Archive for December 2006

Here’s to the tipping point year

December 22, 2006

Well, a lot of us thought 2006 was going to be the year when things really started to take off, and there were certainly signs the sector was heating up in a big way. But I wonder how many companies met sales targets.

There’s every reason to believe 2007 is the year when it all really starts to happen.

My predictions:

1. Several major retailers and banks stop putzing around and go from pilots to rollouts. Hooray.

2. Yet more start-ups will get in the game with the latest, greatest revolutionary piece of software … even though little will actually blow anyone’s socks off.

3. Many existing players will look at the crowded field and go back to their company roots.

4. There will be a lot of consolidation and a few more notable acquisitions by players nibbling on the edges of this thing. You have to wonder, for example, why Dell hasn’t formally waded in yet, given their leasing capabilities.

5. Companies like SeeSaw Networks, or new ones, will start to roll-up diverse media networks and represent the aggregate to the agencies … probably with limited success.

6. More and more ad revenue-based networks will streamline their offers and simplify cluttered screens – so people notice the ads, not the news – or go out of business.

7. Display prices will continue to drop, though probably not as precipitously as during the past year. There is some suggestion that things are flattening out.

8. New network operators will finally get their heads around thinking through the content strategy first, and THEN worry  about the gear.

9. Packaged software prices and service fees will be under a lot of pressure because of the sheer numbers of competitors. Anyone charging premium rates next year will have taken advanced tap dancing lessons. One company is now offering free software in hopes of drumming up content production work. Expect more to follow, like display and PC manufacturers looking to move boxes.

10. No one will yet settle on a name for this industry, though the search terms records on this blog are overwhelmingly for “digital signage”.

Have a great holiday, and tip a glass or two to what should be a good year ahead!


Are digital ads on golf carts a hole in one or triple-bogey of an idea?

December 16, 2006

I have had guys in to see me about putting screens on golf carts and selling ads, bundling the things with a GPS application. None of it has gone anywhere because it’s a bit outside the norm of what my company does, but also because I’ve never had much enthusiasm or hope for the concept.

I LOVE GPS systems, in cars and on golf courses. They are killer applications on a cart and can likely do a ton to speed up play and make courses more efficient. But putting ads on those screens and calling it an ad medium is another matter.

That isn’t stopping activity, though. There was a piece in Media in Canada describing a Vancouver company that has putting these gadgets out there and has now hooked up with a couple of Toronto companies in an effort to drive sales.

Developed by Vancouver-based GPS Industries, the Inforemer-HD mobile screens give golfers tools like graphical layouts of each hole, automated score-keeping, and even the ability to order a snack or drink. Ads are typically sold as full pages, banners or side panels.

GPS director of marketing and communications Steven Barrett says the company has been selling the Inforemer-HD systems worldwide for about three years now. Primarily local advertising was sold by golf courses as a means to recover the cost of the systems. “Up until last quarter, we had been working on an ad hoc basis with golf courses,” says Barrett. “If they requested assistance with media sales, then we would provide it.” This year, GPS handed advertising administration rights to Toronto-based GolfSmart Media, which inked the deal with Abcon (also of Toronto) last week.

GolfSmart Media executive Marvyn Budd says the Inforemer-HD systems offer advertisers exposure at more than 20 locations in Canada (several locations include more than one course). Most of the locations are located in southern Ontario and southern BC, with fewer in Alberta and Quebec, and none so far in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Over the next six months, the focus is on expansion in regions around Toronto and Vancouver.

“We have commitments for access to 400,000 to 500,000 unique golfers at public play courses in 2007,” says Budd. “I don’t know of any other media opportunity that gives you access to that many golfers in Canada. We’re providing access to a fairly sought-after demographic in a very relaxed, captive environment.”

Why I  don’t get tingles over this comes down to a few things, the biggest being the numbers. I ran a quick Cost Per Thousand calculation on this, and with a typical course sending foursomes out every 10 minutes, 12 hours a day, for 9 months (there’s that thing called winter up here), an ad that costs, at a guess, $250 a week, would mean a CPM of something like $100-plus.

Even at $25 a week that’s still around $10, which is at the higher end for this sort of out of home stuff.

The premise that golf courses delivers a premium audience is indeed true, but there is no shortage of mediums out there delivering that same kind of audience. I was friendly with a company that put screens into big box golf stores across the country, offering the same premise, and they had a mighty, mighty struggle selling ads. They eventually bailed on the idea and focused on the more conventional side of their golf business.

The media model doesn’t matter all that much if the golf courses are paying for the units, and ad revenue is just a way of offsetting the costs. But anyone putting in these units and planning to both recover costs and get rich has the sort of challenge, to use golf terms, akin to a first-time golfer playing the 17th at TPC Sawgrass (the island hole) … at night.  

Cisco buys into the game

December 15, 2006

Networking giant Cisco has acquired a small San Francisco-area video over IP company and bought its way into the digital signage business, aiming at the major enterpris-level accounts we all covet.

The announcement today says “a definitive agreement to acquire the privately held company, Tivella, Inc. of Half Moon Bay, California. Tivella is a leading provider of digital signage software and systems.”

Digital signage is an emerging technology that has the potential to transform the customer experience and to promote richer communications. Digital signage is quickly gaining traction as companies face a variety of challenges. These include revenue and growth, building and maintaining brand identity and customer loyalty, and effectively reaching target audiences with advertising and marketing. Companies conducting deployments of digital signage solutions have clearly demonstrated higher brand awareness and sales uplift by targeting relevant information to an audience near the point of purchase.

Tivella has 10 employees and I expect most people had never heard of them, but will certainly take note now. Their attraction appears to what look like very clever little set-top boxes that draw power over ethernet cables.

Cisco has been looking at this space for more than a year, as they have IP-based video streaming and content caching and distribution systems. These systems cost a bunch of dollars, so I would expect only the largest retailers and financial institutions – that already have a big Cisco footprint – will take a look at this new, broadened signage solution.

How do you compete with free?

December 12, 2006

An Australian company is offering downloads of free digital signage management software, using lots of CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamations to drive home that this is a big deal!!!

“Enough!” we said. No more “just for the big guys”. The small guys need a break. For the first time EVER we’re making Digital Signage Software available absolutely FREE. No catches. Use your own hardware. Hell yes this is news! It’s a World First. There are huge benefits. Spread the word!”

I never really thought our business was on the precipice of revolt, waiting for somebody to rise up and stick it to the man. But there you go.

The company is called Digital Recall and the free software offer looks like a couple of things:

  1. realization that with some 250 companies already in this space, there’s little chance of making money selling the software unless it is unbelievably different and stable
  2. a loss leader tactic to drum up business on the content production side of the firm

I have not had a chance to download the software, but coming up with an app that will play a loop of media files according to a schedule is no great feat. There are Windows XP screensaver apps that pretty much do that, and they’re also free.

The user guide suggests there is at least some meat on the bones of this application, but there is an equivalent to a banner ad on some of the user screens asking, “Need adverts made?”

I’m sure there will be small companies that take this up and, in a way, that can be a good thing. We all get tied up too long on the phone with guys from muffler shops who want a plasma screen in their store.

Muffler shop chains, we want. One-offs, the local owner can get this free app and have a ball figuring it out.

Taking video out of the box

December 11, 2006

I forget how I came across this video, but wanted to share it – as it is very cool.

This is from a Puma store in Germany, and features a very large cat loafing about above the sales racks, and not confined by a screen.

The method is called FreeFormat and comes from a Danish company, though the integrator here is the UK firm MediaZest, which judging by the website is doing a lot of unconventional stuff.

As to how this is done, I don’t know for sure and the explanations I have read are quite vague, having to do with projectots and patented film. I strongly suspect green-screens, though. 

ViZoo, the company that came up with the Free Format technology, says it “…blends two universes (virtual and real space) achieving a completely different third effect…we’re borrowing the veracity of the physical world by setting our video pixels up in an actual space.” 

Oh … OK … got it. Right. 

More news on the Holy Grail of digital signage

December 6, 2006

I had yet another discussion yesterday with a client wanting a digital signage gadget that did not need to be plugged in to power up. And I had to yet again say it could be done, as long as the client was willing to invest in a battery the size of a beer fridge.

Powering screens without wires is a huge demand in this industry, and the few attempts at doing something with just batteries are pretty limiting. We’d ALL like to somehow power screens and players wirelessly, without frying anybody or thing that comes within range.

From Display Daily, we hear encouraging news, albeit using small devices:

“The vision of wireless power has a rebirth in the Toko cell phone charger application, even if it is in a relatively limited form when compared to Tesla’s idea.  The immediate benefit comes in “contact-less” charging that eliminates the need for metal terminals touching each other.  This eliminates problems such as rusting and corrosion of the contacts.   



The charger supplies 400mA (for a transmitted power far less than in Tesla’s vision), enabling a full charge in about 2 hours.  The company has shipped 5M cordless phones using such chargers and is reporting it will now move into cell phones in 2007. 


But the bigger story may be the impact of such a move.  The use of wireless power supplies in a technology as ubiquitous as cell phones could spark product designers’ interest in delivering wireless power to all sorts of mainstream consumer electronic devices.  Samsung, are you listening?


Think of the convenience:  no more plugging in at night to recharge the personal devices.  Cell phones, yes but also PMPs (personal media players), PDAs (personal digital assistants), digital cameras, and navigation devices.   The list goes on.  Just being near the power source will charge devices, and this can be anywhere:  restaurants, office buildings and hotel rooms come to mind.  Just look for the “proximity wireless charging station” logo and your devices are getting a power boost while waiting in line for that Starbucks caffeine boost.  


Our take: The Toko announcement demonstrates that wireless power for consumer electronic devices is a near-horizon technology that commands our attention.  As our devices grow more power efficient through the use of LED backlights in displays and large-scale-integration that reduces chip count and board-size requirements, CE technology has reached a tipping point in consumer-electronic power supplies.”

Catching up on news screens and old

December 1, 2006

I am in downtown Toronto a lot, but usually driving in and getting out of Dodge as soon as I can to miss rush hour. I took the train in yesterday and actually had some time to see some things for either the first time, or the first time in a while.

I saw those little screens mounted in the back of taxis. Tiny, tiny ad screens. A buddy had one in front of him for a ride home yesterday and it was stuck. Taxis are a tough environment on a whole bunch of levels.

obn.jpgI saw the screens OBN has mounted in the walkway at the new north end of Eaton Centre. They look really good. Full screen and nice protective surrounds. I wonder where Peter and Brian, who signed my paycheques a few years ago, got the idea for a series of screens in a public concourse. Hmmm …

That walkway leads to a downtown Mark’s Work Wearhouse, which has massive 62 inch plasmas in each of its major areas and behind cash. I had not seen this store yet, and it is great to see a retailer really build screens into the overall design, since precious few are doing anything yet (disclaimer: my client).

In the subway, the One Stop Network screens still look crisp and great … but BUSY. The screen design has nine content elements and the relationship with broadcaster CITY-TV, with all of its stuff on the screen, kind of overpowers ad messages. That said, they seem to have a good number of advertisers and Lord knows a lot of eyeballs passing through Toronto subway stations.

sp1.jpgI also jumped into an elevator cab at Scotia Plaza, one of the big trophy office towers, to see the screens Bell Globemedia put in a few weeks ago. They are nice and crisp and well integrated into the cab design. But they are incredibly busy.

This is a pure fee for service deal with no ads, so the focus is on content. But there are 10 content elements, which is way, way too much for the eye to take in during a ride up or down. This would be deadly if it was an ad-based model.