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The Long Tail: The Growing Market for Basic Digital Signage

Apr 22, 2008 12:00 PM, By John W. DeWitt

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A low-cost digital sign outside the Apollo conference room meets the simple, easy-to-use display needs of The Bently Reserve, an upscale conference center in San Francisco’s financial district.

A low-cost digital sign outside the Apollo conference room meets the simple, easy-to-use display needs of The Bently Reserve, an upscale conference center in San Francisco’s financial district.

Even as sophisticated, large-scale digital-signage networks proliferate, there is enormous growth opportunity in the underserved market for basic “digital poster” signage solutions, according to Eric Kanagy, CEO of Goshen, Ind.-based RedPost. Digital Signage Update recently talked with Kanagy about RedPost’s installation at The Bently Reserve in San Francisco and his company’s web-based model for proliferating low-cost, easily managed signage networks. The big surprise? Even high-end venues often opt for simple signage.

Digital Signage Update: Most discussions of the digital-signage industry emphasize the increasing scale, sophistication, and interactivity of networks. What is the focus of RedPost?

Kanagy: The term used a lot is “the long tail.” Most of the digital-signage industry is chasing the head of the market—casinos, high-end retailers, large retail chains. While they are higher-volume installations, there are fewer of them. The long tail—the larger part of the market—encompasses the smaller installations. That’s where RedPost is focusing. We’re selling more of less. We providing individualized solutions and we’re not targeting one specific market. Because our platform is wide open, it can fit and be customized to many markets. So we sell five to 10 signs versus hundreds of signs in a network.

The Internet allows that kind of customization on a small scale, and we’ve a product that allows it. We’re not competing with Scala and MiniComm and others—we’re going after a whole new market.

Describe the functionality you’re offering in RedPost’s digital-signage solution. How does your approach differ from the higher end of the market?

It’s all web-based software. (We’re building hardware right now, too, but that’s much more of a commodity, not a long-term focus for us). Our platform’s administrative part, called Corktop, lets you build playlists. Right now we’re not doing video. We think of our signs as bulletin boards, not TVs—and on a bulletin board, you don’t need video. Other parts of the market think of digital signage as a broadcast medium. But the local coffee shop can’t afford that level of content—they just want to put their menu up. For them, it’s more about accessibility. The independent retailers can’t pay somebody to manage their content, or have somebody working full-time to put up their screens.

Things get complicated and time-consuming once you get into video and HD formats and compression. As we design our software, we often use “the grandma test”—can our grandma use this? We stay away from technical terms and keep our nomenclature really simple and clean. Our focus is on simplified web-based systems for distributing content. Actually, simplified software design is really challenging to do—the tendency is to make it more cluttered and add more features. But we think we’ll differentiate ourselves through keeping software design simple. At Digital Signage Expo [in February], our booth was packed the whole time. People were excited about a software package that they could look at and understand in a couple of minutes.

How do RedPost customers manage their signage content on your platform?

They manage the content on their signs via a web service. You go to our website, do everything through our software, then the signs update themselves. Our signs are using the Firefox [web browser]. Anything that runs Firefox can be our sign, which means any machine running Firefox can become a sign. And because we’re using the Web, any kind of web content—eventually we’ll add YouTube-style video—can become a poster for our signs. In effect, we’re making it future-proof by using the web as our display technology.

You have to have Wi-Fi or have the signs wired [to connect to the Internet]. We have a customized Linux version that sets you up. You can create a playlist with whatever content you want, and that runs your sign. We have templates, or you can upload JPEGs, or a Powerpoint presentation or a Flash file. Google calendar can plug right into what we’re doing, and you can plug into any other kind of web service—RSS feeds, Flickr, etc.

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