Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fujitsu Flepia e-paper system targets in-store advertisers

Also from MediaSoon comes this note about Fujitsu's new e-paper system designed for advertisers. Electronic paper uses power only when changing its image, thus a single battery can last an extremely long time provided you're not changing your images constantly (and of course the system's no good for animations or video yet). While e-paper is eventually expected to be used in everything from cell phones to e-books to billboards, the system's high price tag currently has Fujitsu looking for buyers who might not be as price conscious as consumers.

Sure, we all know that the ad industry will try anything once, but seriously, $20,000 for an A5 sized electronic sign? For that price, one could by a 60" plasma screen and several miles of extension cord, and still have money left over to pay the electric company.

Tags: Flepia, e-ink, electronic paper, advertising

Provision tests holographic displays with McDonalds

I don't know if watching a hovering Coke can shoot out of the box-like chest of a creepy plastic Ronald McDonald statue is going to compel me to order a different soft drink at the counter, but Provision and McDonald's apparently think that it just might. According to this writeup in MediaSoon, Provision, "has recently done a deal with Creditz, a digital in store loyalty currency system. Creditz are given for loyalty and as incentives, and merchants can earn incremental revenue. The Creditz holograms will feature at store entrances and in the aisles to point to where the promotions are happening."

Holographic displays have been out for a while now, and while they certainly make for an impressive demo at trade shows, I'm still of the opinion that they're too expensive and don't provide enough real value to be justifiable yet. Images can be hard to see if you're not in the right spot or under the proper lighting conditions, and content has to be specially produced in order to be viewable from all angles.

Still, like I said, they are certainly eye-catching when they do work, and I could certainly envision a scenario where some McDonald's franchise owner allowed Provision and/or Creditz to install some systems on their own dime to see if there was any appreciable benefit (all speculation on my part, mind you).

Tags: Holographic display, in-store media, Provision

Monday, April 23, 2007

Westinghouse and AdTek to supposedly deploy PumpTop TV to 75,000 gas station pumps

Just got this in the ol' press release folder:

Westinghouse Digital Electronics, the fourth largest manufacturer of LCD TVs in the U.S.*, today announced an exclusive arrangement with AdtekMedia, Inc. to significantly accelerate the national expansion of “PumpTop TV,” AdtekMedia’s premier digital media network. Westinghouse Digital will build and install turnkey display systems for fuel pumps serviced by AdtekMedia’s narrowcast network, which will deliver news content and advertising to gas station consumers as they fuel their vehicles. The Westinghouse commitment involves supplying complete systems to be installed onto thousands of gas station pumps in each of sixty of the largest U.S. markets, thus creating one of the largest Out-of-Home Digital Media networks in the U.S., reaching more than 100 million drivers each month.

Westinghouse Digital’s technology expertise in displays allows development of next generation, fully integrated systems for gas station narrowcasting. The system includes dual 19” widescreen high-resolution displays (on both sides of the pump), computer, and networking components with wireless delivery along with a server backbone. Westinghouse Digital will incorporate advanced technologies for increased brightness and daylight viewing along with environmental protection and climate control for sensitive system components. Westinghouse Digital’s goal is to improve the consumer experience with the display and provide unique features that directly meet the needs of this growing vertical market consistent with its commitment to build its presence in the commercial market for flat panel displays.
Is it true? Beats me. Sure there are certainly that many gas pumps to be converted, but despite plenty of RFPs and pilot projects, none of the major C-store or gas station chains have stepped up with a major deployment that I'm aware of. I can say this: if one were really planning on deploying 75,000 screens, it would make sense to partner with a big manufacturer like Westinghouse to design and construct the digital signs themselves.

So just how many of these things have been deployed so far? According to the release:
PumpTop TV is currently evaluating national and regional content providers for its network. The near term roll out plan for PumpTop TV calls for expedited completion of the current build-out of the Los Angeles market, quickly followed by full entry into other key U.S. demographic markets including San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto, San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston.
If I had to guess, I'd say that Adtek has permission to sell to some number of chains for a particular oil company or companies, but will need to sell on a franchise-by-franchise basis as opposed to winning some huge deal to go out and deploy thousands of stations at once.

Has anybody seen/heard otherwise?

Tags: PumpTop TV, Westinghouse, Adtek

CRN reviews the digital signage market... again

You can't blame the folks at CRN Magazine. Their audience is primarily hardcore IT guys, with maybe a hand full of AV solutions provider thrown in, and would be much more at home at the InfoComm trade show than at GlobalShop or NRF. Thus, when they review a new product or industry (like they did in this multi-part story on digital signage), it's always with an eye on how to have this kind of subscriber base can best take advantage of it.

With those things in mind, it's thus not too surprising that almost 60% of respondents to a survey put out by CRN felt that digital signage was still in the "innovator" or "early adopter" phases. The reason for this is one of the biggest myths in the digital signage industry today, namely that IT guys are well-suited to sell digital signage solutions. This is something that WireSpring encounters so frequently that I actually wrote a four-part article on the subject a few months back. Our observation over the years has been that while AV integrators and other IT-heavy shops are well suited to work on public service networks and can play a supporting role deploying some advertising-supported networks, but will have a very hard time working on private label merchandising and experience/branding networks. Because these are the ones that often get the most press and have the most sex appeal, it's not surprising that they have the most solution providers trying to get involved. Likewise, ad-driven networks have a certain gold rush feeling to them, but what many tech folks don't realize is that without an extremely capable ad sales team, these networks are going nowhere fast.

I feel like I'm constantly evangelizing this point (and I know it annoys some people), but we've lost count of how many startups and converted IT shops have either gone out of business, resized or dramatically changed directions after failing at one or more attempts at a digital signage network without understanding the facts.

Tags: digital signage

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Trimax to acquire Cybersonics Technologies

From the oh-look-another-digital-signage-company file comes this announcement:

Trimax Corporation (OTCBB: TMXO), providers of Broadband over Power Line (BPL) communication technologies which transform a building's electrical wiring and all electrical outlets into a high-speed broadband network, announced today that it has signed a letter of intent for the acquisition of Cybersonics Sound Technologies Inc. Trimax anticipates the acquisition to close within the next four weeks. By acquiring Cybersonics, a revenue producing company, Trimax/PLC gains an experienced management and operations team with expertise developing international corporate broadcast networks and customized advertising for shopping centers, large retailers, auto dealerships and the hospitality industry. Cybersonics has over a decade of R&D expertise developing proprietary software and hardware communications technology for 'turn-key' web-based private broadcast networks.

Can't say I've encountered Cybersonics out there in the real world, but with our competitor list topping 330 companies worth watching right now, I'm not exactly surprised. Without having really done any research on either of these companies, it would seem that the acquisition is a good strategy for Trimax, since digital signage would be a good end application for all of that building-wide broadband that Trimax can pump through the power lines. It's much along the same lines as how Hughes (and every other satellite provider) suddenly got the retail media religion because it sucks up tons of bandwidth. Or how Cisco got into digital signage to sell more routers and switches for all of the data these networks require.

Tags: Trimax, Cybersonics, digital signage

Flat-panel TV brackets recalled

From the Buffalo News, of all places, comes this product recall. Anybody using these in a professional digital signage deployment should make sure they make the necessary modifications:

About 9,900 "Verge" flat-panel television tilt-mount brackets, imported by Circuit City Stores Inc., because the lock bar on the brackets could unfasten when an upward force is put on the attached television, causing the television to fall. The brackets are sold under the "Verge" label and have model numbers VPSW103M or VPSW103M2. This information is written on the packaging.

The brackets were sold at Circuit City stores around the country between September 2006 and April 2007. The brackets were sold individually and as part of installation packages. Circuit City has mailed a repair kit to consumers it was able to contact about the recall. Those who have not received the kit can contact Circuit City at 888-666-9897 or call a professional installer. For more information, visit or

Which reminds me... better go check out the ol' liability insurance policy.

Tags: digital signage, recall, flat-panel, bracket

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Netpresenter pushes the bounds of taste, decency

Dave Haynes at sixteen:nine sent this my way, and I couldn't keep quiet about it.

Regular readers of this blog know that one of my character quirks is a strong desire to point out and tear apart bad press releases. Normally, the bad "news" takes the form of some showboating and grandstanding supplemented with a healthy dose of marketing speak and perhaps one or two quotes from the CEO or an industry "expert".

Unfortunately, this press release from Netpresenter isn't one of those. It looks like their Chief Ethics Officer and Director of Corporate Decency must have taken the day off, because less than a day after the worst school massacre in US history, they decided to issue a statement saying that a digital signage network could have helped the school stave off the tragedy.

All logical and practical arguments aside from a moment, what the hell was CEO Frank Hoen thinking? Do you really want to associate your company with such an event? When is it ever proper to capitalize on tragedy? There's a time and a place for everything. If you want to promote a campus or corporation-wide messaging system to provide instant notification of critical events, that's fine. But do everyone a favor and come up with a better way of marketing it than spreading FUD and taking advantage of a terrible situation.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Interactive signage sells beer on the streets of Amsterdam

I wouldn't think you'd need any help with that, but apparently Grolsch beer and JCDecaux felt otherwise. Of course, the interactive signage in this case isn't of the electronic variety at all, it's just a clever mechanical setup. Take a look at the video:

Rumor has it the first take of this video featured a guy high on one of the city's many legal drugs, who opened and closed the door for a half hour before JCDecaux strongmen carried him away.

(yes, I'm kidding)

Google purchases DoubleClick, makes deal with ClearChannel

In case anybody still had doubts about Google's advertising ambitions, they announced a few deals over the past several days that will put them to rest once and for all. First, in an effort to solidify their position as the preeminent Internet ad engine (and to piss off Microsoft, I'm sure), Google plans to acquire DoubleClick for an insane $3.1 billion. Combined with today's news of a massive deal with Clear Channel to sell radio ads on their 1,650 US stations, and hot on the heels of a recent deal with EchoStar to sell trackable TV ads, the search giant is doing everything possible to diversify into other areas, since Internet search advertising still made up well over 90% of their revenues last year.

However, all is not roses for the do-no-evil company. First off, it's unclear whether the DoubleClick deal will go through (though to be honest I'd be surprised if it didn't). Microsoft, AT&T and maybe some others are already lobbying the State Department suggesting that Google's acquisition could give them an unfair advantage. While the notion of Microsoft calling somebody else monopolistic and anti-competitive is ironic (and that's putting it kindly), the suggestion is worth considering. Google already collects a huge amount of personal information from its search engine and affiliate advertising systems, and augmenting that with DoubleClick's technology could make things worse. How bizarre would it be to see Bill Gates and Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU, showing up on the front cover of the Times together? I tried to come up with a pithy good-vs-evil metaphor to describe it, but I don't care for either of them very much, so my best one-liner involved Satan and a slightly less-evil Satan (which really isn't very compelling).

Meanwhile, both Google and DoubleClick have been experimenting with in-store media for well over a year, and of course Clear Channel is on an outdoor electronic billboard construction boom. Consequently, the consolidation of power here is something we need to be watching very closely. While I'm sure that the TV, radio and Internet advertising folks are much more nervous about this than we digital signage folk are (oddly, the small size of our market is a benefit in this case), companies that want to stay competitive will need a steady stream of market-centric innovations to stay relevant.

Tags: Google, DoubleClick, Clear Channel, retail media

Friday, April 13, 2007

Nielsen to release in-store metrics in September

We've been hearing about it for a while, but according to this blurb in Media Buyer Planner, Nielsen In-Store is still on track to deliver their first ever out-of-home ratings this September. The Nielsen measurement scheme involves paying about 4,700 individuals to carry around small tracking devices from Integrated Media Measurement, Inc. (IMMI) that can recognize different TV programs and commercials based on unique sound patterns embedded into them. The tracking devices are connected to the participants' cellphones, which can be used to send the data back to Nielsen automatically, thus removing some of the human error introduced with more traditional journal-keeping techniques.

For now, the focus of the service is to measure out-of-home viewing of traditional TV programming (e.g. in bars, hotels, gyms and offices). It doesn't currently have the capability to measure other types of out-of-home screen media like digital signage, since the content being displayed or the software displaying it has to be modified to be trackable by the system. However, if there's sufficient demand, one could easily imagine the technology being extensible. As Taddy Hall, Chief Strategy Officer at the Advertising Research Foundation notes, "This is the first time there will be broad-based measuring of out-of-home viewing," and even though it's not the same as tracking digital signage systems, it could provide some much-needed baseline information about peoples' viewing habits outside of the home. If, for example, the service finds that people practice the same kind of ad avoidance strategies that they do in-home, that could prove to be an interesting problem for us to solve.

Bonus points to Mr. Hall for not using the phrase "holy grail" in his PR quote. Way too many people have been throwing that one around lately. The official Nielsen press release on the matter is here, for those who wish to read the whole thing.

Tags: Nielsen, out-of-home advertising, in-store metrics

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Jeep buys advertising time on FYE's digital signage network

You'd never see a press release that read "Jeep airs television commercial on NBC," or even, "Jeep buys Google AdWords for key terms." Why, then, was there a press release floating about nearly a quarter after Jeep's foray into digital in-store advertising with FYE? Well, it's because this isn't PR from Jeep, it's from FYE themselves. And it's not really about Jeep's marketing savvy or innovation, it's an ad for FYE's in-store media network. Let's look at some of the details first:

The core of the promotion involved a contest with f.y.e. customers given a chance to scan the barcode on an entry to win a new Jeep Wrangler. It was a fully integrated promotion which included in-store signage, Jeep ads on f.y.e. in-store TV, store associates in Jeep tee shirts, Wrangler presence on the f.y.e. web site, Jeep integration with the retailer's e-marketing communications, a jeep integrated into the fuse TV show, "Amplified Guide to the Holidays", a Jeep Wrangler tag on f.y.e.'s national radio spots, and a special "scan to win" booklet with a Wrangler ad distributed in the stores. It was an exciting non-traditional way for Jeep to reach its' potential customers but, by far, the most exciting and unique portion of the promotion were the custom ads delivered at f.y.e.'s listening and viewing stations (LVS).
During the promotion, the LVS systems displayed nearly 18 million Jeep ads, and recorded that over 70,000 of the promotional booklets were scanned. FYE is quite proud of this, noting that their first significant use of the system to sell outside advertisements was a resounding success, and will surely pave the way for more projects with outside and non-core brands.

I can't recall the last time I saw a specialty retailer sell a digital media network like this, though there are certainly numerous examples of such venues doing so with more traditional forms of advertisement. Walk into a Starbucks, for example, and you'll see numerous little fliers and displays for credit cards, music, and all sorts of other non-core and external brand merchandise.

I'm definitely eager to see if more retailers decide to follow FYE's example.

Tags: FYE, digital signage, in-store media

Clear Channel expanding their electronic billboard network

MediaPost notes that Clear Channel continues to expand their outdoor billboard network, installing digital billboards in four new markets: Akron and Columbus, Ohio, Memphis, Tennessee and Wichita, Kansas. This builds upon Clear Channel's existing installed base of six markets, which was their stated goal for the end of 2006. The additions bring Clear Channel's network to a total of 10 markets, all of which are near major, high-traffic road ways that can deliver the number of impressions needed to make the signs worthwhile. The company's new goal is to reach at least 100 digital billboards in approximately 20 markets by the end of 2007, suggesting that the screens to have a positive ROI in a pretty reasonable time frame since they're deploying more of them.

Given that the screens have cost an average of $500K apiece to purchase and install, the firm expects to spend at least $50 M in the immediate future to solidify their position as a leader in outdoor electronic billboards. Amazingly, they even plan to use the roadside displays as something of a tourist attraction at at least one location, in what's being described as one of the, "
most ambitious digital outdoor ad initiatives ever conceived" by MediaPost. A signage network in the downtown area of the pre-planned "city center" at Westgate, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, will be built and operated by Clear Channel Spectacolor, and will include 30 electronic signs of various sizes, including some that are 100 feet tall.

I guess we'll soon get to see if it really is possible to build a new Times Square in an arbitrary location and have it become an advertising mecca. Somehow I don't think that the folks in the Phoenix suburbs really understand what they're getting into from that end of the deal, but the Westgate facility is expected to generate a considerable amount of tourist shopping thanks to its half million square feet of retail space and sports arena.

Tags: Clear Channel, electronic billboards, digital billboards

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Google enters the TV ad sales market

Just as they've been threatening to do for a while, Google has partnered with EchoStar to deliver TV commercials to the network's 125 channel DiSH Network. Google hopes to bring the same kind of media measurement capabilities to TV as it currently has for its web-based AdSense system. However, while the prospect of measured TV media has some advertisers drooling, the AP, the Wall Street Journal and others all note that larger cable providers are likely going to be resistant towards such an approach, since it could wreak havoc on their incumbent system of up-front ad sales.

The first incarnation of the Google system is not only an auction house that allows advertisers to specify how much they're willing to pay for certain time slots in different demographics, but also uses EchoStar's 2-way communication system to actually measure the number of set-top boxes that tune a particular ad, giving advertisers unprecedented visibility into the consumption of their marketing messages. It's unclear whether this data is going to be used for directly billing the advertisers on a per-view basis or whether it's strictly a measurement capability, but if AdWords has taught us anything, the latter will necessarily lead to the former if this project proves successful.

That's probably the scariest thing to old-school networks, measurement companies and Madison Avenue execs. The half-century of tradition that has led to high prices and poor performance for many ads has more or less guaranteed revenue to these companies since there has been no alternative. With deeper insight into how commercials actually function, when and where they work best, and who's actually watching, many network advertising slots could suddenly become much more valuable, but there's an equal chance that some number will be much less valuable than what they're sold for right now. It's that uncertainty that has the networks sweating right now, and hopefully Google and EchoStar will come forward with some performance metrics after the first few months that will settle the argument once and for all.

I've been following Google's trek down this road for a while. Other articles and blog posts include:
Will Google's new video ads find their way onto digital signs?
YouTube gives Google a killer app for digital signage displays
Google wants to run your digital signage network, patent says
Will cost-per-action ads find a home in the retail store?
Who will bring user-generated content to out-of-home media?

Tags: Google, telvevision, commercials, advertising

Monday, April 02, 2007

Embedded projectors coming to a cellphone near you

I know there's a digital signage angle in here somewhere, but for now I have to admit I'm mostly drawn by the sheer cool factor of a suite of tiny projectors that manufacturers like Texas Instruments, Microvision (seen at left), and Explay are bringing to market early next year. The technology is different in each of the three offerings, with some similar to the current generation of LED backlight projectors, others using DLPs, and still others using more exotic mechanisms like lasers. All are optimized to deliver a small screen experience about 8" on a side, to be viewed from just a few feet away.

While the obvious target here is consumer devices like cellphones and PDAs, I could see the tiny projectors themselves appearing all over the place (if they're cheap enough), and being used for any number of experiential marketing programs. Anything from fixed counter-top projectors to disposable projection systems in semi-permanent POP displays would be possible. While so much attention in the digital signage market is given to bigger and brighter displays, there's a growing opportunity for the creative use of smaller, less expensive displays to connect with consumers in a meaningful and unobtrusive way, and these micro-projectors could soon become an enabler.

Tags: projector, digital signage, Microvision