have sensors - for things like air quality - that generate data that's open for government planners, and others, to use.

I spoke with Gunay last week, just as his company was announcing a big $18.5 million seed funding raise.

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Kaijus Asteljoki, Valotalive

Kaijus Asteljoki, Valotalive

December 5, 2018

Workplace communications is one of the most active verticals in digital signage, and a big reason for that is the ability of screen technology to get important information to staff - without hoping they open and read mass emails or see posters on breakroom cork boards.

The Finnish startup Valota saw the rise in business-based digital signage coming, and has been developing a product totally focused on visual messaging in the workplace.

Based outside Helsinki, the company's Valotalive product is a messaging platform built around a growing set of content presentation apps that visualize data from widely used business systems like Salesforce and Microsoft's Power BI.

The platform enables set it and forget it content that's fed via these systems - so when the KPIs for a company change, they change automatically on screens located around facilities. It's a big step up from Happy Birthday wishes and notices about the parking lot being paved on the weekend.

I spoke with CEO Kaijus Asteljoki about the roots of Valotalive, and what he says are the key things end-users need to think about when putting together a digital screen network for their workplaces.

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Ryan Croft, TransitScreen

Ryan Croft, TransitScreen

November 28, 2018

This is inadvertently turning into transit digital signage month on this podcast, having spoken lately with CHK America about epaper transit signs and just last week with Roadify, which aggregates data from transit systems.

This week I'm talking to Ryan Croft, one of the co-founders of TransitScreen, which has made a mark in North America and globally with a subscription service that puts together and presents on screens all the mobility options for people at specific venues.

What that means in practical terms is people coming down in late afternoon to the lobby of their office block, and looking at a carefully-considered and laid-out screen that shows everything from the state of local buses and trains to the availability of Uber, Lyft and some of the other alternative transport options out there these days.

In our chat, we get into how TransitScreen got started, what they've learned along the way, why they've now added a mobile app, and how the sort of data insights all this mobility data is generating might have some interesting new uses.

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Scott Kolber, Roadify

Scott Kolber, Roadify

November 21, 2018

Mass transport data is some of the stickiest content out there for digital signage screens. It's information people tend to want and need, and they'll habitually look at screens to get it.

Tapping into the open data from one transport authority, to show it on screens, is relatively easy. It gets more complicated when you want to show data from multiple systems on a screen, and it gets quite complicated when the signage network wants to run data specific to different cities and different transit systems.

It would be a bear for a software or solutions company to take on, which is the attraction of a Brooklyn-based service called Roadify - which aggregates all that data from different systems and presents it all in one structured format, using its platform and running off a subscription model.

The service is similar to some of the news, weather and sports feed aggregators that have long operated in this sector, except the content is quite different. I spoke with founder and CEO Scott Kolber about the roots of Roadify, and how his company's services are being used.

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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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Rich Ventura, NEC Display, on ALP

Rich Ventura, NEC Display, on ALP

October 31, 2018

NEC Display has been fairly quietly involved in analytics for a long time now, but it just got very serious and noisy about that capability, with the launch of something called ALP - which is short for Analytics Learning Platform.

It's a retail intelligence program that uses cameras and other sensors, AI, big data, cloud computing and network appliances to give retailers a better sense of what's going on in their stores.

Tied to digital signage, a retail intelligence platform can optimize messaging based on who's in there, how long they're in there, and the historical patterns of what those people tend to buy. The gold for retail operators is understanding conversion ratios - the what really happened stuff when messages were pushed.

There is no shortage of retail intelligence platforms out there, but none that I know of built from the ground up with signage as a core element. I spoke with NEC's Rich Ventura, who drove the project, to talk about ALP's roots, how people in the signage ecosystem plug in, and how it all fits. 

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Rick Wood, CHK America

Rick Wood, CHK America

October 24, 2018

Rick Wood's company was founded to bring some order and logic to how mass transport systems present information - like routes and schedules - to passengers.

It was a tall order for CHK America - because many or most transport authorities had their own way of doing things, and not that many were particularly good at making it easy and familiar for people to find their way around.

But the company has seen a lot of success, and its best practises have been widely adopted. When people take unfamiliar buses and subways in cities they visit, there's a reasonable chance the information on the signs they see now look familiar and can be readily understood. Ideally, CHK says people should be able to find out what they need in eight seconds.

It's a mindset smart digital signage people have come to understand ... in essence, you have a matter of a few seconds to inform people before they look somewhere else.

All the understanding of how people seek and consume information is now being applied by CHK, through a spinout called ConnectPoint, to digital displays. The company started with big interactive screens, but now the really interesting work is with dynamically-updated, solar-powered e-paper signs at bus stops.

In this week's podcast, I spend a lot of time talking to Wood about how mass transit users find and use information, and how all this translates from static to digital displays.

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Hongwei Liu, Mappedin

Hongwei Liu, Mappedin

September 18, 2018

Wayfinding is one of those core technologies that make consumer lives better and easier - helping people locate where they want and need to go in places like shopping malls, airports, health care facilities and higher ed campuses.

There are numerous software companies that include wayfinding capabilities in their platforms, but only a handful that have been laser-focused just on delivering that solution. One of the most successful ones is Mappedin.

The company started as a sideline for some students at the University of Waterloo, which most observers would call the top computing school in Canada. Hongwei Liu and his buddies thought they could solve a problem for students finding their way around the sprawling Waterloo campus, and then at a local mall and a casino a couple of hours up the highway.

There was enough there for Liu to quit school in his second year. Just a few years later, he's running a company with 60 employees, some big outside investors, and clients across North America and globally.

I spoke with Liu about Mappedin's roots, what works and doesn't, and how the big moment came when serious research showed good wayfinding can mean millions of dollars in incremental sales for shopping malls and their tenants.

 

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Refik Anadol, On Digital Data Sculptures

Refik Anadol, On Digital Data Sculptures

August 29, 2018

If finding a free half-hour to talk is any indication, Refik Anadol is one busy, popular guy right now. That likely owes a lot to the mind-blowing data visualization work he's been doing lately in public spaces.

He's a Turkish-born digital media artist who now has a busy studio in Los Angeles doing what he calls parametric data sculptures for public art spaces.

If you have been in downtown San Francisco, you may have seen a big LED video wall in the lobby of a Salesforce tower that seems to have a corner glass window with live expanding foam - or something. It looks real, but it's just three-dimensional digital art, driven by data.

More recently, he's done several sync'd up visualizations on the LED walls of an expanded section of Charlotte, North Carolina's airport. What's happening on the screens there is all based on real-time data from airport operations. So what you see on the screens is shaped by things like luggage-handling systems.

Kinda crazy.

I caught up with Anadol recently at his LA studio, to get a sense of what he and his team does, and we have a broader discussion about visualized data.

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Pierre Gendron, Stingray Media

Pierre Gendron, Stingray Media

August 22, 2018

tingray Digital Media Group is one the world's biggest providers of multi-platform music services, with 11,000 commercial clients in 156 countries.

The Montreal company's core business is piped-in music channels for commercial and residential, but it also has a growing operation in digital experiences for retail - like flashy screen networks in big Canadian sporting goods stores.

That side of the business is led by Pierre Gendron, a former pro hockey player who found his way into digital signage doing an early version of it for company golf tournaments around Quebec. That company evolved and developed into Groupe Viva, which was then acquired in 2015 by Stingray.

Now part of a much larger organization, Gendron talks in this chat about what Stingray offers and how it intends to grow. One of those ways is through acquisition, and we get into why Stingray recently bought Toronto-based NovraMedia, which gives the company a big national bank customer and a stronger digital signage foothold in English Canada and beyond.

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