Archive for May 2007

LA Times has a look at this biz

May 31, 2007

The LA Times has had a run at the digital signage industry, talking to the usual suspects and referencing the usual stats about the expected growth of the business and so on. If you’re in this space already, there’s not much to learn.

But the piece, from the Sunday paper, is not a bad primer for someone oblivious to what consumes our working days.

The bit I found interesting was at the very end:

Troy Davenbaugh, 42, of West Los Angeles is one of the elusive consumers trying to hide from advertisers. He doesn’t own a TV. When he does watch a show on his roommate’s set, he can skip through ads with TiVo.

The digital screens that popped up in his local Albertson’s ticked him off.

“They’re more annoying than anything,” he said. “When I come here, I come here to shop. I’m turned off by anything being constantly blasted at me – it just becomes too much.”

For some, it’s less than that.

As Jeffrey Weiner browsed through Albertson’s, he was asked what he thought about the food ads blinking on the screen suspended above the produce section.

His response: “What screen?”

As much as we like to believe there’s a moths-to-a-porch-light thing that happens when a big LCD screen turns on in a store, there’s an awful lot of people won’t even notice the screens unless they’re regulars. And unless what they see grabs them and gives them real value, in some form.


Next mixer: June 7th

May 31, 2007

Ok, we have a date.

No venue. No host. But we have a date. And rough time — somewhere in central Toronto.

Ideas welcomed, as well as someone with a credit card to buy nibblies.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall

May 30, 2007

Anybody who has been a booth monkey at a trade show knows how crazy set-up and tear-down can be, and how the exhibition company guys mandated to help you range from phenomenal to hopeless.

Put yourself in the place of the person who organized the Panasonic booth for the recent CeBit show in Sydney, Australia. He or she had to walk back into the office after the show and mention, umm, that well the, umm, 103-inch plasma, fell off the forklift during tear-down and is, umm, no more.

The suggested retail price on this puppy was $100,000 AU dollars. Panasonic has confirmed the mishap and also stressed they were insured.

As another blogger noted, the forklift operator may be reading the want-ads these days. However, from what I have seen, it more likely meant the guy watched the thing fall, muttered “Ooops”, looked at his watch, and yelled, “Coffee break!!!”

Microsoft’s new Surface gadget should make kiosk-types jumpy

May 30, 2007

Microsoft just unveiled a new product that is a jumped-up touch-screen computer married to a coffee table.

It costs $10,000 … now … but that should drop big-time if the demand is there, particularly since the guts of the thing probably cost a fifth of that.

This thing is interesting for one key reason: it has Microsoft’s marketing muscle and partnership programs behind it.

There are are other companies like Perceptive Pixel with very slick touch interfaces, and can probably run the things on far less pricey and wobbly operating systems than Vista. But none can announce a product and immediately start dropping the things into Sheraton Hotel lobbies and T-Mobile stores to generate noise and the beginnings of a user base.

So what is it?

Says Microsoft:

How does Surface work?
At a high level, Surface uses cameras to sense objects, hand gestures and touch. This user input is then processed and the result is displayed on the surface using rear projection.

What is surface computing?
Surface computing is a new way of working with computers that moves beyond the traditional mouse-and-keyboard experience. It is a natural user interface that allows people to interact with digital content the same way they have interacted with everyday items such as photos, paintbrushes and music their entire life: with their hands, with gestures and by putting real-world objects on the surface. Surface computing opens up a whole new category of products for users to interact with.

What are the key attributes of surface computing?
Surface computing has four key attributes:
• Direct interaction. Users can actually “grab” digital information with their hands and interact with content by touch and gesture, without the use of a mouse or keyboard.
• Multi-touch contact. Surface computing recognizes many points of contact simultaneously, not just from one finger, as with a typical touch screen, but up to dozens and dozens of items at once.
• Multi-user experience. The horizontal form factor makes it easy for several people to gather around surface computers together, providing a collaborative, face-to-face computing experience.
• Object recognition. Users can place physical objects on the surface to trigger different types of digital responses, including the transfer of digital content.

This thing is supposed to aimed primarily at consumers and their homes, the idea being this would take the place of a regular coffee table and be, in effect, the main information PC around a home. I have my doubts about that as even teenagers are going to get a sore back leaning over and fiddling with this thing.

Where I see much more application is in retail and public areas, used in the way more conventional touchscreens are used right now. Hold a product up to the screen and, assuming it has an RFID chip or something, it pops an information piece about that product.

In one app, you can plop your cell phone on the screen and the gadget will suck out and display all the images taken by your phone cam (which may not be  good thing).

There is a paintbrush/paint can app that allows you to paint, and you could image how that could be applied to color selections for any number of products.

Microsoft has a video that shows a great application for a bar or lounge, in which plopping a drink on the table generates a related ad. The table also has an interface with the menu for bar and restaurant, meaning you could do things like pre-order your meal and then pay the bill by dropping the credit card down on the table and dragging over the icons of what you ate and drank.

Some guy named Gates was on The Today Show this morning showing it off and Gizmodo has the video.

A lot of possibilities if the costs can be driven down.

In short, companies that make kiosk gear may be loving this, IF they will be able to license the software.

Companies that write kiosk software will not, I suspect, be too thrilled. A lot of them just slipped well behind the curve. 

User-generated ads = crap

May 29, 2007

I have never quite understood the fuss about user-generated ads and content being a substantial piece of the puzzle for digital signage or media in general.

A New York Times piece from the weekend, called the High Price of Creating Free Ads, backed up my general suspicion that the vast majority of the work done by the Great Unwashed of our nations will look like crap.

Consumer brand companies have been busy introducing campaigns like Heinz’s that rely on user-generated content, an approach that combines the populist appeal of reality television with the old-fashioned gimmick of a sweepstakes to select a new advertising jingle. Pepsi, Jeep, Dove and Sprint have all staged promotions of this sort, as has Doritos, which proudly publicized in February that the consumers who made one of its Super Bowl ad did so on a $12 budget.

But these companies have found that inviting consumers to create their advertising is often more stressful, costly and time-consuming than just rolling up their sleeves and doing the work themselves. Many entries are mediocre, if not downright bad, and sifting through them requires full-time attention. And even the most well-known brands often spend millions of dollars upfront to get the word out to consumers.

Some people, meanwhile, have been using the contests as an opportunity to scrawl digital graffiti on the sponsor and its brand. Rejected Heinz submissions have been showing up on YouTube anyway, and visitors to Heinz’s page on the site have written that the ketchup maker is clearly looking for “cheap labor” and that Heinz is “lazy” to ask consumers to do its marketing work.

“That’s kind of a popular misnomer that, somehow, it’s cheaper to do this,” said David Ciesinski, vice president for Heinz Ketchup. “On the contrary, it’s at least as expensive, if not more.”

Heinz has hired an outside promotions firm to watch all the videos and forward questionable ones to Heinz employees in its Pittsburgh headquarters. So far, they have rejected more than 370 submissions (at least 320 remain posted on YouTube). The gross-out factor is not among their screening criteria – rather, most of the failed entries were longer than the 30-second time limit, entirely irrelevant to the contest or included songs protected by copyright. Some of the videos displayed brands other than Heinz (a big no-no) or were rejected because “they wouldn’t be appropriate to show mom,” Mr. Ciesinski said.

Heinz hopes to show more than five of them, if there are enough that convey a positive, appealing message about Heinz ketchup, he said. But advertising executives who have seen some of the entries say that Heinz may be hard pressed to find any that it is proud to run on television in September.

“These are just so bad,” said Linda Kaplan Thaler, chief executive of the Kaplan Thaler Group, an advertising agency in New York that is not involved with Heinz’s contest.

I read recently about how KFC’s agency put together a piece with user-generated content, but what they’d actually done was sort through endless hours of stuff that has been posted online and and then stitched together a rapid-cut piece that got the desired message across during American Idol. So all they did was use YouTube as their content library and then sought approval from the “talent”. Arguably, there was a cost-saving on production and on the pay they didn’t hand over  to actors and production crews.

There will be the day when somebody submitting to these contests (who isn’t an agency or film school grad in disguise), serves up a little bit of brilliance. But there will be mountains of crap piled up before that moment.

New mini-PC teeny enough to slap behind screen

May 29, 2007

I have seen a few semi-excited posts in different places today about a new mini-PC by a UK company that is designed to be sandwiched in between a display mount and the VESA mounting holes on the back of a flat panel.

Before you get all twitchy about this new Trident gadget, some things to note:

1 – I saw a little start-up in Toronto do this five years ago, so it’s less than groundbreaking

2 – they’re using a Via chipset for the CPU, so the thing will boast of Lexus coupe performance and run more like a Toyota Yaris, except not as reliable as either

3 – Parking the media player into the core display mount set-up means if the unit has to be serviced, the display is coming down, too. No big deal for a 15 inch LCD, but much bigger issue as the display gets larger. There are also integrated units out there now that but a faster PC platform INSIDE the LCD enclosure.

A couple of positive notes: Fanless is good. And with no vents the crap that’s floating in the air and spilling out of things has little chance of messing these things up.

No idea on price.

Missing kids = money?

May 25, 2007

Like most people, I tend to get a little squirrelly when I read about media networks that wrap an advertising or screen deployment around missing kids.

There was one a few months ago that was hooking into the Amber Alert system, seemingly as a “how could you refuse?” way to get ad screens installed in c-stores.

Now along comes the Child Watch Network.

Evans Systems, Inc. announces that it has signed a joint venture agreement with Child Watch of North America for a new program, the Child Watch Network (CWN). The companies will be working together to assist in the safe return of missing and exploited children through digital signage systems currently used in restaurants and sports venues.

The Child Watch Network (CWN) will be provided through “Point of Sale” systems in various commercial areas nationwide. Businesses interested in carrying the Child Watch Network include gas stations, restaurants, retail locations and more. Child Watch of North America has sponsors that provide funding and support on a national level, such as Shell Oil, Epson and Continental Airlines. Since 1993, Child Watch has worked with national sponsors like Texaco, Pizza Hut, AT&T, KB Toys, and Toys R Us to help in their many different endeavors. Between 2002 and 2003, Child Watch distributed over one million free Home ID Kits through Shell and Toys R Us locations alone.

The CWN will use a collection of advertising spaces to fund the program. For advertisers, CWN provides the ability to target markets that are difficult to reach for on-the-go consumers. CWN offers an interactive and captive experience since the consumers are viewing missing children for longer periods of time while viewing a wide variety of other different advertising. Unlike traditional advertising mediums, which can be costly and may never reach the target audience, CWN provides the opportunity to affordably advertise within the confines of neighborhood establishments where potential customers enjoy their leisure time. CWN enhances a businesses’ image and reaches hundreds of people who may help in search and rescue type scenarios. The network is expected to go live next month. 

The last paragraph is what gets me jumpy. Yes, any distribution of images and information for a missing kids program is, without argument, a good thing. But this is being positioned as an advertising play, and a little research on Evans reveals this is a company that was in the petroleum marketing business and doing very poorly, so much so it had ceased operations, according to recent SEC filings.

There are scores of networks out there with screens in the right sorts of locations that always have unsold ad slots, most of whom would happily run spots for non-profits like ChildWatch. Using a heart-tugging program to resuscitate a dying company through ad sales doesn’t feel right, and with no other business happening for these guys, what else could be going on here?