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Simplifying Local Content Control: ‘Now, Context Is King’

Feb 26, 2008 8:00 AM, By John W. DeWitt


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For years, “Content is king!” has been the mantra for the emerging digital signage industry. Once retailers and other users worked through the technical hurdles of deploying their signage network, they inevitably discover that maintaining a steady stream of fresh, relevant content is their biggest ongoing challenge. Today, as signage proliferates and deployment hurdles diminish, suppliers, implementers, and users increasingly emphasize how technology can enable content that’s not only fresh, but also relevant to the local context.

“Content is still king, but now they’re saying, ‘Context is king,’” explains signage industry veteran Brad Gleeson, Planar Systems’ vice president of business development and CoolSign general manager. “How do you put your message out to an audience in a way that shows you clearly recognize where that audience is located?”

“[The obvious solution is to] push some of that generation of content down to the local user level,” Gleeson says. “But in the past, customers had to create a separate instance of the network controller at each local location to feed information into the central flow of data—and that gives people angst.” Moreover, this “angst” can grow with the scale of signage networks. According to Gleeson, “it’s a complex issue” for a large retail chain or a nationwide bank to efficiently localize content without compromising the overall network’s content standards and security. “We’ve gone past the complexity of network architecture to the complexity of the information flow now.”

Reducing this complexity of localizing content is a key driver behind Planar’s recently announced integration of its CoolSign digital signage platform with the Google Calendar web-based calendaring service and Google Docs word-processing and spreadsheet applications. Non-technical local users can use the interface of Google Calendar and Google Docs to manage dynamic digital signage content while leveraging the security built into Google’s applications to prevent unauthorized changes. CoolSign’s Data Watcher allows these Google applications to act as the input mechanism for dynamic data fields within CoolSign creative content. Moreover, data selections by store visitors can be integrated into Google’s online calendar application to display dynamic, animated, and realtime information.

Gleeson says the integration with Google was prompted by a request from a Planar customer, a large sporting goods chain. Among other new capabilities, the Google-CoolSign solution lets the retailer provide access to an interactive message board connecting customers to local and nationwide basketball news, along with related community and store events information.

The new integration also enables content updates—whether local or networkwide—via laptop, desktop, or mobile phone. In addition to Google application data, CoolSign Data Watcher also interfaces with text files and office documents created with Microsoft Word and Excel, and it can be updated from RSS feeds and other online XML sources, in addition to Microsoft Exchange.

Gleeson emphasizes that while users need this flexibility and ease-of-use for updating relevant signage content, “You don’t want look and feel to be like Google—you want the flash graphics and animations and colors that go with the brand.” He says, “Therefore, the design is created by the creative services team, which identifies dynamic fields in the design that are linked to the appropriate data source.”

The new Google Calendar and Google Docs integration will be available with Planar CoolSign Version 4.0, which will be introduced at this week’s Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas. Other enhancements to the CoolSign 4.0 platform include:

  • A distributed architecture using CoolSign Transfer Servers that enables users to scale from running only a few players to running thousands without impact to content delivery
  • The ability to program playback of specific content based on changes in a database, file, or program
  • Frame synchronization to precisely show video content across multiple displays
  • Support for additional output capabilities, including Flash9 interactivity, multiregion configurations, dynamic content, and live data feeds
  • Role-based security that integrates with Microsoft Active Directory
  • A web interface for access to data tables and triggers

For more information, visit www.planardigitalsignage.com.



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