A Delicate Balance

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Tightrope Media Co-Founder Andrew Starks Knows Where the Signage Market is Heading

Quick Bio

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NAME: Andrew Starks
COMPANY: Tightrope Media Systems
TITLE: CMO/Co-Founder
BACKGROUND: Founded Tightrope in 1997 with business partner JJ Parker.

SCN: What is your position, and what does it entail? What are your responsibilities?

Andrew Starks: I’m the co-founder of Tightrope Media Systems. I am responsible for driving our product roadmap and product development, which also means listening to what our customers would like to see and watching how the market is growing and changing.

SCN: How long have you been at this position?

AS: I started Tightrope Media Systems with my business partner, JJ Parker, in 1997. We have seen the company grow as the pro AV market, and in particular digital signage, has come into its own in recent years.

SCN: What are the important changes to your company that have happened within the pro AV market during that time?

AS: Historically these were specialized products that could only be operated by those people with specific skill sets. Today much of this technology has been commoditized and as such is much more prevalent, making the whole solution selling approach even more important in the mix.

SCN: What are your short- and longterm goals?

AS: Digital signage has to be a part of a larger communications solution; the more areas of the customer’s business that we can touch with our signage technology, the more essential it becomes.

In the long term, I would like to see our product’s core technology accessible from any application that we provide, so that any customer in any context can access our tools directly, even as they are being used by other people with different needs and workflows.

SCN: What is the greatest challenge that you face?

AS: I think our greatest challenge is not the technology but more the sales channels that will drive the opportunities. The professional audiovisual market is in flux as it transitions to what has been identified as “IT-based solutions.” The prototypical reseller demographic is changing for our company and navigating that change will be important.

SCN: Where do you see your market heading?

AS: I see large IT service providers moving into the pro AV space at an accelerating pace. I also see digital signage software consolidating and the value moving towards integration within the customer application.

Furthermore, I believe that digital signage as an industry will fade as people embrace it as a form of broadcast. It is distinguished by having a different content workflow, requirements for the channel’s video quality, precision, and cost. However, as the similarities are recognized, and as traditional broadcasters turn toward the technology in order to augment revenue, these lines will become very blurred.

I don’t believe that I am the first to think of this. It is nonetheless relevant, as I do see that it will become harder and harder to sell specialized hardware and that a great deal of our industry will be using off-the-shelf consumer products in applications where expensive alternatives were once required. We live in the MP3/mobile device age where customers are exploring options that seamlessly integrate with anything and everything that they come across.

SCN: Are there new initiatives we are likely to see from Tightrope?

AS: From a product perspective, yes. We are always driving new developments in our technology to meet the needs of our customers and the market as a whole. We are continually working to find new signage applications for our technology and fully recognize the role that signage plays in unified communications.

More broadly speaking, we believe that our customers really do need help with content. Right now, people understand this to mean “content management.” For us, this has to include the various workflows that touch content, some of which include ingest, creation, presentation, and archiving.

This is something that we are passionate about at Tightrope and we believe it will be an important topic of discussion for the foreseeable future. This will be the defining characteristic of something that represents a new content technology industry, much like generic information management is handled by the IT industry.

SCN: How can systems contractors better position themselves to profit from products and/or services Tightrope has to offer?

AS: In short, become essential to the customer by helping them to develop their vision—and make it a reality. Contractors have to look past the bid specification or product information request. Instead, they have to keep asking “why” until they can truly understand what is behind the request and who the stakeholders are.

This observation is easy to dismiss as something that is very basic. But we see it constantly ignored, perhaps because we think that we are focusing on the customer’s needs, when in fact we are focusing on their request.

There are many examples where a contractor has asked us if we were able to do something, such as posting a Word document directly to our signage, which seemed like a problem to us. After repeatedly asking “why” questions, we always come to a fuller understanding of the true need that is behind the request. With this understanding, a better solution is always achievable and the reward is a feeling that our contractors and Tightrope are essential to the customer’s mission.

Chuck Ansbacher is the managing editor of SCN.

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