Monday, June 26, 2006

AdAge articles indicate mixed emotions on in-store advertising

Over the past few months, writers and editors at Advertising Age have been penning articles for and against (and to be honest, mostly against) all nature of in-store advertising, claiming that its relative newness when compared to traditional above-the-line formats like TV, print and radio advertising, made it less desirable than some in the industry would leave you to believe. While I've speculated in the past that the bouts of negativity coming from this well-respected (and widely read) publication are probably a knee-jerk reaction to anything that could potentially pull money away from well-established and understood media buying practices, there do appear to be some signs that they may become more comfortable with the idea of in-store as a medium.

The day after I published a blog article on measuring retail media that featured an AdAge article that casts in-store advertising in a fairly negative light, the same author, Mya Frazier, published a much more balanced piece talking about the growth of the in-store medium. While I'm certain that the timing was just a coincidence, I do think that an increasing number of people are starting to take notice of AdAge's traditionally negative attitude towards below-the-line marketing tactics, even when these are some of the most quickly growing segments of the advertising industry. As Frazier notes:

The audience reach is staggering. Kroger is launching a TV ad network in its 2,500 stores in partnership with In-Store Broadcasting Network. The Kroger network "delivers more reach and frequency than the largest radio station in the country," says Evan Anthony, Kroger's VP-marketing and advertising. Wal-Mart Stores, in partnership with Premiere Retail Networks, boasts its TV network reaches 130 million viewers per four-week cycle.

Of course, there is still room for doubt in this relatively new medium. To get some info on that, Frazier turns to Mediaedge:cia, a well-respected member of the in-store marketing community:

Marketers still aren't sure which way to measure the medium, whether by sales spurts or brand awareness. "It is being held to a higher standard, probably because it's new," says David Sommers, managing director of MEC Retail, the in-store unit of Mediaedge:cia. Additionally, major marketers, particularly package-goods companies, are trying to figure out how to take advantage of it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Blimp maker builds flying digital sign

How can you resist a headline like that? Well, while Goodyear et. al. have offered basic LED ticker-type displays on the sides of their blimps for some time now, this small Florida-based company is looking to take things to the next level. From this cool TechWeb article:
The A-170 Video Lightsign from The Lightship Group took two and a half years to develop, from concept to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which received approval in April. An unidentified company already agreed to pay $5 million to lease the flying digital sign for one year.

The craft, which shipped in pieces, arrived in Australia this past weekend. The company that leased the airship will take possession in August. Production will begin on the next A-170 in 60 days. It's been leased to an American company, according to Mickey Wittman, Lightship Group director of client services, who worked with Goodyear's blimp division for many years.

Advancements both in balloon and light emitting diodes technology made the project possible. Today's LEDs produce more and better quality light, and weigh and cost less, analysts say. The part of the airship that fills with helium is more durable, too.

The blimp, or "Video Lightsign," measures 170 feet long, 55-feet high and 46-feet wide. The picture streams from a laptop PC in the airship to the screen mounted on the outside. A Flir Ultramedia Series Aerial Camera mounted on the A-170 can take ground pictures of people and places, and display them on the 70-by-30-foot LED screen as it travels 15 mph approximately 1,000 feet above.
It will be very interesting to see who takes them up on this technology first. It seems like there are any number of events where a floating, high-res screen 1,000 feet in the air might be useful :)

Acrossmedia International to tackle Asian digital signage market

Here's a fascinating factoid that you may not have known:

“One major Asian city has the same market potential as the entire region of Scandinavia, and with the development of our own screen solutions, we will be able to tailor our products to the individual needs of each customer. Our objective is to target certain lines of business in order to become a significant and visible player in the Asian market”, explains CEO John Conrad Jensen.

That line comes from this press release, which notes that,
Acrossmedia International has entered into a joint venture agreement with the Taiwan-ese company Marastt Inc. and is planning to enter the Asian market with in-store TV solutions tailored to the retail sector.

Alongside its operations in Denmark, Acrossmedia has established a sales subsidiary in Taipei, in which Robin Lee has been appointed sales director, responsible for a sales department consisting of 4 market development managers. Within the next two months, project managers, logistics managers and several sales people will be appointed, who will be responsible for selling in-store TV to the Tai-wanese retail sector. Furthermore, subsidiaries will be established in Shanghai and Beijing (China) as well as Bangkok (Thailand). The strategy for establishing more sales subsidiaries all over Asia is al-ready in place.

The objective to conquer Asia is facilitated by the fact that Acrossmedia (and its parent company Frontstairs A/S) has entered into a joint venture agreement with the Taiwanese company Marastt Inc., headquartered in Taipei.

Electrograph Systems Acquires International Computer Graphics

Electrograph, reseller of all things A/V has been on an acquisitions tear lately, first buying Activelight and Cinelight last year, and now bolstering their position with the purchase of AV giant ICG. From their press release:
Electrograph Systems, Inc., a leading national value-added distributor of display technology solutions to the professional, commercial and high-end consumer markets, today announced that it has acquired International Computer Graphics, Inc. (ICG), of City of Industry, Calif., one of North America's top specialty distributors of LCD, plasma and desktop displays, digital imaging peripherals and AV presentation products. The financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

The acquisition of ICG roughly doubles Electrograph's revenues to more than $550 million annually and greatly strengthens its presence on the West Coast while enhancing its overall logistical presence across the United States. The companies combined have over 45 years in business as distribution leaders, with 16 sales offices and 10 distribution centers across the U.S. The transaction is Electrograph's third strategic acquisition since it was acquired in August 2005 by Caxton-Iseman Capital, Inc. in partnership with Alan Marc Smith, Electrograph's Chief Executive Officer, and Sam Taylor, its President. In February 2006, Electrograph acquired ActiveLight, a leading value-added distributor of display technology solutions to the professional, commercial and high-end consumer markets; and CineLight, a leading, value-added distributor of advanced display technology products and accessories to home theater designers and resellers.
Electrograph is quickly becoming a major force in the digital signage industry, whereas previously they claimed that the segment was not really big enough to be worth going after.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Captivate Capitalizes on Captive Audience

Captivate Networks, the elevator digital signage company, has announced an interesting plan to use direct mail marketing to drum up advertising interest for its 7,000+ screens deployed in office building elevators throughout the US. From this article at DMNews:
Captivate Network, a digital at-work news and information network, is using direct mail to make an elevator pitch.

The Westfield, MA, company starts a campaign today targeting 3,500 executives at ad agencies and brand marketers to reignite their interest in running ads on screens placed in elevators.

"A big part of what we do from a marketing standpoint is educate people about the power of using a medium like this," said John Bigay, Captivate's vice president of marketing and programming. "People ask, 'How do I fit my marketing goals in with all this new technology? How do I really use all these new and different options?' We educate the marketplace about the value we can bring."

The campaign is to run through the year and begins with the mailing of an informational box. The royal blue box features a meditating yogi and clouds, with the slogan, "Elevator Meditations: Freeing the mind, Getting the Message, Going up."
I'm fascinated by this, and would love to know if it works. Sadly, if it does Captivate isn't likely to tell us, and if it doesn't... Captivate isn't likely to tell us :) Still, it's a creative approach to what frequently turns out to be the most challenging aspect of managing a digital signage network: selling the ads.

DynaTek and BroadSign expand Hess Petroleum digital signage pilot

Remember when I mentioned that Hess was expanding its digital signage network pilot with DynaTek (the startup company that somehow got the deal for the pilot)? Well, apparently they've teamed up with established player BroadSign to expand the network and continue their experiments with gas station digital signage systems. According to this press release:
DynaTek has connected its SpotAccess Advertising Portal to BroadSign's DMLS media distribution engine to allow full-cycle network management that begins with content authoring and ends with campaign proof-of-play report.

Over the past three years DynaTek has developed the technology to support its model of digital signage networks driven by advertising revenue. The SpotAccess Advertising Portal is used to produce content and book ad space by targeting the desired audience with the help of market and demographic criteria. The next step was to find the right application to facilitate ad sales process and execute the reserved campaign.

"Rather than trying to develop our own ad sales and campaign execution (traffic) piece of the software to complete the workflow cycle, DynaTek decided to pick the best one on the market," says Ron Gross, Chairman and CEO of DynaTek.
I don't know about picking the best digital signage software on the market, but hey, they probably didn't have time to do much research given the speed with which this deal has progressed. So DynaTek turns out to be more of a media management and distribution system, and maybe Hess will grow this pilot into a network-wide program. Only time will tell :)

Television measuring company moving to measure off-TV viewing

It has been long rumored that Nielsen would do something to get more involved in out-of-home media measurement, and now it looks as if that prediction is coming true. According to this article in the Detroit News Online, Nielsen Media Research:
said Wednesday it will roll out new technology during the next few years to measure viewing over the Internet, on cell phones and on TV sets outside of the home.

[The company] said the technology supplements its recent effort to figure the use of digital video recorders in its weekly TV ratings.

Television's entire economic system of advertising prices is based on Nielsen's ratings, and its customers have long grumbled that the company hasn't kept up with technology that is changing the way people are watching TV.

Nielsen said that this summer it will begin testing software meters on personal and home computers of participating families, designed to measure the video and audio they are watching via the Internet. The company said its goal is to have accurate readings of how many people are watching television content this way by the 2007-08 season.

The company said that this fall it will also begin testing two separate "go meters," one designed to measure viewing of video on cellular phones, and the other to keep track of viewing outside of the home in bars, restaurants, hotels and elsewhere.
Just what form these meters will take hasn't been mentioned, but there have been a number of technology pilots that utilize different sensors to analyze sound and video images, monitor store traffic, etc. that could be tapped here.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Teracom Partners with WEGENER to Provide Digital Signage Solutions

Who, you ask? Well, if you're asking about Teracom, they're basically Sweden's local equivalent of ClearChannel. Their PR blurb reads:
Teracom is Sweden's first media operator, offering various communications channels for radio, TV, Internet and downloading of audio and video. Their aim is to ensure that people have access to a diversity of media services, irrespective of time or place. The Group also includes subsidiaries that offer supplementary services and products. The Teracom Group has annual sales of about SEK 2.7 billion, with some 650 employees.
Of course, if you're asking about Wegener Communications, they're an Atlanta-based company that focuses on set-top-boxes and video-over-IP delivery and distribution systems. While it's only tangentially related to digital signage at best, like everybody else on the planet, they've felt the need to enter the market. Of course, they're no start-up company, either:
WEGENER (Wegener Communications, Inc.), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wegener Corporation is an international provider of digital solutions for video, audio, and IP data networks. Applications include IP data delivery, broadcast television, cable television, radio networks, business television, distance education, business music and financial information distribution. COMPEL, WEGENER's patented network control system provides networks with unparalleled ability to regionalize programming and commercials. COMPEL network control capability is integrated into WEGENER digital satellite receivers.
This press release on the "partnership" is a bit sparse on details right now, so it's hard to say whether this will have any real impact either in the US or abroad. Whether Teracom already has potential client networks signed up or this is just some kind of preemptive measure remains to be seen, but it's always newsworthy when such a large media company decides to throw their ring into the digital signage hat (and I'm really, really sorry for that terrible metaphor).

Today's stupid press release: first company to ever introduce inexpensive, split-screen digital signage

This article gets a surprisingly large amount of traffic for what just amounted to a nasty rant against a plain vanilla press release way back in 2006. A lot of you seem to come here looking for inexpensive digital signage solutions, and not my overly-irritable take on some poor guy's attempt to get his company noticed. There are plenty of options out there, of course, but my two favorites are going to be our Digital Signage EasyStart package for smaller networks, and our enterprise FireCast package and digital signage software as a service (SaaS). Am I biased? You bet. Biased towards good stuff that does what it says and just works out-of-the-box :)

Here's the old content of this article, for historical purposes, if you're interested:

...Or at least that's what the author of this piece for StrandVision digital signage claims:
StrandVision LLC, a provider of Internet-based digital signage services based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, today introduced an optional split screen viewing enhancement to its Internet digital signage player here at infoComm06. StrandVision is the first digital signage provider offering inexpensive signage solutions (starting at $55/month) to introduce this level of player sophistication.
The available split screen enhancement enables administrators to easily select and set up multiple information feeds that can be displayed in a text crawl at the bottom of the screen or in a 60/40 split on the screen. Any of the three “regions” can be used to show promotional or informational messages, including user-inputted text, graphics, full video or live information, as well as feeds from StrandVision. Automated StrandVision feeds can include formatted local and national news and weather, and lifestyles feeds, such as trivia and thoughts of the day.
So I suppose that the hundreds of competing offerings that have been able to do this for years never quite showed up on the radar screens over at StrandVision HQ. As for price points, I know of at least one digital signage software package that has had screen-splitting capabilities for years, and comes in below StrandVision's $55/month...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Another gas station digital signage network comes online

Everybody and their brother is talking about this press release from Gas Station TV, a company which, obviously enough, installs screens at gas stations. While they're not the first to enter this market, they seem to be doing it in quite a big way. Here's a clip from their release:

Gas Station TV (GSTV) today formally launches its digital television network which will convert fuel stations nationwide into media centers. An IP-based digital television network, GSTV will deliver relevant and entertaining programming including local news, sports, weather and traffic to refueling motorists. The GSTV network will air on 20" high-definition, daylight viewable LCD monitors embedded into gas dispensers.

GSTV has formed pre-eminent partnerships with ABC National Television Sales (a division of the Walt Disney Company), which will provide exclusive national sales representation for the network featuring select ABC content; Murphy Oil USA, Inc., the leader in the growing U.S. market of gasoline sales at non-traditional locations with 900 stations located in Wal-Mart parking lots; Gilbarco Veeder-Root (Gilbarco), the world's largest manufacturer of gas retailer equipment and technology; and Delphi Display Systems, the market leading provider of outdoor digital video display systems.


STV has also entered into a strategic alliance with Gilbarco Veeder-Root to embed the 20" LCD monitors with stereo sound that carry GSTV into its gas pumps at participating stations. The GSTV system will not only be embedded into new fueling dispensers, it can also be retrofitted into any Gilbarco pump. Through an exclusive co-marketing agreement, the GSTV system will be marketed through the Gilbarco sales force and made available to Gilbarco's high-volume gas retail customers. The partnerships with ABC for content and advertising sales, and the alliance with Gilbarco enable GSTV to provide the equipment and service at no charge to the retailer.
Ok, there were two very important parts there: the partnership with ABC to sell advertising, and the partnerships with Gilbarco and Veeder-Root (both pump and station management equipment manufacturers). The former gives the network credibility, content, and a sales network that a startup simply couldn't match. The latter turns this "network" into a re-sellable product that can be installed in other locations. While I'd think that this would be limited only to unaffiliated locations right now (e.g. I don't think Exxon-Mobil would let its franchisees arbitrarily install these devices without corporate approval), that's still a pretty hefty market.