Digital Signage Will Rise on NAB Radar

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There is a big part of the digital signage industry that is not

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Harris Corporation’s DNA was forged in the broadcast TV world, so it makes sense that they would be aggressively targeting the digital signage space. Harris has done that this year with a new traffic/scheduling/billing software product, called Punctuate. particularly plugged into the NAB show because a lot of digital signage interest has been generated from other camps – including the commercial AV world, retail, advertising, and other non-broadcast arenas. But 2009 will witness one of the most important NAB shows in years, regardless of what camp you came from.

From an NAB perspective, there is no more promise for growth than in digital signage, a market that was born in broadcast and holds the promise of more new screens for broadcasters than any new vertical since the dawn of the internet. Digital signage (“narrowcast” content centrally managed but pushed out to public spaces in retail, transportation, education, or corporate settings) is accelerating rapidly, even in the midst of a recession in the larger economy.

Many if not most of the digital signage content management software solutions flooding the digital signage space are really broadcast content management products repurposed for digital signage and DOOH (Digital Out of Home). Scala is a digital signage content management software company that learned a lot of lessons in the NAB world before forging into digital signage.

“Scala got its start in Broadcast over 20 years ago,” explains Scala’s Jeff Porter, vice president, Experts Group. “Our first customer was in cable TV and wanted to provide targeted news, information, and advertising to each cable TV headend on a community-by-community basis. Now fast forward 20 years, and the advent to low-cost flat panel displays. Now the same architecture can be used to target out-of-home venues as easily as cable broadcasters target “homes and cars” to a particular community. The same principals apply. It’s all about centrally managing and targeting content and advertising to a network of screens (not just broadcasting the same everywhere), and doing that easily and cost effectively to get the right message to the right people at the right time.”

But the transition is not as seamless as it might look at first glance — especially for the end-user or integrator. Because managing content for oftencobbled- together retail networks, or over corporate IT systems, for example, is not as easy as doing it in-house broadcast suites. The digital signage content management software that organizes and directs how content will play is central to providing the unique, powerful, and inherent capabilities of digital signage. But the selection of software can be complex and daunting to and end-user. There are more than 100 software providers for digital signage and, to the non-broadcast customer, software doesn’t have the kind of “specs” that allow easy A/B comparison when deciding which product to go with.

This problem is more pronounced in the digital/OOH space, where software specs are more confusing because of multiple formats across networks, different screen configurations (a mix of 3x4, 16x9, 16x10, etc.), SaaS vs. imbedded platforms, interactivity requirements, and a multitude of other variables that make moving content out to public spaces much more challenging than one-way broadcasting out to standard- format screens. Look to NAB to provide a glimpse at the next-gen software that is both rules-based – á la broadcast TV — but that is scalable up to a cross-network, cross-format level that will bring the new digital signage market up to par with its broadcast TV parent.

A good example of a successful transition is Harris. Harris Corporation’s DNA was forged in the broadcast TV world, so it makes sense that they would be aggressively targeting the digital signage space. Harris has done that this year with a new traffic/ scheduling/billing software product for the digital signage market, called Punctuate, that is a direct result of Harris’ experience in the broadcast world.

“Digital signage networks give advertisers out-of-home options to reach consumers on the move, using creative tools and delivery methods to capture the attention of their target audience,” says Harris Morris, vice president and general manager, Media and Workflow, Harris Broadcast Communications. “Our Punctuate technology lets operators easily, yet precisely schedule and manage their content, rather than repeating the same content loops across the entire network. This enables them to reach the right audience at the right time and maximize the value of their advertising and promotions.”

Punctuate is not just about managing and scheduling content — it’s also about helping to sell “media buys” in public spaces. Because it will enable sellers of in-store network spaces, for example, to more clearly define the media buy, as is done routinely in the broadcast TV world. This is much needed in digital signage: broadcast-style traffic/billing that will propel the new medium to a true media buy, not just a technology buy.

Scala’s Jeff Porter concludes with some observations on the lessons learned in broadcast, transferred to digital signage: “If every local community cable system had the budget of NBC or CNN, no problem, you want local content, we can get you that,” says Porter. “The rub is that no local broadcaster has this kind of budget. So that demands a new tool to get the job done. That’s what Scala’s software does. It is actually possible to do ‘narrowcasting on a budget.’

“Consider an example of Outcast (fka Fuelcast) or GSTV, or Office Media Network. They have thousands of screens out there, where each city or region or even location has a unique playlist. Could you possibly manage 10,000 playlists? No way. But if your players are ‘smart,’ they can play the right information based on your business rules. Typically these networks are run by three people with Scala. That’s it. Not hundreds. I call it ‘feeding the monster.’ What’s it going to take to the feed that monster? Use the right tools and it’s easy. Use the wrong tools and you won’t keep up.”

As we’ve seen from the onset of the digital signage market, software solutions born in the NAB world have made AV in public spaces so much easier than would have been possible if starting from scratch.

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