Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Digital signage article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press

Not a terribly enthralling title, I'll admit. But this is a nice article about the current state of affairs in the digital signage market, mostly focusing on PRN and Target's new Channel Red in-store TV network. Here's a snip for you:

Whether suspended from ceilings or posted at check-out lanes, in-store TV is gaining momentum as a growing number of retailers — from Wal-Mart to Best Buy — tap into "narrowcasting,'' closed-circuit-type networks aired across their chains. These networks broadcast a steady stream of commercials that include weekly specials, new product releases and, increasingly, image and brand advertising.

But Target's in-store network is noteworthy because it makes the discounter one of the first retailers to operate and own its own system rather than farm it out to a media company, said Bill Collins, a principal at WBC Narrowcasting Group, a Cincinnati-based media consulting firm.

By owning its own network, Target has a greater ability to build its brand image and ensure the marketing is consistent with what it is doing in print, billboards and other channels, Collins said. Target declined to comment for this story.

The burgeoning in-store TV effort reflects a drive by retailers to improve "point of purchase'' marketing as consumers stroll down store aisles.

It's a captive audience, all right, but one already bombarded daily by pitches for products and causes. The trick is to not appear merely to be adding to the din.


So far, in-store TV generally seems to be paying off for retailers. Davis-Taylor said retailers are finding that products advertised on their networks show an average 10 to 20 percent increase in sales compared with normal periods and no advertising.

For example, a study of about 5,500 Wal-Mart shoppers last fall found patrons who saw products advertised on the discounter's in-store network had more of a positive feeling about those goods than customers who had not seen the ads (61 percent vs. 40 percent).

Further, 15 percent of respondents who saw the advertising were more likely to buy the product on the day it was featured as opposed to only 4 percent who had not seen the advertising, according to PRN, Wal-Mart's in-store media partner.

Best Buy officials noted a recent survey of their in-store HDTV programming found 87 percent of respondents felt the network was good, 77 percent found it informative and nearly 70 percent believed it had relevant advertising.

You can read the whole thing here. It kind of re-hashes the IMSI's recent state of the inustry address by Bill Collins and Laura Davis-Taylor.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Visual Planet offers interactive posters

From this blog (oddly enough):

Visual Planet, a UK-based developer of dynamic interactive visual solutions, has created a new product for digital messaging. The Interactive Poster is an easy to install shrink-wrapped touchscreen solution for businesses to use as promotion and information points. The 'poster' could be particularly useful as window displays for estate agencies, jewellers and other retail outlets, as buyers and sellers can window-shop outside of opening hours. The device is based on a high-resolution interactive diffusion and holographic rear projection screen, which can be used either free standing or attached to a window to display and image between 30- and 60in, effectively turning the window into a display device. Remote control of content for displays and signage over the Internet is the next exciting development and is sure to be popular across both retail and corporate environments.

From what I can tell, while this doesn't represent a new technology in and of itself, it does fuse together a number of existing technologies, like digital signage content management, large-screen touch surfaces and holographic projection film. I'm sure it makes a killer demo, but I'd also be willing to bet that it's a bit too expensive for most companies to go and replace their existing static posters right now :)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

VISI Networks deploys narrowcast network to LabCorp

Here's some news:

A leading provider of next generation digital signage technology products and integrated services for establishing point of purchase marketing promotions and corporate communication networks, [along with] VISI Networks, a systems integration, multimedia design and production company specializing in customized narrowcast solutions for the out-of-home market, have formed a strategic relationship to create and manage a digital signage network for Laboratory Corporation of America® Holdings (LabCorp ®). Known as the LabCorp Health Network (LHN), this healthcare information and advertising network is currently installed in more than 300 of LabCorp’s more than 1,200 Patient Service Centers (PSC) in the U.S., reaching nearly 1.5 million viewers each month. By mid-2006, LHN will consist of more than 500 PSCs, ultimately reaching more than 80% of the patients and visitors to LabCorp’s PSCs.
Hopefully they'll learn from AccentHealth and other past attempts at narrowcasting networks in healthcare providers' offices. On paper, though, it does seem like it's a model that should work, with content and ad creation/ placement and sales being the biggest hurdles to overcome. Here's the rest of the press release if you want to read it.

100,000 digital signs

Today must be stupid press release day. First the one about Clarity/CoolSign, and now this:

EZ Show LLC, a multimedia production and distribution company and Marketing Team One, Inc. (MTOI), a sales and executive marketing enterprise, have solidified their agreement to cooperatively deploy networked LCD screens in retail stores, for the narrowcasting of content. This content will be a combination of 50% programming and 50% advertisements, delivered in split-screen style, complete with ticker.
Ok, no big deal, you think. This guy's just overreacting, you think. And then you get to this paragraph:
EZ Show focuses on its core competency of creating and delivering content, while MTOI identifies and procures retail destinations that deliver multitudes of active shopper's eyeballs. Currently there are over 10,000 locations in the MTOI pipeline, with 100,000 locations planned over the next two years.
If I were to take the high road, I'd wish them well and that would be that. But honestly, 100,000 screens? That's ambitious for even a digital signage mega-behemoth like Focus Media. For anybody who thinks that this is a good business model, go out and do as much research as possible on a now-defunct company called Next Generation Networks, or NGN Networks. Back in the late 90's and early 2000 they deployed thousands of screens to convenience stores, only to find that they could never recoup the capital cost of the deployment, let alone turn a profit. There were many good reasons why this was. Many. So if you're in the advertising business and thinking about deploying signs randomly to every place you can think of, look them up before you start writing down your business plan.

Digital signage firm IMPART acquires out-of-home advertiser InTransit Media

From this news release:

IMPART Media Group, Inc., an innovator in the content, creation and management of out-of-home digital advertising and information networks, today announced that it has purchased all assets of Marlin Capital Partners II, LLC d/b/a InTransit Media, a privately-held advertising and marketing services company located in Pompano Beach, Florida and New York City. Included in the asset purchase are the exclusive rights to provide digital signage and out-of-home digital advertising services for the PATHVision digital network. The PATHVision system includes more than 277 displays throughout 13 transit stations in New York City and New Jersey that provide advertisements and informational spots for travelers. IMPART Media Group, Inc. (IMPART), will continue to market the PATHVision system under the InTransit Media name, as it continues the rapid expansion of its travel network strategy.
I was going to say so that's what they did with the $6M working capital line of credit they announced recently, but then I read this paragraph:
[T]he InTransit team was so impressed with IMPART and its market opportunities, that it recommended that Marlin Capital managing partner Mike Brauser, make an investment in IMPART by taking stock in lieu of cash for the majority of the purchase price in the transaction -- a true testament to the merits of a successful negotiation and trust in the abilities of each partner.
Interesting approach, though I have to wonder if that indicates something other than a super-awesome-wonderful collaboration between these two digital signage firms.

Clarity debuts new digital signage press release

Um, I mean, digital signage software package. But when you start using overly-poetic superlative statements like they do in this press release, I have to poke some fun. I apparently also need to tell all of my large customers to stop using FireCast, since apparently only Coolsign can support big networks of digital signs:

CoolSign 3.0 excels over competitive digital signage systems in two ways: its network scalability -- it readily handles networks with hundreds or more nodes; and its specific features -- a powerful system architecture and content display and management engine, and the ability to integrate dynamic data. "In these two ways, CoolSign 3.0 is the only digital signage offering on the market today capable of supporting large enterprises, and accommodating their growth in order to remain competitive," said Kris Gorriaran, senior vice president of marketing and sales, Clarity Visual Systems. (my emphasis added)
I'm not going to even get into how ridiculous that statement is. I don't know why you'd actually want to read the rest of the PR, but it's linked above.

British Telecom experimenting with digital signage

According to an article over at AV Interactive, BT is getting into the digital signage game, partnering with British software maker Dynamax. We suspect they didn't choose FireCast because we can't spell the word "color" the right way. The article says:

BT is to sell managed retail screen, content and distribution services to its customer base, which includes the UK's top 100 retailers, and is to resell Dynamax Technologies' PointOfView NG digital signage software.

Dynamax has set up a strategic supply agreement for the scheduling and distribution software with BT, which evaluated a range of packages ahead of its decision to sell managed services to the digital signage market.

BT/Dynamax systems are already being installed, say the companies, with more sites planned this year. BT’s digital signage customers will have their networks centrally controlled from a dedicated PointOfView NG head-end at BT Tower, and will connect to retail display screens across the country, providing a comprehensive scheduling and network monitoring facility.
You can read the rest of it here, but it's mostly just quotes from the different parties involved, in usual press release style.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Arbitron Finds Viewers "Extremely Receptive" To In-Store Video

So says the article from which this title was blatently stolen. Here are the highlights:

  • A full third of Americans (33 percent) have watched in-store video – not counting sets for sale in the television department.
  • One in ten shoppers makes a habit of watching retail video, and always or frequently stops to watch; another 32 percent of shoppers sometimes stop to view video screens they pass in a store.
  • More than three quarters of retail-video viewers find the screens helpful.
  • More than half of retail-video viewers (52 percent) think more stores should install video displays.
  • If given a choice, 42 percent of retail-video viewers would prefer to shop at a store that has video displays versus one without.
Kevin Massy has the details for you, right here.

Shelf-mount signage offers sight, sound... smell?

Shelf-mounted digital signage displays are practically a dime a dozen nowadays, but this article points to a new product being trialed that has something else to offer: scent.

The wireless device kicks on as shoppers pause during the critical eight-second window that researchers say it takes to decide which toothpaste or soda is going in the basket.

For more than three years, Houston-based Point of Product Broadcasting Co. and Irving, Texas-based Avidwireless have been working on the device, which has a 3.5-inch screen, a digital readout and a sensor that knows a shopper is there. The unit is also capable of sending out scents of fresh bread or coffee.

When the test is done, Littman estimates that it will cost about 16 cents an hour — or $1,460 annually — to hire one device for a year.
At last year's GlobalShop show, there were a number of companies touting new scent technology to get shoppers to stop and smell the roses. And by roses, I mean whatever product they were trying to sell. This is the next step in that full-sensory advertising, and while I'm not convinced that it's ready for prime-time, it's neat to see a trial underway.

Focus Media gearing up for expansion?

Focus Media, the largest digital signage network... well, just about anywhere, has this to say:

Focus Media Holding Limited , which operates the largest out-of-home advertising network in China using audiovisual flat-panel displays based on the number of locations and number of flat-panel television displays in its network, today announced a follow-on offering of 6,787,829 American depositary shares ("ADRs"), each representing ten ordinary shares, at a price to the public of $43.5 per ADS. 1,500,000 of these ADSs will be issued and sold by Focus Media, and 5,287,829 of these ADSs will be sold by certain shareholders of Focus Media. Focus Media will not receive any proceeds from the sale of ADSs by these selling shareholders. In addition, the selling shareholders have granted to the underwriters an option to purchase up to an additional 627,560 ADSs within 30 days from the date of the prospectus.
My guess would be that they're either fueling their growth by deploying a bunch more screens, or else they're about to start converting their DVD-powered network over to a network-connected, computer-powered one (whicih would take a bit of cash, considering how many scree

MediaTile introduces "Turbo-Content" for digital signage networks

I don't know if that means better out-of-the-gate acceleration, or higher top-end speed, but Turbo Content must be good, right?

All kidding aside, this actually does look like a neat service:

MediaTile's exclusive Turbo-Content starter kit offers more than 28 vertical-based programs to choose from. Program examples include Extreme Sports, Entertainment, Health, Life Style, Kids, Weird and Wacky, Science and Technology, Weekly Sports, History and Space and many more.

"Turbo-Content is an instant content starter kit that delivers another breakthrough for any business facing the complexities of creating compelling and visually stimulating content for a digital signage network," said Keith Kelsen, President and CEO of MediaTile. "Combined with MediaTile's cellular-digital-signage solutions and our recently unveiled 'Digital-Sign-In-A-Box' offering, the addition of pre-packaged content will dramatically simplify the creation of a narrowcasting network. Retailers, advertisers and narrowcasters can add Turbo-Content to their existing digital promotions to get in-store promotional networks up and running in record time."
I don't know about "revolutionary," but the lack of fresh content, both up-front and ongoing, is a major problem for many smaller networks that don't have a lot of corporate backing or resources for content creation. Here's the complete press release.

IMPART gets $6M loan for digital signs

If you were IMPART, what would you do with $6 million in working capital? They do build physical kiosk and digital signage enclosures, but probably not $6M worth. They do a lot of large-format outdoor advertising, but $6M can buy a lot of vinyl and printing ink. And then there's their digital signage group... well, $6M would pay for a nice-sized network of screens, and some content to boot. Unfortunately, the press release doesn't give us a lot of insight:

Commenting on the financing, Joe F. Martinez, IMPART Media Group, Inc., Chairman of the Board and Chief Financial Officer, stated, "This transaction is representative of the seminal events we deem necessary to fuel our aggressive expansion into the emerging out-of-home digital advertising sector." Martinez continued, "We believe this transaction will enable IMPART to pursue key strategies to position the company and our products for tremendous acceptance in demographically-rich advertising venues similar to the airport deployments of our iPoint Networks(TM) product line."

The financing consists of a $6,000,000 revolving debt facility at an interest rate of WSJ Prime plus 3.0% subject to a floor of 7% for three (3) years from the date of closing with no financial covenants. In addition Laurus was issued 750,000 nominally priced warrants. Laurus further agreed to a one year lock up on the sale of any shares acquired upon exercise of the warrants, as well as a limitation on the number of shares it may sell during each 22 trading day period to less than or equal to twenty-five percent (25%) of the aggregate dollar trading volume of Impart Media's common stock during such periods. GunnAllen Financial, a full service brokerage and investment banking firm, served in an advisory capacity to IMPART Media Group for this transaction.
So we know that they wanted the cash badly enough to give away 750,000 warrants (nominal cost usually means a penny or even a mil apiece), so what are they going to do with it?

Since I've never encountered IVT before, I don't have anything witty to say about them. Instead, I'll just pull from this press release:

Interactive Video Technologies, IVT, the premier supplier of scalable software for webcasting, is pleased to announce our latest module for Digital Signage: MediaPlatform Television, or MPTV. MPTV is an optional module of MediaPlatform that gives clients the ability to create and manage "channels" of scheduled content for display on HDTVs or computer screens. These channels can be viewed on plasma screens at full screen and high resolution. Scheduled content can include playlists of content with set durations or at set times. Additionally MPTV includes the ability to preempt a channel with "urgent" content, messages or live video. Organizations wishing to deploy digital signage applications at corporate, retail, manufacturing or branch sites may want to tap into the expertise provided by a webcasting company with a uniquely long heritage, Interactive Video Technologies. With many years of experience and a feature rich, easy to use product, clients can rely on a system that is fully supported by a well-known organization. MPTV can be centrally managed and supported with screens at any location worldwide.
So from what I can make of it, it's basically another Scala-model digital signage software package with a designer tool that builds out channels.

LSI and 3M Digital Signage form partnership

According to this press release,

3M Digital Signage addresses the foremost issues of companies considering digital signage: network and provider accountability. Together, 3M and LSI bring established track records of adapting new technologies for increasingly complex brand-building and communication challenges.

A menu of capabilities include:

  • Pilot planning, research design and execution to validate and optimize network return-on-investment
  • Network design and project management, including hardware procurement, installation and systems integration, and hardware management programs
  • Command and control services including content hosting, scheduling and playback with proof-of-run reporting; network monitoring, diagnostic reporting, and maintenance and support programs
  • Content consulting led by Human Factors Ph.D.s, original content creation and re-purposing of existing digital assets, and easy-to-use content management software

Considering the cost and complexity of deploying a digital signage network, I can certainly see a value in this type of relationship. In reality, though, once LSI has a few deployments under their belt, it would make sense for them to generalize their offerings and partner with other vendors.