Saturday, May 31, 2008

Camera-based audience measurement catches some flak

The New York Times has an unintentionally entertaining piece about privacy (or the lack thereof) due to the use of gaze-tracking cameras on certain billboards. The technology in question, provided by Quividi (one of the better gaze-tracking outfits in our experience), isn't anything extraordinary to those of us in the digital signage world: a little camera follows your eyes and examines the characteristics of your face to figure out what you're looking at, and guess some demographic information about you. I say "guess" because that part of the tech still needs some work, in our own experiments at least.

The goal is twofold: first, count the number of people actually looking at your sign. People have all sorts of different ideas about what qualifies as an engaged glance, but Quividi and others can provide you with data about how long a glance lasted, how many people looked, etc. Second, many want to use the demographic data to modify the content in real-time (for example, figuring out that you're a middle-aged woman and showing you more appropriate content for your market).

I'm unconvinced that this second item will ever be practical. The systems will continue to make numerous mistakes (it's just the law of large numbers kicking in), and the cost to produce all of those extra permutations of content will likely exceed any benefit of having slightly better targeting. Heck, it's a small miracle when we can convince our users to make text on their digital signs bigger than 12 point, or to not divide their 40" screens up into a dozen 8" x 6" zones. I can't imagine that the level of sophistication needed to pull off a demographically-aware content swap is going to become commonplace anytime soon, if ever.

However, plenty of people are interested in the measurement aspect of things, which at least makes more sense to me, and can skirt the pesky privacy issues that start to come up when we talk about doing on-the-fly demographic profiling. So why did I first say that the article was unintentionally funny? It was because of quotes like this:

“I didn’t see that at all, to be honest,” said Sam Cocks, a 26-year-old lawyer, when the camera was pointed out to him by a reporter. “That’s disturbing. I would say it’s arguably an invasion of one’s privacy.”

I hate to break it to you, Mr. Cocks (if that indeed is your real name), but downtown Manhattan has hundreds of cameras monitoring public spaces -- some have been there for over a decade, and gobs more have been added since the 9/11 attacks. So while I agree that privacy is a big issue, and needs to be continually pushed to the forefront when talking about using cameras for measurement and tracking in stores and other public places, the pessimist in me thinks that most people are already to unaware and complacent to ever make a big issue out of it.

Tags: , ,

Friday, May 30, 2008

Target launches another in-store TV channel, this time in pharmacies

According to the In-Store Marketing Institute, Target is testing a new addition to its Channel Red in-store TV network that will be put into 100 pharmacy departments (to start) and will focus on, "health and wellness products across various categories and departments, including apparel (the chain's exclusive Champion C9 line), electronics (Nintendo's Wii Fit video game) and grocery (organic SKUs from private label Archer Farms). The network lets the chain 'bring its health and wellness strategy full circle,' according to a Target spokesperson."

As we all know, wellness is in right now (sounds silly -- shouldn't it always have been?), and Target is right to try and capitalize on the trend to the fullest extent possible. We've seen a huge surge in activity in medically-related digital signage networks over the past 9-12 months, I'm guessing for the same reason. But while the medical-ish networks always try to hide the consumerism stuff behind educational and informational content that's medically relevant, it's unclear what content approach Target will be taking with their wellness channel. Will it just be commercials? Will it be something quasi-entertaining, like what they have running elsewhere on channel Red? Will it be something entirely new and exciting? I'll have to wait until there's one in my area to check out, but if anybody has seen the new channel in place, leave a comment and enlighten us all.

Tags: , ,

Networks still not paying attention to OOH and digital signage during upfronts

Now normally, that wouldn't be news, much less a surprise. But this time I'm not the one pointing it out, Mediaweek is, in this article. Not only did most of the networks ignore non-TV media in their upfront presentations, some went so far as to treat it like a joke -- again, not my words, Mediaweek's:

Not only did the other networks not address OOH, but Fox Broadcasting sales president Jon Nesvig—while touting Fox’s ratings win in the prime-time TV season among adults 18-49 and 18-34—even poked fun at his broadcast rival when he quipped that “we can’t help you with billboards in South America. You have to go back to CBS for that.”

Some agency executives expressed disappointment at the, er, radio silence about out-of-home. “I agree that quality of programming content is most important, but I do wish they would have talked about some of their other platforms and how content can move from one to the other,” says Matt Seiler, president and CEO of PHD North America.

Oddly, though CBS Outdoor has been making a lot of noise lately, and of course their purchase of SignStorey (now CBS Outernet) last year raised plenty of eyebrows, they've been oddly quiet about their plans for selling the digital space on all of their shiny new screens. MediaVest's Investment and Activation President Donna Speciale did praise NBC for showing some of its non-TV platforms during the presentation, noting that, "Prime-time television is not the only game in town any more." This move is in keeping with NBC's previous attempt to run an out-of-home media upfront, though the outcome (and thus the success) of that little experiment remains unknown to the rest of us for now.

Tags: , ,

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

POPAI's introduction to digital signage webinar coming up on June 12th

This post probably won't be appropriate for 90% of the audience of this blog, considering that I know lots of you are already experts on all things digital signage. However, if you have a client, partner or other interested party that's starting to explore the exciting world of digital out-of-home media, POPAI's holding the first of what will be many "Digital Signage 101" or "Intro to Digital Signage" webinars on June 12th.

Specifically designed to help newcomers see past the industry hype and focus on the projects, business cases and best practices that have been successful in the real world, POPAI's Introduction to Digital Signage webinar is a great way to spend an hour of your time -- and only $50 -- to jump-start your understanding of what works and what doesn't in the digital signage world.

The topics we'll cover include:
  • An introduction to the digital signage market with some basic market history and analysis,
  • A look at some of the most common usage scenarios,
  • An explanation of the components used in typical digital signage networks,
  • A discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of using digital signage, and
  • An examination of some of the most common pitfalls and problems that occur, and ways to avoid them in the first place.
So please join us on Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 1:00pm EDT

If you're interested, you can click here to sign up now!

Tags: , ,

Monday, May 26, 2008

Another thing that keeps me up at night...

So I've been a little remiss on posting lately, but I promise I have a really good reason. I'm not normally inclined to post personal stuff on these blogs, but a lot of you folks already knew that my wife and I were expecting our first baby sometime around now. Last week, he decided to show himself to the world. Say hello to baby Liam:

The surprised look on his face is because I was telling him about the digital signage industry at the time -- the number of overlapping vendors, the lack of standards or formal metrics, the continual volume of hype fed into the channel. But fear not, a solution is at hand: he promises to start working on the problem as soon as he learns what his fingers are for.

Thanks for your patience, folks. Things on the blogs should get back to normal in a few weeks :)

- Bill

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Using digital signs as "bait"

The Self-Service & Kiosk Association has a neat little article by Margot Myers, the manager of retail in-store programs for the U.S. Postal Service, who talks about using digital signs as a way to lure customers to the self-service kiosks found in some post offices:

One of our challenges is to improve the customer experience in more than 32,000 retail locations.

A second opportunity is to redirect customers and actually change customer behavior. Part of the long-standing tradition of how customers behave in our retail space is that many are totally focused on getting in the full-service queue and getting served as quickly as possible. That sounds reasonable. But what if there are 10 people in line and all you need are some stamps? Can digital signage help change customer behavior and redirect them to the Automated Postal Center (APC), a fully automated kiosk that not only sells stamps but also allows customers to mail packages?


The Post Office Channel had a positive impact on redirecting customers to in-store self-service options. Customers who saw the Stop and Turn screen were more likely to use vending (8.7% vs. 6.5%) and the APC (7.4% vs. 3.4%).


We also tracked revenue changes in the test sites as compared to alternate access locations within a five-mile radius. We measured customer awareness of the availability of alternate access locations before we installed the digital signage and again post-installation and found that awareness rose by 22 percent. Revenue from stamp sales declined at the test sites and increased at alternate access locations within the five-mile trade area, indicating that customers were getting the message that they did not have to come to the Post Office to complete a simple transaction such as buying stamps.

Given the number of existing self-service applications out there, I'm really surprised that more people aren't inclined to use digital signs to promote them. We've been running an instant credit application program in furniture stores for a number of years now, and we've definitely seen a big difference between the units that have top-mounted digital signage and those that don't, though I don't have the exact data at my figures. One thing I do know: digital signs that promote self-service kiosk applications don't work right by the store entrance. We suspect right now that it has to do with the "decompression zone" concept that Paco Underhill describes in Why we Buy: The Science of Shopping. Whatever it is, though, we now know enough not to have the signs -- or the kiosks, for that matter -- perform much better when located inside the store rather than close to the entrances.

Tags: , ,

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Casino Channel Network hopes to leech even more money from gamblers

Despite the fact that Disney World is hammering Las Vegas in terms of financial performance during these economically uncertain times (how uncertain can they be if Disney's earning 22% more this year -- much thanks to theme park admissions), this article at MediaBuyerPlanner shows there's still money to be made in Sin City, if you know how to go about it:

The Casino Channel Network has TV screens at gaming tables and hotel registration areas, above buffet lines and in hallways. The network airs 15-minute loops, with 65 percent advertising, 20 percent hotel-casino promotion and 15 percent lifestyle entertainment, writes Media Life. CBS provides news and other content.

Promotional spots can run 15 or 30 seconds, and can be targeted by casino or by daypart. The screens are 49 inches wide and 33 inches high, and 5 percent of the network - which has 37 screens and two video walls - includes audio.

A Las Vegas visitor profile from Scarborough in 2006 showed that 52 percent of Vegas visitors are male, with 32 percent between the ages of 18 and 34, 63 percent between 18 and 49, and 68 percent 35 or older. Household income is as such: 19 percent between $50,000 and $75,000; 47 percent at $75,000 or higher.

CPM is $5 and production assistance is available for a fee.

$5 is a pretty standard-ish CPM rate for networks that don't have highly-concentrated demographics or a particularly strong ability to motivate spontaneous sales. On the plus side, the network is attempting to cover a broad set of gathering places, including the gaming tables themselves (which is new to me -- anybody heard of a 3rd party digital signage network on the gaming floor before?). The downside, of course, is that the casinos work really really hard to keep the gamblers in, sitting down right where they are, letting them up on occasion to use the restrooms or stop at the ATM. That could spell trouble for advertisers on the network who need those people to get out in order to try their products and services. Consequently, any success will likely come at the hands of goods and services that can be consumed locally, ordered over the phone, or used in the casino itself. Of course if that's the case, I'm not sure how this network would be much different than any of the internally-driven networks already in most of the big Vegas casinos, except perhaps for the fact that the casinos wouldn't have had to front the money for hardware and installation.

Tags: , ,

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The morning press - digital signage news for May 14

Seems like it's been a slow news week! Here are some recent interesting clips from the web:

  • Vast arrays of TVs for patrons help eateries channel profits - "What seems to resonate with customers is the ability to feel a little bit like you're in your own living room - only on steroids - where you've got news, sports, cartoons, or whatever it is you like, and you can select what you want to view when you're there," [McDonald's franchisee Mark Watson] said.
  • NTN Buzztime, Inc. Announces First Quarter 2008 Results - Revenue from continuing operations decreased by $0.5 million or 7% to $7.2 million for the first quarter of 2008 compared to revenues of $7.7 million for the first quarter of 2007. Net loss from continuing operations for the first quarter of 2008 was $2.3 million compared to a net loss of $0.8 million for the first quarter of 2007. Although the customer site count declined by only approximately 4.5% comparing the 2008 first quarter with the equivalent period of 2007, revenue decreased by a higher percentage due to the longer-term effect on recurring revenues of a net decline in sites over recent quarters.
  • AirMedia Group Q1 profit surges; Guides Q2 Revenue - The Beijing, China-based company’s net income for the first quarter surged to US$7.28 million from US$1.87 million in the previous year. Net income attributable to ordinary shareholders was US$7.28 million or US$0.05 per share, compared to US$1.52 million or US$0.02 per share in the year-ago period. Net income per ADS was US$0.10, up from US$0.03 in the prior year. Adjusted net income increased to US$8.46 million or US$0.06 per share from US$1.93 million or US$0.03 per share last year. Adjusted net income per ADS rose to US$0.12 from US$0.06 in the preceding year.
  • Adspace Mall Network Expands to Tennessee - The Rivergate Mall, CoolSprings Galleria, and the Hickory Hollow Mall in Nashville have joined the Adspace Mall Network, the largest in-mall digital advertising network in the country.

Tags: ,

Looking for more digital signage info? Check out WireSpring's Kiosk and Digital Signage blog for in-depth industry analysis and even more news about the digital signage industry. While you're there, feel free to read up on our digital signage software and services

MegaPhone brings a new kind of connectivity to digital signage

I meant to blog about this months ago, but kept forgetting. Thankfully, Nate Nead picked it up,reminding me in the process :) MegaPhone is essentially a middleware platform that uses regular phone touch tones instead of SMS messages to allow users to interact with some kind of application over the Internet. Check out this demo:

In my mind, there are a few key advantages of this kind of tech over SMS-based applications. Among the most notable are:
  • Once you've dialed into the system, your interactions are near real-time and are immediately reflected on the application screen
  • Many different actions can be handled simply with different keypresses instead of having to type different shortcodes or SMS messages
  • Because it's a voice call, it works with any phone, including regular old landlines
  • Because it's a voice call, you could also have an IVR or even a live operator assist the user or help him to navigate through various options
Granted, connecting an Internet-based interactive application with a touch-tone phone system is nothing new (our IP PBX system has had similar capabilities for years), but having a company dedicated to providing this middleware for digital out-of-home projects is pretty cool. While the company has spent most of its time in large audience venues like arenas, I'd expect to see their stuff rolled out to other social environments sooner rather than later, especially if their cost structure is reasonable.

Tags: , ,

Friday, May 09, 2008

Put a little green goodness in the digital signage world

In the film L.A. Story, Steve Martin plays a television weatherman whose life is chaos but finds truth when, backed by a haunting Enya score, an electronic billboard on the LA Freeway speaks to him, quoting Shakespeare and giving cryptic messages about the meaning of life. One of the film’s main ironies is the way the digital billboard offers more emotional comfort than any of the actual humans in Los Angeles.

Since the film came out in 1991, it’s not as though digital signage has had more great movie roles or even good celebrity press (though you can decide for yourself whether or not you'd like to see a future like that portrayed in Minority Report). While there are certainly people outside the industry who see great things for digital signage, hype and love of technology is not going to be enough to sustain the industry, in particular because it is such a public product. Here in Pittsburgh, recent debate about a proposed electronic billboard in our downtown area mobilized community groups against the project not because they objected on aesthetic grounds, but because neither the corporation proposing the sign nor the city government consulted the neighborhood about whether it fit with local development goals. Add in the fact that proper licensing and bureaucratic procedures weren’t followed, and you have a public relations mess.

There’s a lot to be said for making digital signage more congruent with community needs. And since sustainable, ecologically-sound design is on the rise, it seems pretty natural to suggest that the digital signage industry might want to align itself with the good and the green now. Here’s a laundry list of possibilities:

Energy consumption: Present energy-saving possibilities up front, before consumers ask for it: Take advantage of newer LED technologies that adjust screen brightness to day and night conditions. Use newer components designed for longer lifer and lower energy consumption, some of which are free of heating and ventilation costs. Consider a backup power system to reduce impact on existing power networks. (Solar-powered systems are already in greater use outside the United States.)

Low impact design: Consider simple design elements to “green” the impact of the digital sign: LED configurations can be tilted to reduce upward light pollution. Signs that “fit” the environment are often seen as community enhancements rather than detractions. Marketing teams could work more overtly with architects, builders, and city planners who have LEED certification or experience with environmental design.

New technologies: For example, there are new greener light tape systems that provide accent or backlighting for POP displays. Using encapsulated phosphors to produce light without generating heat requires only a tiny amount of power and minimal operating costs. Other energy efficient backlighting systems are on their way to production.

Green components: The tech industry is starting to heed consumer’s concerns about the manufacturing process, too: Although the components of digital signage are surprisingly less hazardous than most technology, consumers don’t know this. Creating within-industry standards and fact sheets about the carbon footprint of digital signage might be worth the up-front research. In terms of the computer elements, it is possible to build digital signs with components free of problematic elements like mercury, lead, and cadmium. (we see this in Apple’s move to more eco-friendly digital screens and the new Eco-TV). Even hard drives are going green. The industry has yet to examine the full feasibility of incorporating recycled components (metals, vinyl, rigid plastics, and inks) into commonly used sign materials.

Community relations: Although organizations like the OAAA have been involved in public relations for years, more can be said about how digital signage enhances community safety, provides information, and disseminates news. Digital signs already provide law enforcement aid, disaster or emergency information, and new traffic routing. But there are more possibilities: Bus station shelters as kiosks with digital billboards can provide up-to-date info on bus arrival, traffic, and news. Making contributions to environmental and community causes also helps offset the carbon footprint of new digital signs and enhances the customer’s reputation. Promoting and engaging in environmental and educational projects fosters the industry’s image as a whole. Consider the informational kiosks explaining the Everglades Reclamation Project to local students and residents, giving them up-to-date and ongoing information about how the environmental project will affect their lives:

Industry self-monitoring: The OAAA has developed a set of environmental standards for all types of outdoor signage, which is a great start, but the digital signage community could do more on its own: carbon footprint monitoring (including comparative data on the carbon footprint of alternative advertising methods, such as paper products, copy machines, and flyers), promotion of green manufacturing and production approaches, and even an LEED-type seal of approval are three possibilities.

I'm just scratching the surface of what's possible right now, let alone a few years into the future when electronic ink and other new technologies make electronic signs even greener. But the industry isn't doing itself any favors when it comes to capitalizing on going green. We have some great -- and unique -- advantages at our disposal. Let's use them!

Tags: , ,

Thursday, May 08, 2008

POPAI promotional pricing produces plethora of premier players

eh, you say?

An interesting thing happened a few weeks ago. We got together on a big conference call to discuss standards for digital signage business and technology and... people are actually doing stuff!

I know it's a bit early to get optimistic (and people who know me would generally remark that it's not in my nature anyway), but we've got a big group of companies involved -- most of the key networks and tech firms -- the calls so far have produced actionable tasks and reasonable goals, and despite the sheer size and complexity of the project, we're actually getting organized.

On the marketing end of things, our digital signage advocacy group is putting together a full roster of webinars (and if I have my way, some of them will actually be free), we've got a sample annotated RFI coming out, and we've started a new blog to gauge industry opinion and get more POP and retail marketing guys involved in the conversation.

We've also convinced them that it's essential to get as many companies on board with the same industry association... NOW.

So they agreed to drop their membership price until May 15th in hopes that we can convince those people who want to make a difference in the digital signage community to sign up and get involved while we have all of this momentum built up. So far, results have been good. But anybody that might have something to contribute should check out this deal before it's over.

If you're a content creation company, digital advertiser, network aggregator, logistics company, hardware supplier, software company or anybody else involved with digital signage, I definitely recommend you think about joining POPAI. Aside from free access to mountains of research data and heavy discounts to various shows, conferences and webinars, you'll also be able to rub elbows with the digital signage glitterati, those superstars of the indus...

ok, I can't even type that with a straight face :) However, you will find a bunch of like-minded people who are passionate and very vocal about the industry, and who, combined, are probably working on most (if not all) of the interesting projects going on out there today.

Sound like something you might be interested in? Yes? Then email Berk Cotter ( or give him a call at 703-373-8819, but do it before the 15th, since prices will revert back to their normal levels after that.

Questions? Concerns? Doubts?

Leave a comment below and I'll try to answer them from my perspective as an active member for the past three or four years. And no, I'm not being bribed to write this stuff. I just want to make sure that we have everybody on board before the really heavy decisions start getting made.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The morning press - digital signage news for May 7

Here are some of today's interesting clips from the web:

  • Lightscape Technologies forms strategic partnership with Ogilvy & Mather - Lightscape, an operator of outdoor LED billboards and provider of LED solutions, announced that it has signed an agreement with a unit of Ogilvy & Mather Group, a leading global advertising agency, in order to secure advertising contracts for Lightscape's growing LED media network in China and Hong Kong. The agreement establishes a framework through which Lightscape will offer its portfolio of large-scale, high-resolution LED billboards to clients of Ogilvy & Mather as they develop their advertising and media-planning strategies. In addition, Ogilvy & Mather will refer suitable new LED billboard locations to Lightscape, which will subsequently be developed by Lightscape to further enhance the breadth of its network.
  • TNS rejects WPP buyout offer; Nielsen may be next - TNS, the research company that has been pushing into the ratings space via digital TV set-top data, has turned down a $1.87 billion buyout offer from WPP Group. Nielsen Co., TNS’s biggest competitor, is believed to be preparing an even heftier offer, writes MediaPost.
  • Fujitsu to provide comprehensive digital media solutions - Fujitsu Transaction Solutions Inc. today announced that it will work with partner TELentice Global Inc. to market Fujitsu’s new, comprehensive Digital Media Solutions (DMS) to retailers. Fujitsu and TELentice have developed a system that combines the hardware, software and services required to create, deploy and manage chain-wide, multi-media information campaigns.
  • Titan Worldwide launches internal T-TV digital screen network - Titan is putting its money where its digital mouth is. The world's largest privately held Out-of-Home advertising sales company has launched an internal video network of 23, 40-inch, broadband-connected LCD screens for its 800+ employees in 20 offices around the world.
  • PRN to sell ads on shopping-cart screens - Premier Retail Networks (PRN) is to link its in-store screen-advertising platform to Cabco Group's TV-enabled shopping carts, and sell airtime on them. The two companies will establish “a seamless connection” between the Cabco TV Kart screens and PRN's platform, they said. The screens are fixed in specially-designed shopping carts (pictured) and serve to entertain children seated in the lower area of the carts as well as to deliver commercial messaging to the adults pushing them.

Tags: ,

Looking for more digital signage info? Check out WireSpring's Kiosk and Digital Signage blog for in-depth industry analysis and even more news about the digital signage industry. While you're there, feel free to read up on our digital signage software and services

Saturday, May 03, 2008

What makes place-based media great?

Place-based media veteran Mitch Oscar has an insightful blog post on MediaPost's TV Board about what's really poised to make digital out-of-home the next big thing. His take:
Over the years I’ve consulted for a number of place-based companies, such as Hotel Networks, Juke Box Network, Burly Bear (college) and Captivate, and taken meetings with myriads of others. A word of caution. Scale is great. Metrics are even better. Don’t get me wrong. It is what the media community always clamors for. But in my opinion, it’s the place in place-based media that is of primary importance to the marketer. The ability to connect with a community in a specific location and own the space....

In my estimation, place-based media offers a value proposition unique to our media community — and I cannot impress upon its members the significance of owning an environment for a marketer to share with the inhabitant for the period of time they cohabitate.

I know a lot of you are already preaching the same gospel, but isn't it nice to know that either (a) you're not crazy, because somebody else is spouting off the same thing, or (b) maybe you are crazy, but at least you're not the only one?

Tags: ,