Sixteen:Nine - All Digital Signage, Some Snark
Eric Virey, Yole Developpement

Eric Virey, Yole Developpement

February 27, 2019

I have always felt sorry for any poor soul who gets the arm put on them to go to a trade show and get schooled up on digital signage - because there are so many hardware and software companies selling variations on what is essentially the same stuff.

I would really feel sorry for someone walking into a big display show, charged with finding the most suitable LED display technology for a project. There are 100s and 100s of options out there, and lots of terms being thrown around that seem to have different meanings.

There's chip on board. SMD. Mini-LED. Micro-LED. Glue on Board. 4 in 1 LED. On and on it goes. It's "My head's going to explode!" territory.

The LED video wall business is the sort of thing that begs independent, educated analysis, and happily, there are a few people out there doing that work. Like Eric Virey, a Frenchman who lives in Portland, Oregon, and spends his working life looking at and decoding the LED display business.

Virey, a Senior Technology & Market Analyst for the French market research company Yole Developpement, kindly gave me some of his time recently to help clear some of the fog. There was something up with his mike, so the sound quality is not as good as I'd like. 

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Alberto Cáceres, Trison

Alberto Cáceres, Trison

February 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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Sam Phenix, Planar/Leyard

Sam Phenix, Planar/Leyard

February 13, 2019

I managed to squeeze in a few podcast interviews in and around ISE last week, and this is the first - a long-planned and finally realized talk with Sam Phenix, who is the VP of research and development for Planar and Leyard.

That puts her in the middle of everything happening in the display market right now, from LCD and OLED to light field displays.

We spoke right at the blended company booth, in the middle of the show, so it's a little loud. And some people just flat ignored how there were two people with a microphone in the middle, and kept on talking around us. Oh well.

It's a really great, frank discussion about all the emerging display tech out there.

 

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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.

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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Leo Resig, Chive Media

Leo Resig, Chive Media

January 16, 2019

The big selling point for Chive TV is that the streaming channel's five-hour mix of curated social media content keeps butts in barstools.

The Austin, Texas-based company has some 4,000 bar and restaurant venues running content on one or many of their TVs, and about 500 more come on monthly - with a lot of that growth through word of mouth.

Now Chive has broadened its free streaming content offer beyond just bars - adding venues like gyms, medical clinics and workspace break rooms. There will soon be 10 different channels of content on what's now branded as Atmosphere TV.

Chive was founded about a decade ago by two brothers, and I spoke with one of them - Leo Resig - about how it all started, why they created a streaming TV channel, and how charitable work is a big part of what they do.

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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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Kim Sarubbi, Cannabis Medical Network

Kim Sarubbi, Cannabis Medical Network

December 19, 2018

Screens in medical waiting rooms is one of the most well established kinds of digital OOH media, and there's been no end of companies that developed networks built around advertising-supported content.

 That's now happening in the United States with medical cannabis clinics, through a pair of signage industry vets who have applied what they learned in mainstream medical centres to clinics focused on cannabis products - as alternatives to things like opioid medications.

Kim Sarubbi has been working with Phil Cohen on medical center content for a quarter century, and answered Cohen's call when he said he was getting back into waiting rooms aimed at the emerging cannabis market, via the Cannabis Medical Network.

They are already in roughly 1,000 clinics with a screen, media player and custom-created content that's designed to educate patients about the potential benefits of cannabis for battling things like PTSD or easing the pain or effects of cancer, epilepsy or other diseases.

I spoke with Sarubbi about the challenges of operating in a still emerging industry and market where the rules can vary, the product gets looked at with raised eyebrows, and the snake oil crowd can easily intermingle with the makers of much more proven and established products and treatments.

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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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Beth Warren, Creative Realities

Beth Warren, Creative Realities

November 14, 2018

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

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

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

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

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2018 DSF Coffee and Controversy, in NYC

2018 DSF Coffee and Controversy, in NYC

November 7, 2018

I was in New York last week for the Digital Signage Federation's annual Coffee and Controversy breakfast event - a panel discussion that each year brings together some of the most influential leaders in the digital signage industry.

I'm on the DSF board and my fellow board members drafted me to run the panel - with Chris Riegel of STRATACACHE, Jeff Hastings of Brightsign and Beth Warren of Creative Realities.

There's only so much controversy you can whip up around digital signage, but I tried ... and if anyone in this industry was going to stir up some shit, it was Chris. He didn't disappoint, nor did Jeff or Beth.

The women who ran the AV for the event very kindly generated an audio recording for me. This is about twice the length of a normal 16:9 podcast, but if you didn't have the chance, time or budget to get to New York last week, you can have a listen to what was said.

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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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Matt Downey, Freshwater Digital

Matt Downey, Freshwater Digital

October 17, 2018

Matt Downey's time in digital signage traces way, way back to the days when Premier Retail Networks was, by far, the big dog in putting screen networks in retail environments.

His time with PRN - working with clients like Walmart - eventually led him into working directly for one of his big grocer clients. Not long after that, he took a leap and started his own company. I'd say it was a big leap, but he started out with a whale client - his current employer.

Many years later, Freshwater Digital is a well established digital signage solutions provider, with double-digit growth every year and a client list that's rich in big companies that's not only local to Grand Rapids, Michigan, but also includes organizations that are much further afield.

Matt and I get into the roots of Freshwater, and lessons learned. We also go pretty deep into a new area he's going after in a big way - e-paper tags and shelf labels.

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Jeffrey Martin, Right Media Solutions

Jeffrey Martin, Right Media Solutions

October 10, 2018

Jeff Martin has been around the digital signage industry for pretty much as long as the industry has existed - running the ops side of some very large retail networks.

He was one of the co-founders of SignStorey, which at its peak ran screen networks in a wide range of groceries across the United States in the early to mid-2000s. That company was acquired in 2007 by CBS, which turned into Outfront. It was a BIG deal at the time, with CBS paying more than $71 million for a digital signage company ... 11 years ago.

In 2011, Martin went out on his own and got ahead of a trend towards managed services and solutions, founding what is marketed as Right Media Solutions. Based in New England, the company runs the digital signage networks for multiple clients, across all 50 states.

I had a great chat about the old days of digital signage, particularly in grocery stores. We talk about what worked then and what works now.

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Peter Livesey, Esprit Digital

Peter Livesey, Esprit Digital

October 3, 2018

Anyone with technical chops who uses a subway system to get around would understand that those are seriously challenging environments to put in sensitive display technology - and the UK display technology company Esprit Digital effectively got its start in digital signage doing just that.

If you have been in the signage market for a few years, or if you have used the subway systems in big cities like London, you'll know about the synchronized digital posters in many of the escalator sections. The most well-known are those in the London Underground, which were put in by Esprit many years ago and are still working.

The company, based north of London, has built out its business from everything it learned about heat and airborne grime and ruggedization, and has since developed products for shopping mall concourses, sidewalk ad posters and all kinds of other challenging scenarios.

I spoke with CEO Peter Livesey about the roots of the company, which go back to really low-rez LED signs for retail, and how the company has gone full-circle and added fine pitch indoor and outdoor LED screens to its product line. 

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