Digital Signage Expo in Review

The Digital Signage Expo 2009 was described as “successful” by several retailers in attendance, according to event organizers. The conference and trade show at the Las Vegas convention center, which ran in February drew just over 3,000 attendees, down from last year’s 3,500, and 188 exhibitors, a record number. The trade show floor was 19 percent larger than 2008, with over 58,000 square feet of exhibitions.  I’ve attended this show for years and could not see all of the expo booths in the short time I was there.  But what I did see was great, so I’ll share with you some of my favorite items from the show. I was posting a lot of what I saw on Twitter that day and by the end my feet were sore and my eyes were bleeding from all of the signage.

We did not exhibit at this show due to time and budget constraints, but we will be exhibiting and speaking at the upcoming KioskCom.com  Self Service Expo May 6-7th, 2009, also in Las Vegas.  KioskCom has a broader audience of both kiosks and digital signage as many deployments utilize both technologies.  There is a lot of crossover in the two technologies, which is why agencies such as ours attend, since we offer solutions in both segments.  By the way,  I wish the show management would pick some others venues from time to time.  Seems like I’m always in Vegas and that town can wear you down.  But I digress.

Digital Signage Association MeetingThe DSE show was much larger than the DSE east show in Philadelphia back in October 2008.  That event was very small and didn’t have much traffic.  Disappointing to everyone.  But the Vegas show always seems to be huge.  I went to Vegas early to attend the Digital Signage Association’s bi-annual advisory board meeting, of which I’ve been a member since the beginning.  We had some new board members from Target and Six Flags Inc..  who added to the lively discussions on how to improve the mission and structure of the organization.   It was good to see many of my peers in the industry and I was fortunate enough to share some drinks after with several of them.

Now for the review of the products and services I enjoyed at the show:
It was interesting to see the number of 3D screens from makers such as LG, Samsung, Phillips and others.  Everyone was trying to impress with this new variation of the medium.  Photos don’t do it justice but the effect can be really interesting.  Most people I spoke to think it is a bit of a fad or gimmick and are unhappy with the shallow viewing radius.  You also must be many feet away from the screen to get the effect and not make the eyes strain.  So this is not to be hung too close to the audience.   Another consideration is that the content must be rendered in 3D using tools such as Maya or 3D studio max.  It is often more costly and time consuming to produce content in 3D.   With that said, I think the early adopters will get a lot of buzz around their use of it, if done well.  And for many brands, this point of difference is worth the investment.   We hope some of our customers will consider the use of 3D when appropriate.

Premier Mount with player shownWe met with and really like the Premier Mounts folks.  Their products incorporate a oval tubular design that gives their stands, wall mounts and ceiling mounts a upscale look.  Their easy to swivel mounts make switching between portrait and landscape modes very easy.  Check them out online at www.Mounts.com .  These guys can fabricate just about any metal mounting need you may have.

The good folks at Tightrope had a very yellow booth and were showcasing their content management tools.  We’ve never used their products but I enjoy their Twitter posts about the industry.  As I was driving to Vegas from California I was keeping up with them and several other DSE attendees. At these events there are literally dozens of management products.  Most very good, each with their own unique spin.  We are VARS for several as some are better for certain campaigns then others.  We saw our partners Scala at the show, as well as Stinova, Wirespring and Web DT.  Stinova was showing off their web based management tools which we like very much for the middle market.  This German based firm is now making headway in the USA with VARs such as Electronic Art.   Web DT have really good thin client players that we resell and they’ve made some good improvements to their software.  They also have a nice app we can offer our clients that you’ve probably seen which allows for triggers to play content.  For example if you pick up a cell phone in a wireless store, it triggers the tool to play content on screen about that particular phone device.   By utilizing this tool, we can deploy this solution much faster than building from scratch and can focus more on the content being provided.  We are excited about offering this tool and will have more details to share soon.

The guys at SpaceNet provide satellite networks for digital signage and kiosks.  They provide the network for Shell Gas & C-stores for the video content at the pump.  This solution broadcasts a variety of media (news, ads, TV shows) via multicast enabling both local and national media/ads with day parting.  Integrating this solution could also provide a retailer with a backup network should a store network ever go down.  Great idea and cool technology!

Another product which we use here at Electronic Art that was seen at DSE is LogMeIn.  This remote management tool goes way beyond remote desktop or VNC.  It provides a unique web based remoting tool that enables providers such as ourselves to help maintain remote systems, do file transfers, remote printing and even mini-meetings like WebEX.  The new product from them that I like is the LogMeIn Embedded product.  It supports the Windows XP Embedded OS found on many kiosks and digital signage players, and enables a one-to-many centralized management interface that can allow us to work in the background while users are still interacting with Kiosks or signage.  All with an 256-bit SSL encryption.  This tool is awesome.

GestureTek was back this year showing off their multi-touch table hardware.  This is similar to Microsoft Surface and their product along with many others are starting to show up in retail and hospitality.  While I liked the hardware and overall concept, the WW2 Tank game they showcased didn’t respond very well.  I was disappointed in the multi-user game that wouldn’t allow me to change direction of the tank.  Not sure why, but I’m sure it was due to being in a trade show environment.  Things go wrong.   But GestureTek has been around for a long time. I first saw them at a kiosk show in Orlando back in 2004 where they showed off the AirPoint system.  It’s good to see they are still in the marketplace and innovating.

Tek Panel touch LCDAt Electronic Art we offer a lot of commercial LCD screen options, and each were present at the show such as LG, Samsung, Phillips, and more.  But a unique screen provider that we really like is Tek Panel.  They have military grade screens with built in player PC’s and are available with touch screens.  We are big proponents of interactive digital signage to allow your customers to touch your digital signage and be ultimately measurable.  Their new thin bezel hardware enables us to give you an all-in-one signage solution much like our IBM AnyPlace kiosks are an all-in-one kiosk system.  Too often with other screens we have to have a touch overlay put onto a client’s screen, but this system is ready to go out of the box and makes for a really clean installation.  Contact us for pricing.

Outdoor digital signageWe also saw our new large format outdoor signage hardware at the show.  Symbicon is based in Finland and makes a really nice system with built-in HVAC to keep the enclosure warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  It is water tight with built in PC and great for retail, ski resorts and more.  This sign is impressive and built to take the brutal outdoor environment that most signs just cannot live in.  Contact our sales staff for an introduction and pricing.

A much smaller screen that we liked is the AdView DM10i Smart Sign.  This retail onshelf player allows for a low cost and easy to deploy video player.  We really like the 10.4″ LCD display and multi-level drill down menus to select up to 80 different video files. It supports Mpeg, Jpeg and MP3 file formats and has a replaceable custom frame.  It even records which keys were pressed most and can export to a USB format in Excel format for a simple reporting interface.  Let us know if you’d like a demo of this really nice retail shelf talk solution.

One of my favorite items was the projection touch signage from Brain.  This film enables us to project either traditional passive content onto a glass storefront window, or provide an interactive touch film to the window to allow guests to search through interactive catalogs after hours, view specials and coupons, or play a branded game.  All through the exterior of the glass, though the film is applied to the inside of the glass.   They were showing that even with a low cost project ($600) you can get a good quality projection onto their product.  Even better with a higher quality projector, obviously, but the projectors they used were great. This is also a way to enable a multi-touch screen as described above for GestureTek.  But this enables us to fabricate a custom enclosure or simply use your existing window and contour cut the film to any shape you like.  In many ways it is better than a plasma screen! It is available in up to a 145″ diagonal size, as a wide viewing angle and is even good in high ambient light environments.  We were so impressed that we are setting up a reseller relationship to begin to offer this product to your company.

touch windows

I enjoyed catching up with some old friends so I’ll give a shout out to Ed Crowley formerly of 5Point now with OneSource, Dick Trask formerly of Scala now with StarMount,  Linda Hofflander of Wireless Ronin, Tom Nix of Dynamax, Mike Honkomp formerly with ESP now with DigiKomp, Bill Gerba & Michael Smith at Wirespring,  Jimmy Dun of DynaSign, Bob Fincher and all of the guys at Networld Alliance, and Margo Meyers formerly with the USPS and now consulting in our industry. She is a great resource and has been on the user side of interactive for years.  I enjoyed my time with each of you, even those of you who are my competitors.   It’s good to see a class act like you helping to grow our industry.

EA Launches New Social Network Sweepstakes Service

We wanted to let you know that Electronic Art has launched a first of its kind social networking sweepstakes service named Twit2Win.  The service allows brands to target the growing audience on social networks with sweepstakes to promote their brand and grow their presence with the social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr and many other platforms.  A new sweepstakes is started weekly to provide a continual reason for the loyal followers to return to the site and enter the branded sweepstakes and win free prizes.  It is an opportunity to expose your brand by allowing the entrants to share the sweepstakes within their own social circle of friends.  This can grow exponentially!

Although sharing by the consumer is totally up to them, this is not something you can expect to “control”.  If your sweeps prize or your brand message is interesting, they will share it.  Some marketers have a hard time with giving up control, but with social media, that is exactly what you have to do.

Wrangling up cool tweetstakes prizes

So, how might your company use this service? Some brands have a global reach and their products or services are universal. Giving away one or several of your products is a great way to promote your brand and also gain lead generation from the entrants to the sweepstakes.  Other companies may not have a product to give away such as a non-profit or charity, but they can still participate by providing highly sought after consumer goods such as Ipods, HDTV’s, vacations or other similar items.  For a small fee, Twit2Win brands the main web site for the duration of the sweepstakes with the sponsor’s logos and imagery and provides many link back services to the sponsor’s web sites or presence on Twitter, Facebook, etc..  We can help your brand grow its social media presence or simply help provide the lead generation services you desire. There are many other services available and the innovative team at Electronic Art can consult with your team to craft a targeted campaign. If your brand or agency would like to participate, contact us for details.  We are making it really low cost initially to show you how great this can be for your brand.

In the short time since our launch in mid January 2009 we have really grown our following of people who read the micro-blog postings each day.  The prizes have included ipods, Obama Hope posters during the inauguration week, and a family membership to a museum.  That museum saw a 45% increase in the people who now follow their blog postings during that sweepstakes.  Interestingly, it also grew dramatically in the weeks following the sweepstakes as people continued to share. They now have a larger audience of people reading their blogs and visiting their web site daily.

Twit2Win continues to grow and offer additional services across more platforms.  Twit2Win advertises and draws traffic from Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other grass roots marketing methods.  Our blogging professionals promote the sweepstakes on Twitter and multiple other social networking sites such as Facebook, Friend Finder and other sites to drive traffic and generate sweepstakes entries. The growth in a short amount of time shows the popularity of the sweepstakes in this unique channel. We expect our growth to be huge in 2009 as each of these platforms continue to add new users.

Things people are saying

On Twitter, people send “Tweets” or posts to their personal network about things they are thinking about or that they find interesting.  Here are a few posts about the Twit2Win service on Twitter:

joeyTWOwheels@twit2win should be recognized as a good way to build followers.1:11 PM Jan 31st from web

anexemines@kmesiab , ppl getting clever w/ twitter sweepstake ideas: http://twit2win.com/9:44 PM Jan 28th from TweetDeck

twitter-logo150x42So follow us on Twitter at:  http://twitter.com/Twit2Win and watch for our tweets on cool Tweetstakes from great brands that “get” social media.  Reward your customers, authenticate your brand and gain new socially aware advocates!

Links to articles on Twitter and Social Media

New to Twitter and social media, here are some articles to help.

Scala announces Version update to InfoChannel

Scala, provider of end-to-end solutions for the advertising management and digital signage markets, announced that it has released Release version 4 of its Scala5 connected signage software to its customers known as InfoChannel.

Scala’s Research and Development team has expanded since the last release with new resources in the U.S. and in India. The R&D team has also adopted a stronger development methodology for product releases. The growth of the team and the new methodology allowed Scala to announce Release 4 on time and with more features than originally anticipated.

The highlights of Release 4 are:

  • Web Services for Content Manager: allow third-party applications to interface with the Scala Content Manager functionality
  • Ad Manager Tie-In to Content Manager via Web Services: the first phase of integration of Scala Ad Manager with Scala Content Manager
  • Playback Audit EX Module: the new module generates proof-of-play reports showing what media played where, when and how often
  • Media Playback Controls: including “playlist shuffle,” “play N times” from a playlist and “play fullscreen”
  • Time Triggers: added to trigger a playlist at specific times or regular intervals.
  • Scala Designer more Photoshop friendly: Ars Media Photoshop Plug-in has been added to convert Photoshop layered elements to ScalaScript
  • Adobe Flash support has been greatly enhanced to provide smoother, faster, high-quality playback including interactive support, alpha channel and “FlashVars”

Electronic Art will be providing upgrade assistance to our Scala clients and performing the upgrade for those of our customers that we directly provide the service.  This upgrade will bring your systems up to the latest versions.

Looking for digital signage solutions, Scala is a great enterprise wide system for large networks or systems that need to integrate with a lot of proprietary 3rd party data.   Other tools are also available for smaller networks or single screens.  Contact us to find out more information.

Is it a kiosk … or is it digital signage?

Is that interactive display a kiosk or is it a digital sign? The line separating the two is getting thinner, and it helps to create different definitions for each. Tim Burke, owner of Electronic Art, takes a stab at telling the two apart. Check out the article at: SelfService.org which describes several perspectives on the topic.

Tactile Keyboard versus Onscreen Keyboard

The debate continues, should I use an onscreen keyboard and save myself some hardware costs and have fewer things that can go wrong with my kiosk or interactive digital signage? The answer is: “Sometimes”.
I’ve covered this topic in the past on my Kiosk Blog   and now you can watch a video interview of me discussing the topic at the KioskCom NYC 2008 trade show by going to http://www.selfservice.org where I am featured on the homepage, or the direct link to the article is at: http://www.selfservice.org/article_4457_25.php

Have a comment on this topic? Post it below or at SelfService.org’s site.

New Twitter Alert Service

Found a new Twitter alert tool that monitors Twitter posts for keywords you are interested in.  So for example, I may want to see twitter posts about Kiosks, Digital Signage, or our company name, our client’s names or brands, etc.   What a great little tool for monitoring buzz and those little blog posts we call Tweets.  Nice tool guys!  http://www.twilert.com/    Follow their founder at:  http://twitter.com/danleach   seems like a good guy.

New to Twitter?  Think of it as a very short blog posting tool.  You can post to it via the web, phone, email, sms, etc.   It’s a fun way to keep up with your friends, co-workers, family, etc. and see what’s going on in their lives.  For example, I follow Lance Armstrong which is fun, and Guy Kawasaki(who posts a lot!!) as well as many other people that I actually know personally.  Sometimes the posts are about business, sometimes about what they are currently doing, or thinking, or noticing in the world around them.  Some posts are pure silliness, but often there is much to learn or think about.  This social networking tool can also broadcast your posts to your blog, Facebook, and many other social networking sites.  I have a BlackBerry app that allows me to post on the fly.  And www.TwitPic.comallows you to post pics that you want to Twitter about.  By the way, when you post a message to Twitter, that is what is known as a “Tweet”.   Some people Tweet way too much, and others only Tweet when they have something important to say.  You choose who you want to “Follow” and can block those you don’t want to see your posts.   We are even considering using a private Twitter account as an Internal communications tool inside of Electronic Art, as an alternative to email to keep our inboxes cleaner.

Do you Tweet?  If so, comment with your Twitter page and let us know how to find you!

Green Bio-Friendly Kiosks

The good folks at SelfService.org have published a “perspective” I wrote on Green Kiosks.  This was originally an entry in my Kiosk Blog.  After writing that, I received a few solicitations on companies making so called green products.  They didn’t seem so green to me.  I’m still looking for a good material and method for building a green kiosk.   I got a mistaken request to link to someone in LInkedIN, and while I didn’t know the person, his company was interesting:  Sb Bioplastics.  Bio-Plastics… now that is an interesting concept.  Resins made from plant material, etc.,  would definitely be a start in the right direction.   I would need to research what aspects of it might not be so green (manufacturing process, recycling process, degradability, etc.)  but it sound promising.

I also recently answered a question on LinkedIn that asked about Digital signage and the industry’s need to respond to the fact that some dangerous gasses are used in creating LCD / Plasma screens.  The question was:  “In July, a scientist at Cal-Irvine released an article saying that NF3, a gas used in LCD and plasma screen production, is 17,000 times as powerful as carbon dioxide and may be harmful to the environment. ”    The article can be seen here.

I wrote a long response, but the web site gave me errors when posting, so I replied privately.  Perhaps I can get it posted publically somehow.  Anyway, the question is located here.   Read, respond, and consider the need to tighten processes.  LCD’s are used in digital signage as well as kiosks, so this is really a larger IT related topic. What do you think about this topic?   Comment below.