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Vital Signs: Trends in Digital Signage

Digital signage has become a must-have AV application. Today, added-value technologies, such as interactive software and wireless networking, are breathing fresh life into new digital signage projects.

Adding Context to Content

What> Interactivity
Where> Bell Canada Retail Stores

When visitors to the more than 125 Bell Canada retail outlets across Ontario pick up a wireless telephone to inspect for possible purchase, a magnetic link on a sensor is broken and a signal is sent through the USB port of a nearby Windows-based PC. Omnivex digital signage software system loaded onto that machine registers the event and which product the consumer picked up.

The digital signage system, in turn, interfaces directly over Bell Canada's network with the company's point-of-service database to instantly download pricing, specs, calling plans, and other relevant information for that specific product. A message then appears almost instantly on a 15-inch, Elo touch screen LCD monitor that sits adjacent to the customer, inviting him or her to learn more about the specific phone model he or she is looking at.

At this point, the Omnivex digital signage system acts as salesperson, offering the customer a range of data via the touchscreen interface.

"Bell Canada already knows from its POS system what its customers are buying, but what they don't know is what people look at before they buy and how they're making their comparisons," says Omnivex president Jeff Collard. "The software gives them the ability to do that."

Not only are customers better able to make side-by-side comparisons in stores, the data on what they're looking at is collected and compiled on Bell Canada's network and is viewable in real time from headquarters.

According to Collard, Omnivex, which already partners with Bell Canada on the telecommunications company's own digital signage enterprise, is currently in the process of rolling the system out to all 600 Bell Canada outlets across the Great White North.

Omnivex is itself handling some of the systems integration, configurations of which vary greatly, depending on the size and location of specific outlets. Montreal-based IT integrator CGI, meanwhile, has been contracted by Bell Canada to oversee some of the installation as well.

"Everybody always says content is king but that's not really true," adds Omnivex CEO Doug Banister. "Context is king. Content must be relevant to the person looking at it."

The Content Conundrum

What> Software as a Service
Where> The Julliard School, New York

The Julliard School

The Julliard School

With many of them prone to receiving a steady flow of their own live data through mobile devices and social networks, students at colleges and universities aren't the easiest audience to reach over a digital signage network programmed with campus news and event information.

"The first time you show it, they'll look at your message," says Ryan Cahoy, vice president of Toronto-based digital signage company Rise Vision. "By the third time the system has refreshed and you're showing the same thing, their spam filters are up."

Previously, facilities like the New York-based fine-arts mecca The Julliard School might have been turned off by integrating a digital signage network, not only because of the setup costs, but also because of the expense and hassle of maintaining and programming it.

"Given the state of the economy, everybody is trying to cut cost and simplify what they have to manage themselves," Cahoy notes. "You don't have to have a dedicated IT guy manage our software. It's just a predictable subscription."

For its part, Rise Vision recast its business model several years ago to be a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider, getting in early on the now-ubiquitous trend in the digital signage industry toward vendor-managed content. In fact, even AV integrators in the space increasingly now provide content services.

"For Julliard, one of their challenges was that the original AV consultant they used recommended a software product that was too complex and expensive for their day-to-day needs," Cahoy explains. "After trying to learn the other system, they shifted their focus to finding an easy-to-use system that could provide attractive content.

Paying Rise Vision a $1,200 consulting fee for systems design, campus IT administrators self-installed two 57-inch Samsung 570Dx LCD displays, mounting one right on top of the other in the lobby area of the school's main campus at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Both are powered by a single Now Micro AOpen DE 965 media player, equipped with two VGA outputs that let it program and control both displays as one large unit via standard RGBHV cables.

The media player, in turn, blends its digital signage content from two networked sources. The first is the Rise Display Network, a subscription, Web-based service (Julliard pays $800 a year) that includes wire-service-fed news, weather, entertainment, and sports information–24/7 eye candy, if you will, to keep people engaged with the signage.

Campus administrators, meanwhile, have their own password-protected, Web-based interface running on their own network for inputting local information and announcements. This content is blended on the media player with Rise Vision's 24-hour news feed and presented on the displays in custom-designed templates.

"An added bonus to the system was the ability to send emergency alerts from a Web browser or from a mobile browser on a cell phone in the event of a crisis," Cahoy notes.

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