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Audio: All In?

Jul 11, 2011 7:27 AM, Vern Freedlander, Vice President, Production, X2O Media

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When it comes to incorporating audio into digital signage content, there is one golden rule: all or none. Periodic audio is very annoying to audiences in any venue, and can actually work against the business and creative objectives of the digital signage network. So, you either incorporate audio into all of your content, or none at all. Whether you want to fully commit to audio or not is a big decision, and how you reach this conclusion involves your vision for the overall signage experience. Are you creating ambiance with sound, or enhancing the message? Are ads dependent on it? Will your network communicate effectively without it?

In addition, there are also more practical matters to consider. One is the repetition factor. As most of us can attest to, the same piece of audio played repeatedly becomes grating quite quickly, even more so than video. With video you can always look away, but you can’t turn your ears off. Another important consideration is that you have to be very cognizant of audio levels. If it’s too loud, it’s overpowering. If it’s too quiet, the audience misses it. And maintaining the optimal audio level can be a struggle. For example, if the ambient sound in the venue goes up, the audio needs to respond accordingly. This is very difficult, if not impossible, to control manually, so it is necessary to implement technologies that gauge ambient levels and automatically adjust network audio.

Furthermore, audio levels must be consistent between different pieces of content. For example, if content transitions from a music video to a commercial, there will most likely be a volume level change. But since all content needs to be balanced to the same level, a whole new level of production is required to keep the volume and EQ consistent, and every piece of content will have to go through the process.

All of this adds up to a difficult decision. Audio can be an effective addition to many digital signage applications, but it is not a simple one. So you have to ask yourself, are you all in? For audio to be worth it, the answer has to be yes.

Vern Freedlander is vice president of production services for Montréal-based X2O Media, a full-service provider of technology, network management and content services for professional digital signage applications. With more than 20 years of broadcast television experience as a producer, director and executive, Freedlander oversees all of X2O Media’s content initiatives. He can be reached at

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