Tuesday, February 27, 2007

SeeSaw to launch online ad buy platform for digital signage

ADWEEK notes that SeeSaw Networks, a company that allows media buyers to purchase ad time on multiple disparate digital signage networks at once, is stepping up its efforts by launching seesawads.com, a web-based marketplace for digital sign media buys. By joining together any number of smaller networks into one quasi-cohesive ad "platform," SeeSaw is attempting to address one of the critical shortcomings of many digital signage networks today: unless they're big (and I mean really big), many advertisers are either unaware of these networks' benefits or uninterested in them because it can be hard to deal with the myriad of different business and technical rules to place an ad. Plus, with a merging of networks, SeeSaw gains access to a broad array of demographics and a large slice of the population. According to the ADWEEK article:

SeeSaw's six affiliates allow advertisers to aggregate digital sign inventory from more than 10,000 lifestyle venues across 205 markets. The company's current affiliate roster skews toward younger demos in health clubs, sports bars and universities, but SeeSaw also has substantial avails in grocery stores, retailers and travel centers. Plans call for expanding to target Hispanic and business demographics.
Tags: SeeSaw Networks, digital signage, out-of-home advertising, retail media

Monday, February 26, 2007

Nielsen GPS-enabled media tracking system measures eyeballs outdoors

I know I've read articles about this type of service before, but Branding Unbound has a nice writeup of Nielsen's latest attempt to measure outdoor media consumption using GPS-enabled tracking devices. Here's the summary of how it works:

[The company] recruited 750 volunteers who agreed to carry the device, called the Npod, or Nielsen Personal Outdoor Device, everywhere they went for 10 days.

Participants, prescreened to establish demographic profiles, allowed their every movement to be tracked and recorded – like an automated digital version of those Nielsen diaries of old. Every 20 seconds, the Npod captured each user’s latitude and longitude, while a computer system compared the data with the coordinates of 12,000 “geo-coded” outdoor signs in Chicago, including bus shelters, standard posters, billboards and overhead signs.

To establish the user’s likely exposure to an outdoor advertisement, the system applies a mind-boggling number of variables – including driver speed, the angle of the display on the road, its distance from the curb, the distance from which the display is first visible, the height of the display, whether it’s illuminated or obstructed, and so on – as users enter “impact zones,” or the point of impression.

Nielsen knows that ¾ of the people who travel under a 200-square-foot sign above a highway overpass actually look at it, while only 30% of those who drive past a bus shelter actually see it.
Using that and other similar insights, Nielsen can then use the collected data to calculate more traditional reach and frequency numbers, which can be used for planning purposes. Given how quickly the out-of-home advertising market is growing, it's not surprising to see these kinds of advanced methodologies being deployed to determine the true impact of outdoor media. To me, the holy grail (and a frightening prospect at the same time) would be combining the impression data for specific users with geolocation data for the specific items being advertised (if they're physical goods, of course). So, for example, how many people drive past the billboard for the local IHOP, and then wind up turning off of the exit to frequent the place for a short stack and cup o' joe?

Another interesting question is how this system will ever be made to work with electronic billboards, which are starting to become more common (though they still account for only a very tiny fraction of all billboard and out-of-home media sites). With a static billboard, you know exactly what's being displayed at all times. With an electronic billboard, you'd have to cross-reference the device's playback log to determine which ad was being shown at the time the individual was looking at it.

You know, because the basic system wasn't complex enough.

Tags: billboards, out-of-home advertising, media measurement

TAP brings social media, user-created content to in-bar digital signage

In a move that could result in any number of hilariously disastrous outcomes, bar and restaurant signage network operator TAP.tv has created a website where users can upload their own content, and then have it be displayed on in-bar digital signage by sending an SMS message. As this article at Digital Signage Today notes,

As with other video-sharing sites, users visit a Web site to upload their video and review and share clips. Via a simple text message command in any TAP.tv bar, they now can also play their video on TV.

"Every sports bar has weekly college and pro games," said Michael Gonzalez, manager of the John Barleycorn’s chain in Chicago. "But this new service allows my customers to record and share highlights of their own weekly softball games, try their hand at stand-up comedy, or impress their friends with their stupid human tricks. It personalizes the bar experience, and encourages use of the bar as a meeting place."
On the one hand, this could be a pretty cool way to bring social media into social venues, and has the potential to add a new form of entertainment to the relatively stagnant bar scene. On the other hand, without really, really good content filters (and admittedly I don't know anything about the system, how one uploads videos, or what mechanism puts it to the screens afterwards), there are so many ways that this could end badly. You can use your imagination (and I'm certainly not going to give anybody any ideas here), but let's just hope that the TAP.tv guys have given some thought to the kinds of social videos that many bar-goers would a) bother to generate, and b) get a kick out of seeing in public.

Tags: digital signage, TAP.tv, bar signage, out-of-home advertising

Saturday, February 17, 2007

3M, Retravision and Telstra shoot for digital signage down under

A few months ago there was some pretty big news out of 3M and Australian phone company Telstra where Telstra had agreed to license 3M's digital signage software for... something. Truth is, nobody (except for the involved parties, I'm sure) was quite certain what the news meant for the burgeoning digital signage industry down under.

Today things are a bit clearer, thanks to this article at Computer World outlining the companies' plans, including a partnership with major electrical goods retailer Retravision for the first major deployment:

After an initial pilot involving four stores in separate states, Retravision will have 115 stores and 6000 screens fitted out with the solution by December with plans for a complete 400-plus store rollout across Australia and New Zealand next year.
While the project is billed as having major in-store advertising potential, it's clear that the digital signage is going to be used extensively for remote training and corporate messaging. The article also goes on to mention that the software is hosted in one of Telstra's datacenters, and the service is provided over their IP pipes (they've also been preparing for a wave of IPTV services, so it's likely they have the capacity, at least to the more populated areas).

So in the end we're essentially left with the major incumbent phone/data/mobile carrier offering turn-key digital signage service over its existing high-speed data lines. I have to hand it to 3M: they did a good job putting that deal together, as it gives them a pretty tight grip on the Australian market. Granted, they only have about as many people on the entire continent as there are in the city of Los Angeles, but even so, it's a pretty impressive play with some potentially large upsides for all involved parties.

Tags: 3M, Telstra, Retravision, digital signage

Friday, February 16, 2007

GSBC promises world domination, Fortune-500 position, all-nude revue

Ok, I can't verify that last part, but after reading this marvel of a press release, can you blame me? I know that sometimes I let my competitive nature get the better of me and I feel the need to bash on some poor PR, but in this particular case, I don't think I could do any worse than to simply request you read it. Look at this:

Ronald Flynn then said "using and applying the current contracts and our current target markets we estimate that GSBC will have revenue over the next five years of $43.2 billion USD. Our revenue model coupled with our global acquisitions will help us dominate as we own the hardware and now the software and as I've stated before we want to corner the digital signage business.
and this:
After the introduction, the CEO of GSBC stated, "I would like to thank everyone involved with GSBC for your continuous support and want to make it clear that our initial target market will start in Asia. We are convinced that NET.TV which is listed on the German DAX, under the symbol WGJ.F and in America under the symbol NNNV.PK, will most definitely corner the market in Europe. We will have over the next 36 months a large market share around the world and will continue our quest to become the largest digital signage company on the planet."
Well, it's nice to have a goal. Then there's this:
Later that evening, GSBC kicked of the event with many Thai superstars such as Pamela Baudin, Thailand Superstar Show, dancers, and singers. The event lasted until midnight.
Money well spent, I'm sure.

Forget for a minute that the press release reads as is if it were written by a 3rd grader doing a report on "what I watched daddy do at work today." Forget that every other sentence starts with " Ronald Flynn." And even forget that you've probably never even heard of most of the companies that are preparing to own the digital signage market, crushing the competition into little more than dust. $43 billion in revenue? To put that in perspective, Google did about $10.6B last year, and Cisco did about $28.5B. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest GSBC's projections might be a tad optimistic.

But then again, if they were (completely hypothetically speaking, of course) preparing for some kind of stock pump-and-dump operation, all this posturing might make sense. You'd have to be targeting a very specific group of wealthy but relatively unintelligent investors, but I understand that there are some of those out there.

And of course, there is always the outside chance that GSBC really does have something amazing cooking that they've been keeping under wraps and will soon unleash upon the digital signage industry. I'd much prefer to see that, in fact, since healthy competition will do more good for the industry than an ugly scam will.

[2007-02-16 11AM UPDATE]: Dave Haynes at the sixteen:nine blog has summed up his opinion on the matter with an oddly appropriate image.

Tags: digital signage

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A different kind of digital signage may be on the way

When we talk about "digital signage," usually it's in reference to a moving image on a screen or screens placed in out of home environments. But a promising new technology from Fujitsu may energize the static poster and display market by providing low-cost, low-power, full-color electronic paper in the next few years. While companies like E-Ink have been touting such paper for years now, it has still remained too low resolution and low-color to be used for serious graphic display. Should Fujitsu's tech pan out, that could all change, with poster slideshows becoming more prevalent as the stuff takes off. For those of us looking for new and bigger screens to compete against today's LCD and plasma displays, we'll have to wait a bit longer, as Mike Nelson, general manager of sales for Fujitsu Europe noted that:

the technology, which can run on very little power, was not yet in a position to handle moving images and was therefore not a threat for LCD in the short term.

"LCD is much better at the moment for moving images, the update on here is relatively slow - about one second or so. That's OK for flicking through the pages of a book or newspaper but it would not be any good for video in its current state."

He added: "The technology is very similar to LCD screen technology except with a conventional LCD screen as soon as you remove the power the image goes.

"With this once the LCD has set the image it says there forever. With an A5 size screen I could change the image every two seconds for more than a year from the power in a single triple A battery."

Tags: E-ink, Fujitsu, electronic paper, digital signage

Friday, February 09, 2007

National CineMedia's IPO goes gangbusters; draws more attention to out-of-home digital signage

National CineMedia, the movie theater advertising company that reaches 63% of the nation's top 50 markets, IPO'd this week with shares debuting at the top of their predicted range (around $21), raising $798 million.

According to a recently ammended S-1 filing, the company did about $145 million for the nine months ending on Sept 28, 2006, which puts it roughly in the neighborhood of PRN's Wal-Mart TV network in terms of advertising-derived sales for a digital signage network. Of course, they managed to spend more than that, about $156 million, during the same time period, so the company isn't wildly profitable right now.

Still, I think NCMI is in a good position to take advantage of the rapid growth rate of the out-of-home advertising market. The NCMI network features 13,990 screens and 1,722 high definition monitors in 1,110 theaters, 93% of which are operated by its founding members Regal, AMC and Cinemark. Because of its roots in the theater business, the company has long-term, exclusive agreements with its founding members, giving it a monopoly at the three largest US movie theater chains. About 85% of its screens are digital and capable of being remotely updated via satellite. Currently 75% and 30% of its national and local/regional ad time is utilized, respectively.

Tags: NCMI, National CineMedia, out-of-home advertising, digital signage

Just how many NY taxi network projects are there?

Clear Channel's NY10 network is looking even more uncertain now. First, as we noted yesterday, they released a public retraction about the advanced state of the network project, which has been described as an in-cab TV and advertising network featuring multimedia content on embedded displays. Now, ABC and VeriFone are describing what would appear to be a nearly identical network, which leaves me wondering who's really calling the shots. As the press release notes:

WABC-TV/Channel 7, the most-watched station in New York, announced today it will provide news content to the city’s famed yellow cabs. The news will be “broadcast” over integrated payment and content delivery systems developed and installed by VeriFone Transportation Systems, an alliance of VeriFone Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: PAY) and Taxitronic, the leading supplier of taxicab meters in New York.

The new systems deliver the latest technology enhancements mandated by the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) and will be installed in taxis over the course of the next year.

As part of the partnership, WABC will provide a customized version of its market-leading “Eyewitness News,” updated several times a day with the latest news and weather information. The video will be fed via wireless broadband technology from WABC’s website hub, www.7online.com, to thousands of moving taxicabs equipped by VeriFone Transportation Systems.
This would suggest that the meter system will be displaying the content, and not a separate multimedia display in the back, as we've seen in some past networks (and guessed would be what the NY10 network used).

So which story is accurate? Hopefully the situation will become more clear over the next few weeks, as one (or both, if they're not the same) of these networks goes to pilot.

Tags: ABC, VeriFone, Clear Channel, NY10, out-of-home advertising

Clear Channel launching digital signage network in O'Hare

Hot on the heels of news that their NY10 taxi cab network may not be as far along as originally suggested, Clear Channel Outdoor has indicated that they are deploying a digital signage network in the concourses of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. According to this article in Media Buyer Planner, "the network will include 8 new LED units; each 6-foot-by-eight-foot sign will feature 10-second advertising spots running continuously."

Clear Channel notes that the airport will be able to deliver a desirable customer demographic to advertisers, and are especially excited about especially elite business travelers, who have, " high personal income, discretionary buying power and the greatest influence on business purchase decisions," according to the company.

Tags: NY10, Clear Channel Outdoor, out-of-home advertising

Thursday, February 08, 2007

ClearChannel clarifies NY10 taxi cab signage network

We wrote about Clear Channel's ambitious NY10 in-taxi digital signage network a few weeks ago, right after Advertising Age wrote an article about the network and its implications.

Apparently, what was written at the time wasn't entirely correct, at least according to this correction/retraction that Clear Channel posted today:

Clear Channel Outdoor (NYSE:CCO) wishes to correct the Press Release we issued January 4, 2007. As stated, our goal is to inform and entertain passengers in at least 5,000 New York City taxis by airing NY10, New York Taxi Entertainment Network. At the present time, neither we nor any subsidiary of Clear Channel Outdoor is a party to any contract with any owners of the approximately 13,000 New York City taxicabs. Currently, the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has not authorized the sale of any technology systems with or without media entertainment to owners of NYC taxicabs. Furthermore, neither Clear Channel nor any of the four vendors currently approved for testing, is partnering with the TLC. The use of such term was intended to demonstrate the enthusiastic commitment Clear Channel has in working cooperatively with the TLC on this exciting project, which will benefit the entire New York City taxicab riding public. We regret any confusion that may have resulted from the original release.
So did they get into trouble because of this? While they've been trying to go private again, they're still a public company, thus any misinformation leaked to the press can get them into hot water with the SEC. Or, by over blowing the story, Ad Age and anybody else hyping the deal could have inadvertently aggravated the T&LC (a notoriously difficult organization), putting it in jeopardy before it ever got off the ground.

Hopefully we'll get a bit more clarification to this clarification soon, since I was getting pretty excited that somebody like Clear Channel was going to step in and give this thing a try. There have been numerous failed projects to put multimedia devices into New York cabs (and I'll even include that Godawful thing with the voice of Joan Rivers), but nobody has been successful with it yet. Clear Channel, with their big piles of cash, advertiser relations, and out-of-home advertising street cred, could have been the ones to make it happen.

And who knows, maybe they still will...

Tags: Clear Channel, NY10, digital signage, out-of-home advertising

RDM hoping for private equity raise

There's been a lot of action in the digital signage M&A and equity financing space recently, what with the Wireless Ronin IPO (which still baffles me), SeeSaw Networks raising a bunch of cash, the GSBC/m-cast/Wallflower deal, the Ripple network raise, and probably a host of others that I'm forgetting about right now, and it looks like the trend may continue, at least if digital signage software company Real Digital Media gets its wish. According to this article from TechJournal:

On the heels of closing a substantial equity investment last year, Real Digital Media, which sells software and players for digital signs, is preparing for its first institutional round. The company seeks from $3 million to $5 million to ramp up its assault in a fragmented space, says CEO Ken Goldberg.
They expect to be cash flow positive by the end of summer 2007, according to Goldberg. I was kind of surprised that they weren't already profitable, especially after a startup raise of $1M and another "substantial" raise in 2006 to keep them funded while they grew their customer base.

This raise could indicate the private equity market's taste for digital signage software companies, since we know from Wireless Ronin that the public market was willing to take the risk of funding an unprofitable company in a very early-stage market. While private equity tends to be a bit more conservative (especially in terms of valuation), it's a much more traditional funding source for small companies, which is practically everybody in the retail media space right now (with a few notable exceptions, of course).

Also of interest (though I doubt we'll ever find out), is what RDM is really selling their hardware, software and services for. While we know their list prices are about $800-$1200 for hardware media players and about $30-$40/month for their hosted service, the math doesn't add up right now. Given they're running well in excess of 1,000 locations (they have that many between the 300 VISI/Lab Corp sites and the sites they're working on with Kyle Private Networks), it seems like it should be more than enough to keep a company of only 9 people profitable. So either they're paying themselves a LOT, or they're giving out significant discounts to win these deals.

Tags: digital signage software, RDM, Real Digital Media, venture capital, private equity

CBS Outdoor to install 100 plasma screens at Mall of America

Incoming news from Media Buyer/Planner and Mediaweek indicate that CBS Outdoor is planning a rollout of 100 digital signs at the Mall of America, the nation's largest shopping mall. From the article:

The 10-year agreement, which begins March 1, calls for CBS to install 100, 42-inch screens in 25 different locations throughout the 4.2 million square-foot complex.

The screens will reach more than 40 million visitors each year. “Very rarely do you get access to a captive audience of millions of shoppers, which is the ideal audience for the mall’s 500-plus stores, as well as the products and brands being sold in those outlets,” said Larry Levine, president of outdoor displays for CBS Outdoor.
The most interesting part to me is the 10-year agreement, which is quite long even in the retail world, where 5 or 7-year vendor/supplier agreements are somewhat commonplace. While CBS Outdoor has worked in cooperation with other network owners and managers in the past, this is the first network that I'm aware of where they're leading the project (and in fact right now, they're the only party named). Of course, CBS Outdoor isn't new to mall signage. They deploy and manage thousands of static posters and POP displays at about a hundred malls across the country today.

So I guess the question is, where will CBS Outdoor (and their parent) go from here? Will this be a one-off deal, or is CBS testing the waters in preparation for a much larger expansion plan? They certainly have the wherewithal and the venue and advertiser base to start an enormous mall-based network that would dwarf AdSpace and rival the OnSpot Publicis/Simon partnership's efforts to date.

Tags: digital signage, out-of-home advertising, CBS Outdoor, Mall of America

Friday, February 02, 2007

GSBC to acquire Wallflower

Well, after my last post blasting GSBC's press release things have started to become a bit more interesting over on the other side of the world. Apparently the company is going to acquire Wallflower Digital, the makers of a different suite of digital signage applications, with the intent of using the firm's existing technology and software development resources to further its goals of dominating the Eastern hemisphere.

I have to admit that aside from buying Wallflower's customer base and influence in the Australia/New Zealand market, I don't quite understand the synergies that GSBC hopes to achieve via this acquisition. Normally, if you need a technology, you buy ONE company that has it, not two. Granted, I haven't looked at either m-cast or Wallflower's offering in any detail in quite a while (well, ever for Wallflower), but I can't imagine that they're that different just based on how they're positioned.

Perhaps GSBC is just looking for a way to jumpstart their sales operations, and are using Wallflower as a running start. The press release notes:

Wallflower will be announcing a roll out of kiosks for one of the world’s larges sporting goods companies.

Tony Scott said, “It’s a terrific opportunity for Wallflower to accelerate its international roll out with GSBC and the SmartScreen technology. It’s a great fit."

Scott continued “We bring to GSBC extensive experience in all aspects of Dynamic Digital Signage software. Our R&D team will provide GSBC additional depth and pioneering areas of DDS such as Advanced Analytics, Facial Recognition Analytics and new methods of media deployment."

Still, for a company to make two significant purchases (Wallflower, a 4 year-old Aussie company, sold for $20M) within the span of a week is quite unusual. And of course it's still possible that it's more of a ploy to boost speculation about stock prices in the weeks before GSBC goes public on the NASDAQ OTCBB.

Tags: Wallflower, m-cast, GSBC, digital signage