Monday, October 30, 2006

IntelliMat, the floor digital signage company, closes $5M investment capital round

From this press release:

IntelliMat, Inc., a Roanoke, Va.-based company specializing in providing dynamic digital floor displays, announces today that it has closed a $5,000,000 Series A round of investment. The investment is provided by NewVa Capital Partners, LP, and an affiliate of Third Security, LLC, both of Radford, Va., and SPI Investments, LLC, of Roanoke, Va. Carilion Biomedical Institute also participated in the financing.
The money is going to be used for marketing purposes and to "provide working capital for operations," which suggests that the 2-year-old firm isn't yet cashflow positive, despite owning the only patents for floor-based digital signage. Of course, there's always the tantalizing (and optimistic) hope that they closed some big deal and now need the money to ramp up production, but I guess we'll have to wait to find out.

For those of you who haven't seen these things in the flesh, they're pretty interesting... low-profile LCD displays in a relatively thin rubberized bezel designed to be laid flat on the floor. So instead of passing by a ceiling- wall- or shelf-mounted display, you can literally walk all over it. I'm not sure that this is necessarily a good thing, but there's still a large amount of momentum behind companies who are deploying signs everywhere and anywhere possible, as some kind of bizarre real-estate land grab.

Past stories about IntelliMat include:
IntelliMats to test in-floor digital signs
CircuitCity testing digital signage in store floors

Tags: IntelliMat, digital signage, dynamic signage, floor displays, retail media, store media, advertising

Friday, October 27, 2006

Wal-Mart Canada deploying digital signage

According to this article in the Globe and Mail, a company called ShopCast (whose website I am totally unable to find and/or doesn't work) just closed a digital signage deal with Wal-Mart Canada, ending months of speculation that the Canadian arm of the giant retailer would get with the in-store media program. The network will launch in November at 3 Wal-Mart Supercenters, initially only as a checkout channel. From the article:

Each store will have 15 to 20 screens at the checkouts and in high-traffic sections such as fashion, groceries and electronics. The monitors at the checkouts will be smaller — 32 inches — and carry more in-depth information. That's because shoppers will be standing still at the checkout, while they tend to just glance at the screen when they're browsing the store.

Commercials will be 10 to 15 seconds each, shorter than the 15- to 30-second spots on conventional television, he said.
My favorite part of the article: use of the phrase "paradigm-shift." Unless Canada has special paradigms that I don't quite understand, Wal-Mart US has been doing in-store TV with PRN for close to a decade now, and Wal-Mart Mexico has had digital signage deployed for about a year in some stores, so I'm not sure how anything has been shifted.

[UPDATE] I need to start reading all of my news at once. Media in Canada has some additional details:
Initially ShopCast will be operating only a checkout channel at the Supercentre cash desks, with a full-scale rollout planned for Jan. 24 involving 10 Ontario stores and nine individually-programmed channels keyed to departments, such as fashion, pantry, pharma, health and beauty, electronics, etc. It is with the January expansion that ShopCast is offering national advertisers access to buy into the first year of the network (Jan. to Sept.), and to participate in roll-out research. Ultimately, there will be the opportunity to buy by demo or daypart and to geo-target. The checkout channel will have a cost per thousand somewhere between $4-5, and within the store, channels will be priced on a per store, per cycle basis (in two-week cycles). Wal-Mart traffic clocks in at one million shoppers per day.
So there you have it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Meijer tests out in-store digital signage

According to this article from the In-Store Marketing Institute article, quasi-big-box retail chain Meijer is set to deploy in-store TV networks to all 175 of their stores after a successful trial in that started in April of this year. According to the article:

The network features vertical monitors suspended from the ceiling in five to six locations, including the food, pharmacy, general merchandise and health and beauty departments, with smaller screens located at checkout stations. Monitors will loop more than 30 spots in four-week cycles, focusing on Meijer exclusives, branding and promotions for ABC programs. Rather than targeting specific demographics, content will be tailored for different areas of the store. Paid advertising will be coordinated by both Meijer and Newsight [Media].
The network will use directional speakers to reduce employee fatigue and better concentrate sound from each channel into the appropriate areas of the store. The article states that the trial was 3 channels running on up to 23 screens per store, so the target deployment's goal of 5-6 channels may suggest many more screens will be added in each store. The network will show branding messages, customer service announcements and entertainment content from ABC.

Tags: Meijer, digital signage, in-store TV, retail TV, Newsight Media

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

UK digital signage networks mostly brand-oriented, updated somwehat infrequently reports that Realisation Marketing Services for Samsung and industry working group "The Screen" completed an "admittedly non-exhaustive" study of the digital signage market in the UK. While best known for massive ad-funded networks in Sainsburys, Asda and Tesco, the researchers found that in their, "sample of 151 retailers and network operators in the difficult months of July and August, the survey published this week concludes that the typical captive audience network in the UK is a single-channel enterprise focused on branding rather than advertising, updated weekly or monthly, often via optical media."

Amazingly, about 84% of respondants said that branding (retailer and supplier) was the most important function of the network, as opposed to advertising, which many of us often consider to be a prime target because of the potential of an easily calculable ROI. However, this does mirror what some US network owners (like Nike) have said in the past as well.

Also interesting is the fact that most networks are updated either weekly or monthly, and even with that information, most networks are still updated with CDs or DVDs sent in the mail. While broadband-powered networks were close behind (at 38% to optical media's 44%), that means there are still a tremendous number of screens out there that rely on physical media distribution. To me that makes a lot of sense for people like Focus Media in China, where labor costs are very low, but to hear that it was the same way in the much more expensive UK came as quite a surprise.

One final note from the study: "Most retailers think that £1000-5000 ($1859-9297) would be a reasonable per-store investment in digital signage, according to the research." if that's a per-screen estimate, it's aggressive, but doable. Obviously expecting that multiple screens could be installed (and maintained) for that cost would be much less realistic.

Past articles on UK networks include:

JC Decaux loses Tesco TV deal
Tesco TV set back by store management turn-off
It's official, TescoTV is struggling
More news of Tesco problems
Tesco And ASDA win awards for digital retailing
Asda set to deploy in-store TV rollout

Tags: digital signage, in-store TV, retail TV, advertising, in-store media, digital media network

Thursday, October 19, 2006

BIGresearch tests the efficacy of in-store media

I just finished a quickie post at In-Store & Retail Media News about product sampling being the most influential in-store medium according to a new study by BIGresearch, but it's important enough to be mentioned here too. The long and the short of it is that while stalwarts of retail marketing like product sampling, labels and packaging and loyalty programs can have considerable impact on sales, newer retail media like in-store TV and radio channels, do considerably worse. For example, the study found that only 10.9% of respondants said that retail TV influenced them to buy certain brands or products, and only 7.5% responded the same for retail radio networks.

Still, as Joe Pilotta, VP of Research for the firm notes, "[e]ven though In-Store TV and Radio trail with only 10.9% and 7.5% of respondents saying they're influenced, it is still very significant when taking that number as part of overall weekly store traffic." That's true, especially when you consider the hundreds of millions of people who frequent the top-ten US retailers each week.

The press release with summary findings can be had here.

Tags: in-store media, retail media, product sampling, in-store TV, in-store radio

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Digital Signage pushes the envelope, says Mercury Online's Eisenhauer

Self-proclaimed father of the digital signage industry* John Eisenhauer (founder of Mercury Online, now 3M Digital Signage), went to New Zealand to talk about the emerging opportunities available to digital signage purveyors and users. His insights (from this article):

Mr Eisenhauer says although digital signage has many uses unrelated to retail, such as supplying education or health information, most interest has come from advertisers and manufacturers of plasma or LCD flat panel displays. "Both of them have an immediate vested interest in the success of the industry."

Working out a business model where non-advertising information is paid for is still a challenge, he says. It will probably come through sponsorship, such as when Boots the Chemist in the UK paid for acne information to be screened.
Not much by way of new information here, but apparently digital signage business model challenges are univsersal, knowing no international boundaries :)

* If I was somebody from Scala, I'd be either upset or amused by this, or maybe both :)

Tags: Digital signage, OpenEye, John Eisenhauer, Mercury Online, 3M digital signage

Impart Media Group switches business models in search of profitability

In a nod to the fact that digital signage networks can cost a tremendous amount to set up (especially if one's business model is to pay the up-front cost and hope to make it up on ad sales down the line), Impart has announced that it will no longer take this approach, and instead will join the 250+ companies out there (WireSpring included) who sell digital signage software. They'll also be using a hosted model to provide centralized management for customers (and a recurring revenue stream for them). Here's the most interesting part of the press release:

In an effort to respond to the changing environment, the company has recently reduced operating costs and overhead by approximately $100,000 per month. This significant adjustment in operating costs and realigning of corporate overhead -- along with new contracts -- will get the company to a positive cash flow position sooner than previously forecasted. In concert with this corporate refocus, the Mobile Media business unit, inherited in the acquisition of Limelight Media, has been permanently closed, since it was not in line with the company's digital and electronic focus. Additionally, the business that is defined as the capital intensive revenue model, where the equipment supplier provides all of the capital expenditures (and assumed risks) for the placement of equipment in venues, such as retail stores, malls, public spaces, and airports and subsequently sells advertising -- has been frozen due to the tremendous upfront cash requirement and uncertain return offered by this revenue model. The company has decided to focus on the placement of its own proprietary equipment offered by the Impart IQ(TM) digital signage and interactive media products. The capital expenditure or CapEX revenue model will be revisited, once the company achieves profitability and raises additional capital to strengthen its balance sheet so that it can secure venues that are demographically desirable and insure optimal, out-of- home audience reach resulting in high margin advertising dollars.
While certainly less expensive than deploying thousands of plasma screens, changing from a media sales organization to a software development firm isn't going to be easy. Of course, the CEO is new, and he was brought on to make these kinds of hard decisions, so perhaps stemming the cash hemorrhage by switching models is the right thing to do, even if it is gearing up to be just another one of literally hundreds of competitors already playing in the space.

Tags: Impart Media Group, digital signage, digital signage software, out-of-home advertising

Wal-Mart to expand their digital signage network

We've already heard from PRN execs that there are about 100,000 screens in place in the Wal-Mart TV network, however up until recently they were mostly used to display the same content on multiple screens in the store. So for example, if a store might have had 50 plasma displays, but only four or five unique channels of content, each being displayed on 10 screens. In fact, up until about a year ago, there was only a single channel of content showing on every screen, regardless of where they were placed in-store. However, from the looks of this MediaWeek article, that may be about to change:

[T]he new system will enable the distribution of ads tailored not just to each deparment, but individual aisles throughout the roughly 1,200 stores and 100,000 TV screens. The new, more segmented approach allows the network, operated by Premiere Retail Networks, to sell more ads and promote products within arm’s reach of every shopper.

The enhanced targetability will be achieved by shifting the network from a traditional broadcast satellite TV platform to Internet Protocol Television (IPTV), company officials said. The rollout will be phased in over 2007 and completed by early 2008.

In addition, so-called “endcap” displaysstand-alone exhibits at the end of aisles that are considered prime in-store real estate—will, for the first time, contain video displays. Advertisers that buy endcaps will also be encouraged to buy ads on Wal-Mart TV.

The company wouldn’t disclose annual ad sales for the network, but sources placed it close to $100 million. Nationwide, ad volume for in-store TV networks is projected to grow to $1 billion by 2008, by some industry estimates, a small fraction of the roughly $66 billion in projected TV spending for 2006. Forester Research estimates that 90 percent of retail outlets will have in-store media by 2011.
While I think that the Forrester estimate is dubious at best (c'mon, a 90% penetration rate for a particular in-store technology? You've got to be kidding me, unless you're counting traditional POP displays, signage, etc. as "in-store media," which is perfectly fine, though not within the context of this article).

In any case, a few key takeaways include: transitioning from satellite multicast to IP-based unicast (the only efficient way to get single-screen target specificity, but a killer on the bandwidth and hosting bills), changes to the billing model and the addition of endcap displays to give marketers a greater choice of display media, and a change to the display model itself (running shorter spots more frequently to better match the browsing/shopping patterns of shoppers.

Tags: Wal-Mart TV, digital signage, in-store TV, PRN, IPTV

Channel M merges with ScreenPlay's In-Store division

According to this brief blurb at DDI Magazine, Seattle-based digital media producer ScreenPlay will merge with Channel M, who bills themselves as the, "largest non-traditional media company offering retail marketing service."

After the merger, Channel M will take over ScreenPlay's In-Store division (which will double its size), and ScreenPlay will become the exclusive content provider for Channel M.

Tags: ScreenPlay, Channel M, in-store media, retail media, digital signage

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Digital signage firm Netvizon gets acquired by H3

H3Enterprises, just announced that it is acquiring a controlling interest in PCTV, the company behind the digital signage solution called "neTVizon". From the press release:

"PCTV, Inc. will also be H3's first major revenue stream and profit center with several multi-million dollar Purchase Orders expected to be finalized in the coming days to go along with the substantial contracts that PCTV has already garnered. We also expect to soon be signing several major sponsorship deals with some of the largest companies in the world relating to our displays and upcoming tournaments. I'm especially looking forward to my meeting in Miami with the newest member of TeamH3, Dwayne Wade, who will be actively involved with all of our upcoming CyberSports tournaments." said [CEO] Jackie Robinson.
It's a little scary to think that a company is making an acquisition in the digital signage industry so it can become profitable. Apparently nobody has told Jackie what the lead time is like for us :) But the claim of several million in POs waiting to be filled -- if true -- certainly bodes well for them.

Tags: NeTVizon, Netfaze, H3, digital signage

Friday, October 06, 2006

Lots of gas station digital signage news

Seems like a busy week for the gas pump digital signage providers. First we have this (paid) research from Nielsen Media saying that Gas Station TV -- a network owner with screens in about 1,000 gas stations -- is a effective medium for reaching people at the pump. Their findings:

Gas Station TV, the IP-based digital television network, today announced results of a new study by Nielsen Media Research that showed 77% of respondents looked at, watched or listened to GSTV while refueling at stations with the service. The study also revealed that 89% intend to "watch or listen to GSTV" upon their next station visit. GSTV is grabbing the mobile consumer's attention by delivering engaging, entertaining and informative content through 20-inch LCD TV screens embedded atop gas station pumps.
As if on the heels of this news, two companies are proffering solutions for at-the-pump signage and digital merchandising. The first is software firm DynaTek, who will be demoing their solution at the upcoming National Association of Convenience Stores Convention:
At NACS, DynaTek will showcase its Digital Signage Dispenser Display Unit (DDU) that has been in quiet development along with their integrated text message and web based coupon platform. The integrated technology offer is further enhanced with DynaTek's renowned content production expertise, which educates, entertains, and informs store customers with relevant information regarding special product promotions, and allows them to instantly receive coupons from the participating advertiser and immediately redeem them in the store.
The other company is established pump equipment maker Dresser-Wayne, who is launching a new digital merchandising platform designed to integrated POS advertising promotions with displays at the pump:
The iX Media Enterprise features include:

* Custom dayparting technology to allow fuel retailers to offer specific discounts or product promotions depending on the time of day. For instance, iX Media Enterprise could advertise a coffee or breakfast-to-go special during morning drive time hours, then automatically switch to a fountain drink or snack food promotion during lunchtime.
* Dispenser-specific content distribution to provide greater flexibility in reaching specific target audiences. A fuel retailer might customize a marketing message to diesel pump customers, for example.
* An extensive video image library that allows retailers to easily create even more visually compelling promotions. EK3 Technologies’ media services division, Channel 3 Media, can also provide customized creative and production services.
So it seems like a number of people are pretty excited about this market, and given the extremely high margins of many convenience store items (indeed many gas pumps exist simply to get people into the store, even at the cost of selling the fuel at a loss sometimes), they might just be on to something.

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Customer-centric digital signage strategy

Extended Retail Solutions has a nice introductory article to the "digital signage revolution" whose title suggests that it focuses on how to make the technology more customer-centric. While I'm not actually certain that it accomplishes that goal, it sounds nice, and is a good read nonetheless. Here's a brief clip:

A retail executive who is considering a digital signage system shouldn’t let the tail wag the dog. Content, rather than hardware or software, drives digital signage. And the best digital signage systems are focused on customer-centric content – messaging that puts your customers first by telling them what they want to know, delivered in a way that they enjoy. If you can communicate a relevant message and allow customers to control their shopping experience, you’re more likely to gain their loyalty and ultimately their business.
Other noteworthy tips from the article:
  • Engage the application developer early - Make sure that the digital signage project is visible to store media planners and application developers.
  • Consider holistic solutions - Utilize a number of emerging technologies like digital signs, kiosks, RFID, and the like to create a unified digital messaging environment.
  • Embrace the opportunities - Realize the specific value that a digital media network can have for specific vertical markets, or even specific departments within the same store, and optimize accordingly.
  • Manage the system with vigor - Nobody's going to like your signage solution if it doesn't work. Choose partners who have experience and a mature deployment platform, and be vigilent!

Artisan announces affiliate network for digital signage

From KioskMarketplace:

With [Mobile Affiliate Advertising Program (MAAP)], advertisers make content available to leading retail, out-of-home and place-based digital signage network publishers. Campaigns are measured by consumer interaction via mobile phone text messages. Network publishers receive a commission for the interaction.
There are two problems that I see with this approach, though I think that the overall premise has a lot of potential: First, any large network is going to have some kind of elaborate sign-off process before content is approved for playback. Think IBN or PRN gets to slap up whatever content they want? No way, they have to get every piece of creative vetted by a Wal-Mart, Kroger, etc. executive first.

Second, it's going to be very hard to develop a "universal" proof of playback method that different network/software vendors can adhere to to report back on an actual number of ad impressions. Not to mention that most people haven't even settled on what exactly they're trying to measure with their at-retail media displays.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

More details on the Wal-Mart Mexico digital signage network

It feels strange to be blogging about one of our own deployments, but this article from Chain Store Age has some great information about Wal-Mart Mexico's digital signage network. Here's a quote from it:

"The network is being rolled out simultaneously to the Supercenter and Bodega Aurrera stores. It is expected to be in operation in the full 300-plus stores by early November," said Axel Vera, operations manager, in-store TV, Televisa, S.A. de C.V., which is partnering with the retail chain in the application.

The Wal-Mart de Mexico in-store television network is somewhat unusual in that Wal-Mart is not taking on any of the financial risk associated with such ventures and has little role in its day-to-day operation. Instead, Televisa, the biggest media company in Latin America, is paying all of the costs related to the network under a revenue-sharing deal with Wal-Mart.

"We are providing Wal-Mart with a complete turnkey solution," Vera explained. "We are investing over $50 million in hardware installation and in operating the network."

In return, Televisa will share the advertising revenue generated by the network with Wal-Mart. The company’s existing sales force will sell the ad space, along with third-party point-of-purchase partners.

"The return for us will also be in the exposure," Vera said. "With this network, will be reaching almost 40% of the people who live in this country."
It seems pretty crazy to me that a single chain could reach 40% of a national population, though PRN has noted that the combined reach of their networks reaches a similarly amazing percent of the US population. With that kind of audience, Televisa has the opportunity to advertise and expand the reach of its products (TV programming on its networks) while also offering a significant benefit to Wal-Mart and the CPGs. Hopefully they'll be willing to share their data with the rest of us when they've had time to fully evaluate the power of the network.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Digital signage system integrates in-store odor technology

Odors, smells, these sorts of words have a somewhat negative connotation. I suppose you could say fragrances or scents or something like that, but now I'm thinking perfumes or deodorants, not simulated olfactory experiences.

But whatever you call them, a number of people are experimenting with scent technology as a new way to grab customer attention. Just take a look at today's example from Storefront Backtalk:

A New Zealand company is pushing a digital signage/RFID system that fills an aisle with smells to reinforce marketing messages. In the Regency duty free shop at Auckland International Airport, for example, digital images of vodka company Absolut’s raspberry vodka were reinforced by—yep—a strong raspberry smell. The system isolates the smells for specific customers and can spray as many as 2,000 different fragrances into different parts of the store at different times....
It's hard to monitor things like scents remotely, so pioneers of the technology are going to have to work long and hard to produce scents that remain constant, don't change with weather/season/etc., and actually smell like the things they're supposed to simulate.