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The Buzz: Install of the Month

Jul 1, 2004 12:00 PM, By Trevor Boyer


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At the new Borders in The Shops at Columbus Circle in New York, Convergent Media installed 12 Sony PVM-42V1, 42-inch plasma displays.

One of the nation's largest book and multimedia retailers has adopted digital signage as a means to increase traffic and boost sales within its stores. Borders Books currently has 13 stores with plasma screens, with plans to add digital signage to 12 more stores by year's end. Borders executives say that stores that have installed the screens show marked increases in sales.

Convergent Media Systems of Alpharetta, Georgia, has outfitted these stores with Sony plasma displays and maintains sign content and hardware. One of the newest locations is a glitzy showcase for the technology. The Time Warner Center near New York's Columbus Circle is one of the largest recent construction projects in Manhattan. Its retail component, The Shops at Columbus Circle, opened earlier this year with 350,000 square feet of retail space. Perhaps best described as a high-end urban shopping mall, it has a Borders store that sits prominently on the second floor, overlooking the shopping center's atrium and Central Park.

In this store, Convergent installed a dozen Sony PVM-42V1, 42-inch plasma screens that populate every area. The screens advertise the Borders brand, the store's café, special promotions, and specific new book, music, and DVD releases.

The cash register/wrap area and the information desk both feature three screens in portrait orientation that are synced so that their content spills across one screen to another. In the periodicals section, CNN content plays in 5- to 10-minute bursts within a 20-minute content cycle. No audio plays from any of the screens. By and large, it's the new Borders stores that are getting the plasmas.

“Retailers have been fairly conservative so far,” says Trevor Davies, vice president of engineering for Convergent. He says it's easier to design the screens into the plan for new stores rather than introduce them into existing stores that might be wary of capital expenses.

Convergent designs and builds the networks, creates ad content or repurposes Borders content, and distributes content through satellite or broadband to the final destination: the screens in the stores.

Underpinning the system is Sony's Digital Content Distribution system. This back-end enterprise software lets Convergent push content out to one or multiple Borders locations. Specific content is chosen to target viewers based on geographics, demographics, and time of day. Also, content is tailored to each section of the store. Screens in the multimedia section, for example, show a heavier concentration of clips that promote current DVD releases.

Borders sends raw material on DVD data discs to Convergent, which then ingests the material, adds metadata, and formats it. A team of graphics artists finishes the advertising assets to MPEG-2 and MPEG-4. MPEG-4 or Flash video is used as an overlay for the Sony screens.

Convergent also maintains the screens and monitors their performance at its network operations center in Atlanta. Convergent can see the status of every plasma in real time. Although Convergent cannot view a representation of what is actually on each screen, it can determine which player is associated with each screen. To distribute content to these players, Convergent is hooked up with the Borders data center over terrestrial lines. Content is then routed into the Columbus Circle Borders network through T1 lines. To other stores, Convergent distributes content using satellite-based technology.

The content is played out through Sony NSP-100 players. These are appliances rather than PCs, so there is never a blue screen showing on the Sony plasmas like when a PC's player application goes down. The NSP-100s handle MPEG-2 and MPEG-4.

The book-size NSP-100 appliances are contained in a small head-end enclosure, “bolted down and locked up” so they are safe from harm and from staff interference, says Davies. Cat-5 cable transmits video from the players to the PVM-42V1 plasmas.

Borders also minimizes the screens' uptimes. Because plasmas have a shorter screen life than LCDs, the stores shut down the displays after closing. Convergent also ensures that content stays moving enough so burn-in is not a problem.

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