Making the Move to Dynamic Signage

Are you still wondering if dynamic signage is the arena for you? Here we’ve been writing about how and why the digital print / traditional sign company is the best built enterprise for the job. In case you have missed the posts, start with the October, 2006 post and read each chapter as though it’s an important book!  Really. Go ahead. We’ll wait 😉

You may now be asking, How do I make this move? What do I need to know, and where do I go to get that information? Whew! Thank you for asking an easy question!

By entering the world of digital signage, sign designers and sign company professionals maintain complete control of their client base, and signage portfolio.

Sign makers who have worked for their entire career with static signage can find all of this new territory difficult to navigate. There are many new manufacturers of digital signage products, and it is unfortunate that many of these manufacturers do not have a sign-making background, and therefore do not always speak our language. And, while it may be easy to find companies who offer digital signage software (more than 350 exist today!) and/or hardware, it is much more difficult to learn how to implement the technology for the end-user – our clients.

Training Course for Digital Sign CertificationEnter the Digital Signage Certified Expert (DSCE) program, offered by the Digital Signage Experts Group, the best and most widely recognized certification program for dynamic sign experts. The DSCE course is a widely recognized certification course which covers all of the essential ingredients for anyone who wants to offer digital signage. Who has taken the course already? About 4700 individuals, most from the AV industry. We, however, believe YOU are even better equipped to deliver sign messaging through dynamic systems!

At the School of Sign Arts website, www.schoolofsignarts.com (SOSA) you can not only register for the course, but also they give you a free book, hot off the press for 2012: Making the Move to Dynamic Signage, which sells separately for $75. PLUS, when you register at SOSA, WE at LobbyPOP will donate $5 to the American Sign Museum!

You purchase a program access key code at SOSA for only $195, then go to the DSEG.org website and log in. Upon doing so, you can begin your training course, which is a series of instructional videos, accompanied by a 68-question certification test. Once you’ve filled in all of your answers, you submit your test for review. It is instantly graded, and, provided you receive a passing score, you then instantly receive your Digital Signage Certified Expert certificate via email, and are added to the Digital Signage Experts Group list of … well, Experts!

Making the Move to Dynamic Signage bookWhen you purchase your DSCE course access code through SOSA, you’ll also receive the PDF book: Making the Move to Dynamic Signage …. Did we mention, it’s free! This 48-page guide for the sign professional is approved by founder of DSEG.org, Alan Brawn, CTS, DSCE, DSDE, ISF, ISF-C, this year’s Chairman of the Digital Signage Federation. A great companion to the DSCE course, it includes additional insight, statistics, and information on the current and future digital signage market.

What is the certification course like? There is a complete review at the School of Sign Arts site: Certification is Priceless. How many “traditional” sign companies have taken the course? That, my friend, is a good question. More every day enroll in the course…

On a quiet Saturday afternoon, February 11, 2012 in Lubbock, Texas, Toby Stephens, owner of Elite Sign & Design, clicked “submit” and became a member of a rare breed: The digital print sign professional who crossed over to the bright side and embraced dynamic digital signage as a part of his future. He became a dynamic sign expert.

If you recognize this opportunity and want to get started on a great course, visit SOSA’s sign-up page here.  Get your free book and client assessment surveys. And make your move! Any questions? Call us! 1-888-LOBBYPOP [1-888-562-2976]  or email: amazing@lobbypop.com.

DSCE Course Review

Becoming a Digital Media House

Dynamic Signage QuestionOne of the questions that seems to come up more often lately – not surprisingly – is, What does it take to become a content provider for dynamic signage? Well, first and foremost, in our opinion, you need to upgrade your mindset. We recommend you think of yourself not as simply a content provider, but rather as a media house. LobbyPOP is most definitely a media house, not simply a content provider.

Not to offend anyone at all – that’s not our style! – but there are differences between content providers, content distributors, encoding houses, and media houses. Each serves a purpose! Here are the main degrees of separation:

  1. Content providers come in every shape and size. CNN is a content provider. Netflix is a  content distributor. (It seems hard to believe now that Netflix streaming video is available on nearly any Internet-connected home video product, but back in the spring of 2008, the only Netflix-compatible device was a tiny streaming media box called the Roku Player.) HBO is a content provider and a content distributor.
  2. Content DISTRIBUTORS are entities like Hulu. As content providers, NBCUniversal, News Corporation and The Walt Disney Company bring shows, movies and clips to the Hulu video library. Although Comcast recently acquired NBCUniversal, Hulu users will continue to enjoy the same NBCUniversal TV shows that they have come to expect from the Hulu distribution service, when, where and how they want them.
  3. If you want to convert existing media (video or audio) into other formats for mobile, streaming, or dynamic signage, an ENCODING HOUSE can format and deliver your content.
  4. A Traditional MEDIA HOUSE typically includes a relatively fixed in-flow from professional partners, as well as from reporters and other content providers. This will include writers, photographers, ad agency creative, and artists.
  5. In a DIGITAL Media House, content provided can include RSS feeds, stock tickers, motion artist products, animations, audio content, music, raw video, and more.
  6. In a Media House, the SOURCES can have a complex role, as in the the case of the LobbyPOP Media House, where Sources are Digital Signage Certified Experts or LobbyPOP Pros, who are in essence collaborators, certified to submit information straight into the ordering system, in fact not requiring additional modification.
  7. In a Media House, creation of brand new elements (Content Creation) is accomplished with the use of software, hardware, audio equipment, musical instruments, artists and more. This can lead to use of the term “Production House” in some circles. The Media House team will minimally include camera operators, sound recordists, editors, graphic designers, presenters, writers, technology architects, and video producers.
  8. In the LobbyPOP Media House, the information flow consists of information submitted, with great variation, by a network of 280 collaborators. The collaborators are connected directly to end-user organizations, such as municipalities, small businesses, and different entities in the fields of advertising and marketing.
  9. Collaborators have been trained, and have a detailed manual, in how to submit information into the media house system and they are allowed to do so without much additional guidance. The majority of information is, submitted by a web form on the School of Sign Arts website, or to some extent by phone to the editors.

Digital Content Production FlowchartWith this very broad brush stroke review, we can see that Media Houses must be able to work with a vast array of content types, and be able to format for any type of output, with the services that an encoding house would perform. But what a Media House must also be able to achieve is an artistic expression and blending of content, from music beds and voice-over, to the actual architecture and design of the engaging final digital sign product.  Not simply a transformer making ice cubes from water, but an alchemist, changing mineral elements into gold, creating intuitive, inspired audio-visual communications.

This leads to the next question: What sort of equipment, hardware, software, microphones, etc, should a media house employ?

Well, that is for the next blog. How perfect is that?

The Display Wars are Over… Sort Of

Remember back in early 2010 when we compared Plasma screens and LCD display technology? Well, that post covered a lot of ground, and the decision-tree is still a valid and great tool. But now we have a third horse in the race, and it looks like a triple-crown winner… if price is no object. LED-lit LCD screens are almost perfect.

The difference between plasma and LCD wavered for some time, with each offering different economic and visual benefits depending on the model, price, and time in the life cycle of HDTVs. But in the past couple of years, with the advent of increasingly sophisticated LED backlighting, we finally have a true winner. With its unmatched energy efficiency, LED-based LCD is the best flat-panel HDTV technology. Unfortunately, it’s also generally the most expensive. — CNET Technologies, June 2011

Okay all you traditional (digital print, routing, illuminated channel letter) sign professionals, here’s something you are familiar with: Cold Cathode and LED. Yup. It’s here, too, in dynamic digital signage. Traditional LCD HDTVs use cold cathode fluorescent lights (CCFLs) to illuminate the screen. CCFLs are similar to the fluorescent lights you might see in your lamps and overhead light fixtures. They use a charged gas to produce light. LED-LCD screens, like their name implies, use light emitting diodes (LEDs) to illuminate the display.

LED LCD BrightSo what are the advantages when it comes to digital signs? Well, as you might have guessed, LED-LCD is thinner, brighter, and the contrast ratios are out of this world.

For this advantage, LED HDTVs command a premium; for all major HDTV manufacturers, LED-backlit HDTVs can cost a few hundred dollars more than CCFL-backlit HDTVs of the same size. Generally, plasma HDTVs tend to be the least expensive, priced at equal to or slightly less than CCFL-backlit HDTVs. However, that savings means the screen will be thicker and much more power-hungry, even if it does offer as good a picture as an LED-backlit HDTV.

How good the picture looks, especially if you’re a videophile or a cinema fanatic, is the most vital aspect of any HDTV. Specifically, peak white and black levels determine how detailed a picture can look on a screen. Historically, plasma HDTVs have produced the best black levels, but the domination of plasma in this field, however, is over. The current PC Magazine Editors’ Choice HDTV, the LED-based LG Infinia 47LW5600, puts out only 0.01 cd/m2, the best level we can measure.  Of course it’s an LG – one of LobbyPOP’s favorite brands!

So, you if you recall that decision tree of our LCD-Plasma comparison post, then consider this your update. If energy consumption is important, you will be looking at LCD, of one kind or another. If price is most important, you will be looking at plasma for the larger sizes. If quality, however, is your mantra, and price is no object, then the new LED-LCD screens will be your pick. But always, always, always choose a commercial screen and NOT a consumer model for your sign systems.

It bears more than a mention here: Commercial screens have what it takes to get the job done, vs consumer screens that pale in comparison.

The main differences are:

  • Commercial units have MORE modes of Video/Picture selection.
  • Commercial units have “Adaptive Picture Mode” and consumer units does not.
  • Commercial units allow for PC inputs, which few consumer models offer.
  • Commercial units have more Decorder formats.
  • Commercial unit has actual HDMI in with HDCP. Most consumer units have HDMI  In, as DVI with Adapter.   This is a pretty big difference.
  • Often, commercial units have separate antenna in and separate cable in (more versatility).  The consumer units usually have a single antenna/cable input.
  • Commercial units come with a two- or three-year warranty on-site. If you use a consumer model for a commercial sign application, you void the warranty.
  • Commercial models have heat management systems to accommodate continuous operation. Consumer models are not built for 24-hour operation.

Well, you get the picture! (Pun intended 😉 )

Part 1: May Your Resolution Be Right

Here’s Part One of Two about the technology that transforms a blank flat panel screen into a communications dynamo! Just what you’ve been waiting for! (Hmmm?). It’s time for a wee bit of technical jargon, and it’s not going to hurt a bit. When it comes to digital signage (the moving kind), the one most confusing piece to translate from our world of static to the calisthenics of dynamic displays is: What resolution for content creation, and what settings for my screen will display it properly?

The easy part is the screen, really, if you can push some buttons enough times, maybe even break down and read the manual, you will find it. (Just practice at your own shop first, on an identical system, so you don’t look silly in front of your client.) As for content, however, you may feel like you’re jumping through hoops to get a handle on this, depending on the application for the content display and delivery. Is it for cellular delivery? Cabled? Wireless? Flash drive? A zone on the screen? HDTV? SD Kiosk?  YouTube? Yep, it can be different for each!

Content Delivery VehiclesFirst, the good news: If you (wisely) use a media house to create and render your content, you shouldn’t have to stress over square vs. rectangular pixels, frame rates, HD vs. SD, and all those other definitions. Now, the not so good news: You need to know this stuff, if you want to guide your clients through the conversation about content so you can order the right thing from your media house!  So, here’s a little bit to get you started. The full blown Guide is available for those seeking their Digital Signage Certified Expert credentials from the Digital Signage Experts Group, if you order through SOSA.

To understand the current standards for HD Video and how it applies to digital signage, we’ll need to take a look at some basic terminology. To create the illusion of motion, video (just as with film movies) consists of a series of images displayed in rapid succession.  Each single image is referred to as a Frame.

The most common frame rates include:

  • 24p – NTSC 24 frames per second in progressive scan format 
  • 25p – PAL 25 frames per second in progressive scan format
  • 30p – 30 frames per second in progressive scan format.  This is the standard video rate for most common applications.
  • 50i – PAL 50 interlaced fields (25 complete frames) per second (see “HD Frame Format” below).  This is the standard video frame rate for PAL television broadcast.
  •  60i – NTSC 60 interlaced fields (30 complete frames) per second.  Technically, it is 59.94 fields, or 29.97 frames, per second.  This is the NTSC standard for all television broadcast, DVD, and consumer camcorder.
  • 50p/60p – 50/60 frames per second in progressive scan format, used in high-end HDTV systems. 
  • 72p – 72 frames per second in progressive format.  This is a more-or-less experimental rate that is finding applications in high-speed video recording, which can then be played back at a lesser rate for ultra clear slow-motion video.  It is also the current maximum rate available for WMV video.

HD Video File Formats:

Okay, here’s where it all comes together for useful applications … like digital signage.  HD Video can be created and stored in many different file formats.  The file format you choose should be based on the hardware and software that will be used to view it.  For example, the digital signage software/hardware system you select may specify compatibility only with certain file formats for video.  Here’s a list of the most common file formats and their most-used applications:

MPEG-2:  Blu Ray Disc, DVD

MP4 (or MPEG-4), also known as H.264/AVC:  Blu Ray Disc, Internet Streaming (YouTube, Vimeo, iTunes, etc.), local computer playback (Mac or Windows), mobile devices

WMV (Windows Media Video):  Windows PC playback, Internet Streaming (although your video may be converted by the host)

MOV (QuickTime):  Local computer playback (Mac or Windows), some DSLR (Canon) and camcorder native recording format

AVI:  Windows computer video (massive storage required for uncompressed files!)

But wait … there’s more to the story.  Next Post: HD resolution and the wonders of MP4! In case this is just not quite fun enough, LobbyPOP provides an excellent Guide for LobbyPOP Pros and Digital Signage Certified Experts. Just sayin…

March of the Statistics

Many of our past posts have discussed marketing, retail environments, sign design, content and audio considerations. But why is this dynamic sign technology getting so much attention? Why should you invest in this new learning curve as a digital print or sign professional? From software selection, to network design and configuration, to the right displays and peripherals and then installation and training for the client, it is quite an investment. Is it worth it? Okay, let’s march a few statistics out for March, and then you decide…. (We’ll use plenty of pictures to keep it lively!)

It is no coincidence that with 74% of all purchase decisions in mass merchandisers made in store, an increasing number of brand marketers and retailers invest in this medium.

When electronic digital signage first came onto the scene a few short years ago, there was no way to quantify it in terms of return on investment or impact on the marketplace, or even consumers. With the advent of scanner technology, brand marketers and retailers have been able to immediately determine the effectiveness of P.O.P.

POPAI‘s studies, undertaken from 1994 through this year, have consistently demonstrated significant sales increases for products supported by Retail Marketing across industries and geography.

Digital Signage has been proven to reduce perceived wait time by 40%-60%. That makes for happier, friendlier, more relaxed, and more satisfied clients.

LobbyPOP SayingAt the same time, you have a unique opportunity to tell your audience about additional products and services you offer.  You can be sure they’ll remember… it’s proven that digital signage can increase ad recall by more than 60%. And in case you’re wondering about the bottom line: Digital signage increases sales by 18%-62%!

InfoTrends/CAP Ventures has been tracking the industry since 1999, and adjusted Compound Annual Growth Rates are over 30%.

And, the most recent Digital Signage Pricing Report from Wirespring shows that the cost to deploy displays has dropped 14%. When Wirespring first began tracking in 2004, the cost per node (screen and media player) averaged $8500. In 2010, this had dropped to $3720.

It was only a few short months ago that Walmart released some information pertaining to their (in)famous Smart Network. In case you missed the announcement, the company calculated the following percentage increases in store departments using the Smart Network:

Sales lift by department
  • Electronics: 7%
  • Over-the-counter: 23%
  • Food: 13%
  • Health/beauty: 28%

They also disclosed the point in a product’s life cycle when the network seemed to be most effective:

Sales lift by product type

  • Mature items: 7%
  • Newly-launched items: 9%
  • Seasonal items: 18%
  • Items on rollback: 6%

From two case studies on how the Smart Network affects product sales (thanks to Digital Signage Today for the summaries):

In the first, a breathing-strip manufacturer purchased an endcap campaign, in which a 90- to 120-second message ran on endcap screens with product positioned around it. While the program was running, the brand saw a 100 percent sales lift on the specific product, determined by testing versus a control group.

In another campaign, the retailer wanted to increase the number of shoppers that opted in to receive discounts and offers via SMS. It staged a four-week campaign in which shoppers were told that if they’d sign up by dialing a specific code, they’d get exclusive announcements of new “Rollback” offers. During the four-week period, the retailer saw a three-fold increase in daily opt-ins.

Still with me here? We’re giving you this so you can go forth and conquer your clients’ fears!  Okay, how about YOUR fears 😉 Check this out:

According to data cited by Microsoft’s Edson, there are approximately 2 million digital signs across the US right now, and that number is expected to grow to 7 million over the next 5 years. For that to happen in a nice, linear fashion, it would mean that the industry will deploy 1,000,000 screens every year for the next 5 years.

The above chart shows that Retail remains the largest piece of the digital sign pie, and that Hospitality is second. With Retail, we find every imaginable style of display – from kiosks and endcaps, to video walls and window projections. In Hospitality, the range is not so dramatic. Both present ready opportunities for digital sign professionals.

Hopefully this March round-up of current research has given you a new perspective on your own potential in this arena. Next post, a bit about technology as it relates to content…

Kiosk, You Ask?

We thank the Kiosk company for assisting with information on the subject of kiosks – a great product for many applications. KIOSK has many years of experience in working with customers to deploy small to medium to very large kiosk projects. They have found six factors to consider when choosing and deploying kiosks for your intended purpose. By no means is this list inclusive of everything -This is a summary of those six considerations:

1)  The Hardware Solution –

You want a kiosk that is build to ADA guidelines and UL specs. And you should choose a form and design that fits your environment, brand and size requirements. In addition, the enclosure and structure should be inviting. There is no reason in today’s market that you should sacrifice esthetics or durability. Every option imaginable is available!

2)  The Application –

Think about your experience when you check in at the airport. Your kiosk operation should be that simple! 2-3 buttons, a clear touchscreen, and simple graphic elements. Who will develop the content and application? You may be able to do that in-house, but there are several companies that do nothing but help companies develop applications, tie in with existing systems/databases and help remotely manage the kiosk.

3) Remote Monitoring/Reporting –

Without remote monitoring/reporting – how will you know what people are doing on the kiosk? Will you know if one of your 2500 screens is down? What about the screen saver- can it be updated to play store specials as they become available?

4) Service –

Think about the warranty, and who actually owns the hardware. If a service call is needed, do you need to outsource on-site maintenance where an outside tech will service the kiosk? You may want to keep spare parts on hand for common replacements.

5) The Kiosk Project –

What is the intended purpose of your kiosks? Decide on 2 or 3 priorities at least initially – you can always add on later. What does a good pilot program look like?  Number of stores? What types of stores?  What’s the budget for the pilot?  The MOST important part of the pilot is determining you success criteria.  What is the budget and who will own the kiosks? It may make sense to lease the hardware.

6) Employee Involvement –

Employees can sometimes feel intimidated or threatened by the kiosk. We’ve seen examples where a kiosk is placed in an existing environment without much employee involvement and the program will fail. 

So, in summary, a kiosk is a great tool and resource, useful for in-store surveys, product descriptions and applications, and guidance for customers. The most important moments in the life of the kiosk campaign are those before it is installed. When you think kiosk, think ASK – the questions above will help guide you to the right answers for you.

Our Predictions All Came True…

Back in 2007, one of our blog posts predicted that the “traditional” sign industry trade associations would be looking at dynamic digital signage as the new frontier. That, we can now boast, is a prediction fulfilled. See our July post of 2007 for the exact prediction for the International Sign Association’s involvement to come. That day has come!

Digital sign pioneer and explorer, Lyle Bunn, Strategy Architect, published this in Digital Screenmedia Association news:

Enter the massive base of static sign and digital graphics providers. It is telling that both the Screen Graphics Industry Association (SGIA) and International Sign Association (ISA) have dramatically increased their focus on digital signage in their respective October and April Las Vegas conferences.

How about another prediction – one so important we built our entire LobbyPOP premise upon it. We began our foray into electronic digital signage in 2006 after extensive research, specifically choosing an “Edutainment” format for our own specialized content. LobbyPOP content is very recognizable, and always provides engaging graphics, quality video, voiceover and music to present interesting and important facts about a particular industry’s products and services. We dubbed this “edutainment” as a reflection of the education and entertainment value encompassed in quality content. Now, without blowing our own horn too much, this year in March, Digital Signage Today featured an article which touted a “new” concept, “Infomercials coming to digital out of home.” Wow- the sound of thunderous applause here at LobbyPOP headquarters! 

In a move that in hindsight seems incredibly obvious, advertising technology firm rVue has partnered with a direct response TV firm to bring direct response ads to the digital signage networks using rVue’s Demand Side Platform.

 Yes, it seems incredibly obvious to us!

“It is a very exciting time, and we’re really working hard on bringing forward some what-we-believe-to-be-very-important initiatives and solutions for our space,” rVue founder and CEO Jason Kates said in a recent phone interview.

As anyone who follows our blog knows, we squirm when the words “important” “initiatives” “solutions” and “our space” are all in the same sentence.

“We must be one of the last media in the world who haven’t had this developed as a full-blown opportunity for us,” Kates said.Social Media, Google, Online Content Convergence

Perhaps. Perhaps not… Can it be the new frontier has been soundly mapped already? Hardly! We have much to learn and review when it comes to touchscreens, social media on display, and content delivery technologies. We are eagerly watching developers create the new, converging technologies that will empower screens like never before. We are beta testing some exciting new content delivery vehicles as well! You may therefore be looking for our next big prediction, considering our track record 🙂 Well, we never want to disappoint, so here goes:

We see Google, Social Media, and Microsoft all becoming critical to the digital media platform. What we see also is the confusion this creates in the marketplace, as clients and media providers try to sort out what is relevant and important. Of course, we have some thoughts on these subjects. You’ll have to read our next posts to learn more…  Remember our motto: A Step Ahead… is a Great Place to Lead!