Rob Gorrie is among the most digitally-savvy and sharp people I know - some of that based on the DNA of a family that's been doing marketing for more than a century. But it's also based on a pile of real world experience starting and running digital companies.
The one Gorrie's been focused on for the last few years is Bricks + Matter - a Toronto-based strategy consultancy that works with retail brands and shopping centers to figure out all this emerging digital stuff - how it works, what it means and what to do with it.
Digital signage is just part of the technology stack, so to speak, and in this chat we get into what retailers are doing and worrying about, as well as what works and what doesn't. Rob's a blunt realist and he's not afraid to say how a lot of what's been tried in retail - like sticking screens all over the place - simply has not worked.
We also spend some time talking about Adcentricity, which about 10 years ago was trying to somehow organize and represent the advertising avails of the many, many digital out of home ad networks that were out there back then. It didn't quite happen, and we get into why, as well as how that's in many ways still the story.
It's a great chat with a guy who has a lot to say. Enjoy.
Just last week Manolo Almagro pulled the curtains back on a new company he's started, under the umbrella of Chris Riegel's ever-growing STRATACACHE empire.
It's called Q Division, a retail tech consultancy that in many respects is the sum total reflection of 20-plus years that Manny has been around tech, in a crazy variety of ways.
His roots go back to desktop publishing for print, but somehow or other he ended up working with an agency that had McDonald's as a client - and he was behind putting digital menu boards into the QSR chain back in the 90s, before flat panels were even around. They used Macs and big-ass rear-projection cubes to pull it off.
He's since been an early adopter and, in many respects, an evangelist and guru for a lot of emerging technologies for online, mobile and in retail.
I caught up with him late last week, and we had a great conversation that got a little out of control here and there.
One of my big takeaways from the trade show circuit earlier this year was my conclusion that transparent LED was starting to look really good.
If you're not with me on what that is, think LED displays that are a bit reminiscent of window blinds, with the LED lights on the louvers. What you end up with, when it's done well, are super-bright, full-color and full-motion LED displays that you can still kinda sorta mostly see through.
The indoor versions go into windows - so you don't have a solid mass like a normal LED or LCD display blocking the view. When they're used outside, they can turn a normal building into a multimedia facade - but again still allowing natural light into the building.
The company that's arguably doing the most in this emerging area is ClearLED, which is based in beautiful Vancouver, B.C. That owes a little bit to CEO and co-founder Jin Fan realizing the company that started in Shenzhen, needed a North American footprint for sales and support. But also because Vancouver is where she's from.
I chatted with Fan recently about the company and technology.
The last interview and meeting I took on my recent trip to Asia, getting a crash course on the technology and manufacturers doing fine pitch LED, was with Deepsky.
The LED display startup is based in Hong Kong, but has deep French roots, as you’ll be able to pick up easily in the accent of Antoine Doublet. He’s the Head of Global Sales for the company, but an engineer to the core. I rarely talk to someone in a sales function who is as technically sound as Antoine.
Having visited a range of manufacturing plants in the suburbs of Shenzhen and Taipei, it was fairly weird to find myself in an office tower high-rise in the Western New Territories part of the city, overlooking the harbor. That building serves not only as head office and R&D lab, but down in the basement areas as the core manufacturing facility.
Deepsky is not a typical LED company, nor is the product they are bringing to market. The fine pitch LED displays we all know are made of tiny LED lights surface mounted one by one on circuit boards. Deepsky is using emerging technology, called Chip On Board, that does things very differently, and from Doublet’s perspective, can change the whole LED sign market.
I just had my audio recorder going to spare me from taking notes, but I realized as we chatted that our talk had the makings of a podcast episode.
The digital out of home media industry has been growing rapidly, and as awareness has built, there’s been more and more of a push from brands and media buyers to provide better, deeper detail on the actual audience.
The old way of selling audience for outdoor was gross traffic counts and extrapolations on what they meant. The new way is big data, and a Sacramento company called Citilabs is working with the out of home industry’s main guys on audience measurement, Geopath, to provide what they call a complete knowledge of how Americans move around their country.
When you have a deep understanding of patterns, volumes and demographics, you can fine-tune advertising and make it more effective and attractive.
In this episode, I talk to Citilabs CEO Michael Clarke about what the company does, how it does it, and what that means not only for digital out of home advertising, but for interesting stuff like data visualization.
Mvix is another one of those companies in the digital signage ecosystem that ticks along, doing its thing, without making a lot of marketplace noise.
I assumed the software and solutions provider, based in the high tech corridor west of Washington, DC, had maybe 20-25 people. But I found out Mvix has about 70, mostly in the DC area. They also have a sizeable development team in India - not outsourced, but staff.
The company has been around for a dozen years and has put much of its focus on government, healthcare and education, and picked up a lot of business based on an easy to use platform and turnkey services.
I spoke with Mike Kilian, a senior director at the company, about how Mvix goes to market, what they’re up to, and how the company’s platform is opening up to deal with a much wider range of playback devices, like Chromeboxes.
There’s no question that consumers like the word free, and it’s a term that has certainly worked for LA-based MediaSignage, which sees about 100 new accounts opened up everyday for its mostly free digital signage platform.
There are lots of software offers in this business that are free for the first account, but you pay after the second and third, and so on. Or ... the software is free, but if you want more than very basic functionality, you need to send the vendor real money.
In this case, MediaSignage says about 80% of the functionality of its platform is indeed free. And if clients do need the rest of what’s on offer, the most they can pay a month is $100 for an enterprise account, no matter how many players they have in a network.
In this episode, I speak with Sean Levy, one of the two co-founders of MediaSignage. We talk a lot about free, and how that works as a business model. The company has run lean, has no sales people, and leverages the hell out of cloud services. We also get into the technical side of the platform, and talk about where the digital signage marketplace is going.
There is a bit of a gold rush aspect to the rise of the cannabis industry in the United States - first in Colorado and now in several states. The rules aren’t all set, but up here in Canada the whole country is supposed to be legalized by next summer.
There’s a lot of money in the business, and a lot of business being done servicing that sector. A handful of digital signage companies, doing various things like content, have started working in the sector, and one of them is a pure-play startup called GreenScreens.
Based in a cannabis-focused incubator in Boulder, Colorado, the company is providing a full signage solution to dispensaries in three states, with designs of being in 500 locations a year from now.
Their screens educate and pre-sell customers, and based on some field experience, move a lot of extra product.
I had a chat with co-founder Ryan Sterling about the origins of the business, the mighty challenge of an industry that is constantly evolving, and the road ahead.
This week we are doing a little wayback thing, talking to someone who has been working specifically at digital signage for almost 25 years, for a company that’s been at it for 30.
One of the events that’s part of of all the digital signage week things in New York next week is one that’s marking three decades in business for Scala, one of the best known brands in this industry.
Peter Cherna joined the company as a software developer in 1993, and he’s now Scala’s Chief Product Officer - basically the guy making all the decisions around what the content management system does and delivers.
We chatted about the really early days of Scala, which was started in Norway and built at that time off the old Commodore Amiga computer and software platform. He was at Commodore, and like several other developers, got off what was a sinking ship and joined Scala.
We get into a little bit of the history of the company and this industry, but also look at what’s going on with technology these days, and how things are evolving.
When I get asked about digital signage installations that I think really have it together, I tend to talk about Microsoft’s retail stores, and more recently, the crazy one by many 100s video wall at the check-in counters at Orlando’s airport.
Turns out both projects were pulled together by Synect Media, a Seattle-area agency that is as much an integrator as it is a creative design studio.
Yahav Ran started the company in 2011, really on the back of work he was doing for Microsoft. But his experience in digital signage goes back a lot longer, to his days with the Israeli video wall software company Cnario.
Those two jobs, and a bunch of others, have made Ran a very busy guy these days, working on and pitching projects built around video wall content and solutions. I managed to slow him down recently and ask about his company and the thinking and execution on really big digital canvases.
If you want to get a sense of what’s really going on with the digital out of home media business and the technology ecosystem that feeds into it, you need to pay attention to Mark Boidman.
That’s his gig - looking at the opportunities and risks of the business, as a partner running the marketing services wing of New York investment banking house Peter J. Solomon Company.
That company has been deeply involved in the sector for the last five years, putting Boidman right in the middle of the business as an advisor and the lead on some big mergers and acquisitions.
With me in my home office and him talking at his iPad at the company’s midtown Manhattan offices, we had a great chat about the state of digital OOH and what’s going to happen. We also revisit his lost career as a cruise ship host. No, really.
Being a best-kept secret in an industry can be deadly for a company, but it’s worked out OK for Neil Farr and his Leicester, England company Working Solutions, which trades under the brand Acquire Digital.
For 20 years, the company has been developing a meaty, diverse software platform that will do all the core aspects of digital signage, but also allows for a lot of customization.
Farr admits he and his team have not been all that good at getting the name out there in the ecosystem, but it hasn’t hurt them much. Acquire has several high profile clients and jobs - like an amazing three-dimensional pylon on the Vegas strip - and a lot of business just comes in based on references from happy clients and partners.
We caught up recently via Skype, and Farr walked me through the history of the company, what’s different about what they do and offer, and what’s coming with technology that keeps him excited about the business.
Laura Davis-Taylor is a really well-known and much-loved expert when it comes to how digital fits in retail.
She was a consultant for many years, but more recently has worked for some very large agencies - dealing with equally large retail and brand accounts.
Now she’s back doing the consulting thing, by her choice. She’s started High Street, a retail experience collective, with a couple of old friends and now business partners. Though just up this summer, the boutique consultancy has already bagged some major accounts.
In this episode, Laura talks about the challenge in retail in the age of Amazon, and how getting people in stores and prompting them to buy stuff is not solved alone by sticking in screens or other kinds of tech.
If you sell to or work in retail, you’ll want to have a listen …
I was in the Washington, DC area last week for what turned out to be the rebranding of Infocomm as AVIXA - a loose acronym for the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association.
The trade association had invited me, and a pile of other trade journalists, for a press conference and follow-ups about … something. They wouldn’t say what and had us signing NDAs promising we wouldn’t spill the beans ahead of time.
It’s a lot more than just a name change for Infocomm, which will still be the name of the big annual trade show and versions of it in other countries. The new AVIXA branding reflects much deeper thinking by the InfoComm board and executive team, which is run by CEO David Labuskes.
On the tail end of a crazy-busy launch day, and in the middle of a cocktail party, I managed to grab Labuskes for a chat, to find out what AVIXA is all about, and what it means for people and companies in the digital signage industry.
A lot of companies run by creatives and software developers have found their way into the digital signage business on the backs of projects they delivered, but I wouldn’t really see that happening with a company that’s all about online payments.
That’s exactly, though, the back story on Telemetry, a Vancouver, BC start-up that grew out of a need by the sister company to visualize all the data they were generating from transactions. The software team looked around the marketplace for applications that would do the job, and when they concluded what was out there didn’t fit, they wrote their own.
With home-grown digital dashboards around the office showing the team what was going on in the business, CEO Peter Fahlman and his colleagues concluded what they had was a great tool - but also something they could productize … without really even knowing what digital signage was all about.
Now Telemetry is a full, cloud-based digital signage CMS, tightly tied in with Google’s Chrome services. Enabling real-time dashboards is, to me, the particularly interesting aspect of what the company does, but Fahlman tells me in this conversation that they’re more than just live pie charts and graphs.
If you spend any time clicking around the internet, you are very quickly going to bump into a website that is using a slider - a piece of browser functionality that shifts text, images and video in and out of a web page.
The company’s digital signage platform is built directly off the Revolution Slider that’s been licensed some 4 million times for WordPress websites - allowing everyone from expert WordPress developers to total newbies to build and launch animated, dynamic digital signage shows for very little money. If you want a sense of what sliders can do, visit the website, it has multiple sliders on the landing page.
SmartContent just came out of beta and is now marketing a solution that runs on $60 Amazon FireSticks and costs about $15 a month to use,.
In this episode, I have a chat with David Douglas-Beveridge, co-founder of SmartContent, to talk about the roots of the product, how it’s used, and where it’s going.
If your digital signage screens are there to make something faster, better or easier for the people who are looking at them, you are doing good things.
That’s the idea behind a Detroit start-up called WaitTime - a digital signage and smartphone app solution that uses cameras and artificial intelligence software to give people at sports and entertainment venues mission critical information like which washroom lineups are shortest, and where to go to get intermission beer and drinks quickly.
The data that comes out of those camera feeds and software inform game and concert-goers where lines are shortest, which is great for fans - but also for venue operators. The screens load-balance lines and reduced the number of times people abandon lines at concessions. That means more sales.
CEO and founder Zach Klima says the systems tend to pay for themselves at arena and stadiums in less than a year.
In our chat, we talk about the roots of the platform, how it works, who’s backing it, and how it can play nicely with the digital signage companies who already service the sports and entertainment venue market.
LED billboards and signs are now commonplace, and not just in Times Square and other landmark locations in big cities.
But putting in LED has its challenges. Cost is the obvious one, but there are other issues, like the engineering needed to ensure a structure can handle all the weight involved with typical LED boards.
They’re a lot thinner and lighter than they used to be, but with all the metalwork, plastic and wiring, they still result in big, heavy walls.
So I was intrigued by a self-funded start-up out Germany, called LightnTec, that has developed technology that does LED on thin, lightweight plastic rolls of film. It’s light enough to just put up like a vinyl banner on some scaffolding or hang off a wall - without worrying about the weight.
LG showed a transparent LED film at a couple of trade shows this year, so if you were around, you might have a rough idea of what’s up here. But that was low-rez and one color of light - white. What LightnTec is developing is the full RGB range of millions of colors, and it does full motion video.
I spoke recently with CEO Florian Kall about this Made In Germany technology.
Hologram is up there with artificial intelligence as one of the most abused terms in tech these days - with all kinds of stuff being labelled as holograms when they’re nothing more than reflections or projections.
Provision has been marketing what it calls 3D holographic media for a bunch of years, and while purists might argue it’s not fully a hologram, it’s a lot closer to holograms than most stuff. Walk into a drug store chain and you might see a kiosk with a motion media piece floating in front of a coupon kiosk, visually and physically detached from any display device.
It’s eye candy. It’s wow factor. But it’s also media that’s making a difference, because they draw eyeballs and pull people over to machines that might otherwise get ignored. They put these things in and coupon redemption rates in the stores went from 1 to 2 percent to 17 percent - across multiple brands, and in the case of the drug store chain, across 500 stores.
I talk to Provision founder and CEO Curt Thornton about his company, the technology and where things are going, including big national rollouts and life-sized 3D holograms.