By Pam Derringer
On February 28, 2013
|Traditional stuffed animals meet high-tech amenities in the Build-A-Bear Workshop. Photo courtesy of the Build-A-Bear Workshop.
Outside McDonald’s restaurants in
Stockholm, Sweden, smartphone
users can play a game on a giant billboard. Lucky winners can redeem
McDonald’s coupons for free snacks.
In England, McDonald’s restaurants feature interactive,
gesture-based digital floor games linked to the
chain’s “Happy Meal” promotions.
And in the U.S., Build-A-Bear Workshops have
outfitted select stores with Samsung touchscreens
with Microsoft brains. Once inside the Build-A-Bear
stores, customers are discovering that the bear-making
stations have gone interactive. The digital bathing station,
for example, bubbles up with digital suds and
waves that are activated when an optically tagged toy
is placed on the screen. It’s interactive game-play for
the digital generation.
According to Brandon Elliott, Build-A-Bear’s director
of digital ventures, the concept is to combine
children’s natural love of huggable teddy bears with
the best digital technology experience. The new stores
will be expanded from six to some 50 locations by the
end of 2014, Elliott said. The addition of interactive
technology has not only amped up the “wow factor”
for customers, it has boosted company sales.
“It’s all about engaging with customers,” added
Kevin Schroll, senior product manager, large format
displays, Samsung Electronics America. Samsung’s
SUR40 technology is a key component of Build-A-Bear’s
storefront, the bear bathing station, and checkout
station interactive touch features. The digital signage
isn’t part of what is being “sold,” but it elevates
the user experience to a new, compelling level.
“[Today’s] kids are playing with iPods,” Schroll
explained. “If companies don’t integrate technology
into traditional toys, the [manufacturers] will lose
Digital signage has been around since the 1990s,
but its deployment has exploded over the last five
years, growing more than 20 percent a year, a staggering
figure considering the U.S. recession. According
to Alan Brawn of Brawn Consulting Inc., digital
signage has recently emerged from the early adopter
phase and is entering into mainstream adoption.
Interactivity and audience engagement are playing
critical roles in growing this technology category.
DIGITAL SIGNAGE DRIVERS—WHAT IS
FUELING THE GROWTH?
The recent rapid growth of digital signage is due to
a confluence of factors: dramatic innovations, lower
hardware and software costs, and greater integration
and ease of use.
For starters, signs aren’t just a few standard sized
rectangles any more. Christie MicroTiles, in particular,
makes digital signage of any size and shape, even
curving around walls and columns. NanoLumens
also makes flexible, bendable high-resolution digital
A second factor in the category’s growth, according
to Schroll, is the big drop in bezel width, which, in
turn, narrows the space between tiles, making video
walls possible. Samsung explored the limits of this
technology by transforming the lobby of the Las Vegas
Continental Hotel into a moving art gallery displayed
on floor-to-ceiling paneled columns, a project for
which Samsung won an international award in 2011.
Lighting innovation also has been a key advance,
with backlit LED signs costing half as much to run as
conventional cathode fluorescents, Kevin Schroll said.
LED systems also are easier to install and deploy and
don’t protrude from the wall, he added.
EASIER MEDIA MANAGEMENT
In addition to lighting enhancements, more display
systems now are integrated with media players and
other hardware, reducing complexity of installation
and maintenance. And now that digital signs display
continuously refreshed content, they attract more
attention, which, in turn, increases their usefulness
for branding and helps justify the ROI, Schroll said.
THE QR CODE CRAZE
Another development in digital signage is the introduction
of new interactive display technologies that
go beyond simple touch, Schroll said. Samsung’s
SUR40, for example, enables Build-A-Bear’s interactive
stations to differentiate objects by QR codes and
,pixel recognition, collectively enabling the station to
“see” what’s on it and perform a specific activity.
“We’ve changed the game of touch technology and
made the experience a lot more engaging,” he said.
But retail isn’t the only vertical aware of the
engagement potential of digital signage. Corporations
and manufacturers are catching on, too, using it to
improve communication and boost morale.
BEHIND THE SCENES AT
DOW CHEMICAL CO.
More than 30 years ago, the global
chemical manufacturing company
headquartered in Midland, Michigan,
recognized the value of networked
TVs to communicate with its 52,000
employees. But the information in
the early years was very basic and
location specific: road closures, volunteer
opportunities, and the like.
The big push to improve content
came in 2004 when the company
decided to replace its aging coax
infrastructure with an IP network,
explained Chris Duncan, Dow’s director
of communication resources and
Studio 20/20. With the new IP network
able to support HD broadcasts,
the AV team recognized that the time
was right to put more effort into upgrading
content, he said. And so they did.
The network now broadcasts animated
weather, local sports scores, and an automated
news feed as well as volunteer opportunities,
and teasers for company HR and product news available
on the intranet, Duncan said.
“The key is to include news of personal interest,
like cricket scores in India, so they look at the other
stuff on the intranet,” he said.
Information is processed centrally using the Scala
content management system and distributed to large
flat screens in 30 locations, some in Dutch and
German, he said. All the channels are fed simultaneously
to multiple platforms: digital signage, intranet,
video-on-demand, and live video to the desktop.
The AV staff of four or five doesn’t generate content,
but it does provide general guidelines of what is
acceptable for user-generated content, Duncan added.
For example, no ads for local businesses, videos of
co-workers or copyrighted materials will be allowed.
Although results of its digital signage outreach
are hard to measure, the AV staff at Dow Chemical
does get feedback from an annual employee survey,
Duncan said. Other indicators are the time it takes
for employees to report an outage and the speed with
which the auditorium fills for a guest speaker.
BEST PRACTICES FOR THE
When planning digital signage initiatives,
AV staffs should keep in mind
that companies outside the retail sector
don’t have to match the cost or
sophistication of the McDonald’s billboards
or the Build-A-Bear stations to
effectively “engage” their audiences.
“The belief that the latest and
greatest digital signage will win is not
true,” said Bryan Meszaros of Open
To the contrary, a practical, common
sense approach that delivers the
right message to the right audience
with the right vehicle is the key to successful
engagement, Meszaros said.
Ask questions like: Who are the right
people to be involved in the project?
What information is the customer seeking? And how long will they be there?
Although AV staffs typically do not produce the content, they are the technical experts who
ensure that the signage is sized correctly for the content, which many times has to be rewritten
for large format displays, especially if it’s not a flat surface, he said. AV staffs should take content
teams to the physical location where the signs will be placed so they can view the content in the
environment where it will be displayed, which will look quite different from its appearance on a
computer screen, he advised.
Budgets can be another pitfall. Sometimes companies will wipe out the entire signage budget
with one large screen or make the opposite mistake: buying many bargain-priced screens that soon
fail, Mezaros said.
“It’s better to have 75 quality sites than
200 sites with problems,” he explained.
NETWORK IMPACT AND REMOTE
AV staffs across the commercial spectrum also
have a critical advisory role in signage maintenance
costs, network impact, and remote
management capability, Mesaros said. In
addition, AV staff should make sure to budget
for a content management platform that
processes all types of video and data so it only
has to be formatted once.
One final warning: AV often misses the
importance of buying software that can grow
with the organization and integrate data from
other sources as needs change, he added.
A NEW VALUE PROPOSITION
Brian Kutchma, vice president of sales and
marketing at Black Box, said the best content
is interactive, visual, and entertaining. If signage
is relevant and offers information that
people want to know, it has a higher chance
of capturing mindshare. In spaces like lobbies
with high traffic areas, use simple visuals
with a key message that can be absorbed in
just seven seconds, he said. In cafeterias and
other areas where people remain for longer
periods, use video, flash or TV.
In locations in between those extremes,
like a bank lobby, the best approach is to
rotate simple but eye-catching content such
as local news and weather, a stock ticker,
smart financial tips, the bank’s top goals,
ways to save money, fun facts and entertaining
clips, he said.
Black Box walks the talk, running an effective
internal display program for $10,000 a
year, Kutchma said. The best approach is to
hire an expert to map out a plan and a strategy,
then get creative in scouting out free or
inexpensive content from the Internet, as well
as local news and weather stations or a local
art museum or chamber of commerce. Broadcasters
and other organizations often will be willing to provide
feeds and other content free, if you credit them as
the source, he added.
|Interactive technology isn’t being “sold” at Build-A-Bear, but it elevates the customer experience to a new level. Pictured above is the digital bear bathing station, featuring the Samsung SUR40.
A digital signage program doesn’t have to be
expensive, Kutchma explained. A base model, including
a screen, starts at about
$3,000, while a hosted model
is under $1,000.
Black Box makes the process
of adding content and
distributing it over the network
much easier, Kutchma
said. Black Box’s iCOMPEL
content management appliance,
which starts at $3,000,
can capture and format media
from any source, including the
Internet. Additionally, Black
Box’s networking expertise
assures that customers have
the right hardware to reach the
desired distance. Third, when
a problem occurs, Black Box
knows how to fix it, a task
that is far more daunting with
multiple vendors, Kutchma
Meszaros, however, disagrees. Although it’s easy
to get comfortable with a particular vendor, bestof-
breed hardware components are a better option
because you can keep up with the latest trends; they
may also be less expensive, he said.
“I made that mistake and put blinders on,”
Meszaros said. “Look at different
agnostic solutions and find
what suits you best.”
LA ROCHE COLLEGE
Located in Pittsburgh, PA, La
Roche College features five
digital signage screens managed
by Dave Siroki, webmaster
and coordinator of
Internet communications at
the school. Faced with the
challenge of students “tuning
out” static content, the college
is now using Black Box’s
iCOMPEL platform to integrate
dynamic social media,
resulting in more interest in
the signage and more awareness
of campus events/services.
This social media phase of the digital signage
implementation began in 2001. At that time, the
college wanted to better communicate information
via signage in its fitness center and library, and at
its welcome desk. To accomplish this, it decided
to address students in an “individual” way using
content fed from the college’s official Facebook and
Twitter pages. When a student “likes” or comments
on a post appearing on the college’s Facebook
Internet page, their name automatically appears on
a scrolling signage page (although the exact post
they have “liked” or commented on isn’t shown).
They are subsequently brought into the social media
experience—even when they’re not accessing the
pages via the Web.
Layouts promoting campus events and services are
replaced by layouts showing Facebook and the Twitter
feeds intermittently throughout the day. Students
in the process of checking a screen to see who has
a “liked” a particular post are more likely to receive
more important institution-related content.
HOSTING OPERATIONS VS. IN-HOUSE
For a really large network, say 3,000 to 4,000 signs, it’s
cheaper to run them in-house, Meszaros advised. But
for only a few hundred signs, it’s more cost-effective
to use a hosting service, he said. Even if your firm outsources
the entire operation, AV will still be involved.
Pam Derringer is a frequent contributor to AV
Technology magazine and Tech & Learning.
Nine Tips for Content Engagement
By Michael Ferrer
Here are some tips for getting the most from your video wall deployments:
1 DETERMINE YOUR DIGITAL SIGNAGE NEEDS AND GOALS—It’s important to give strong consideration
to the video wall’s purpose, size considerations, and client goals. Will the video wall be used
for branding, advertising, wayfinding, or something else? Will it be interactive?
2 CONTENT IS KING—Determining the Number of Images for Display at One Time. Talk about the
types of content to be shown before the hardware gets installed. You don’t want to be tweaking
content on-the-fly minutes before a grand opening. Also, in what resolutions and formats will the content be designed? It’s imperative to have this conversation with the content creators up-front.
3 GO NATIVE—Content needs to match the screens with native resolutions. All the hardware components
should match so you don’t have bandwidth restrictions. Some graphics cards can’t handle full
HD. Flash has limitations. You need experts involved to stretch Flash content with native resolutions,
4 CHOOSE PROFESSIONAL-GRADE PRODUCTS—Use displays that can be color calibrated to
achieve brightness and color uniformity from screen to screen. Industrial-strength monitors can
handle the most rugged of applications, while consumer-grade products sold at “big box” stores don’t
run 24x7 and can’t handle commercial demands. Go with high-end products for their reliability, inputs
and color calibration capabilities.
5 CHOOSE APPROPRIATE MOUNTING SYSTEMS/ACCESS FOR MAINTENANCE—This is very
important since labor is the most expensive part of any video wall project. Is the existing wall
structure sound? Get a structural engineer involved to make sure that it can support a video wall. For
the maintenance portion, ensure that you use pull-out mounts to service the video walls correctly and
6 KEEP IT COOL—Video walls produce a lot of heat. Proper cooling and ventilation need to be part of
the overall project and budget. Purchasing displays that offer integrated cooling fans will ensure
7 DETERMINE ELECTRICAL REQUIREMENTS—Make sure you have thought through all the necessary
components for the video wall system. If you’re deploying 15 screens, you can’t power them
off of one outlet. You need dedicated power. If you're a hotel, you don't want to turn on the microwave
in your kitchen and discover that your video wall has shut down. Discuss power conditioners and surge
protection with your systems integrator.
8 USE TRAINED PROFESSIONALS FOR YOUR VIDEO WALL INSTALLATION—Do yourself a favor
and connect with an experienced partner for the installation. That partner will help you locate
power sources and data jacks, and help you do the job correctly the first time.
9 PERFORM COLOR CALIBRATION AS PART OF SYSTEM MAINTENANCE—This will ensure a
consistently great-looking video wall for years to come. Also make sure you budget maintenance
and cleaning of your video wall to ensure functionality and a great look for the long term. If you don’t
vacuum vents, for example, the ensuing heat accumulation can destroy the monitors. Maintenance contracts
should be discussed upfront.
Keeping this checklist in mind can help you make the most of your video wall and endear you to core
audiences and bosses alike.
Michael Ferrer is national manager of solutions sales and operations for NEC Display Solutions and a
former systems integrator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GO FIGURE - Earlier this year, based on the first stand-alone
measurement of smartphone ownership, the Pew Internet
Project reported that more than one third of American adults
(35%) own smartphones, or have phones that operate on a
smartphone platform (39%). At the end of 2011, InfoTrends
confirmed that year-over-year smartphone adoption rates had
doubled. These statistics suggest that there is a huge opportunity,
both for marketers and for those who operate digital
signage networks, to leverage this ubiquitous technology.
Ten Trends to See at
The Digital Signage
1. LCD EXPANSION INTO OUTDOOR MARKETS
2. 4K DIGITAL SIGNAGE
3. ANALYTICS-DRIVEN DIGITAL SIGNAGE
4. AUGMENTED REALITY TECHNOLOGY
5. HTML5 FOR CONTENT DEVELOPMENT
6. LIVE VIDEO FEEDS
7. TABLET TECH
8. CONNECTED CONSUMER
9. INTERACTIVE DIGITAL SIGNAGE
10. AUTOMATED RETAILING/INTELLIGENT VENDING
Read more about these notable trends and register
for February’s DSE 2013 at www.DSEnow.com.
FOUR WINDS INTERACTIVE
NEC DISPLAY SOLUTIONS