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Digital Signage Trends: What Defines Digital Signage in 2014?

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June 01, 2014
Digital Signage
Randy Dearborn

Initially, digital signage was defined as a video board or digital poster board used for marketing-specific spots in a prescheduled rotation, which increased the respective advertising and marketing departments’ abilities to rapidly deploy content to multiple endpoints simultaneously from a central point of control. Then as large-format mounted touch screens began to appear, way finders, interactive menus and informational boards became more commonplace in malls, hotel lobbies and entertainment zones. Today, digital signage can be utilized in many instances, from a wine menu on an iPad®, to a Twitter video wall, to a hotel room interactive user interface, and many more applications.

The following article will look at several deployments in MGM Resorts International’s current 50,000-screen infrastructure, including what’s the latest, what’s next, what works and what has been slow to take flight.

Social integration with Twitter and Instagram video walls has been a huge success in the past few years at several of the MGM Resorts properties. The initial installation was a 4x4 video wall behind the front desk at the MGM Grand Las Vegas property. The MGM Resorts team created a Twitter handle (@mgmvideowall) with the approach to keep customers engaged with property events while waiting in line to check in to their rooms. What has transpired over the past two years has exceeded all expectations; not only have guests been fully engaged while waiting in the lobby, the property now has a huge following that keeps track of events, promotions and other happenings on property. Everything posted is scrubbed for language and relevancy, along with analytical data and live voting in conjunction with happenings such as concerts, tournaments, boxing, football and other sports events. Several properties have implemented these walls along with on-site Starbucks and other partners within MGM Resorts’ portfolio.

Another recent installation is what MGM Resorts refers to as live directional screens. MGM Resorts International’s approach is to begin replacing several of its overhead static directional signs with LED displays. Through real-time analytics MGM Resorts can direct traffic to specific locations at its properties throughout the day. As an example, during early morning hours when guests are looking for coffee, cafes or conventions, why not point them in the right direction? Theaters, nightclubs and lounges are closed, so why not simplify the overhead directional? Also if ticket sales are off for a particular show, MGM Resorts can entice people to that specific showroom box office.

An additional minor benefit to replacing a traditional static sign with a digital logo is the ability to quickly adapt to new venues. This eliminates the need to hire the sign company to change the Italian Bistro to a Sushi Bar in hard-coated lettering.  This also affords the ability to show great images of that restaurant’s particular cuisine, along with its specialized logo.

This past year, digital tablets have become MGM Resorts’ largest installation and will far exceed the current installations of traditional large-format displays moving forward. Limo drivers displaying arriving guests’ names at the airport, front desk personnel showing images of suites for upsells, together with MGM Resorts’ convention sales group showing images of meeting space, are a few examples of its initial deployments. These applications were previously controlled by the business, and the customer never handled the device. This has all changed and now that the tablet is in the consumers’ hands; it not only allows them full empowerment but also enables the business to learn more than ever about the guests’ preferences.

By now many have patronized a restaurant that has a wine menu on an iPad.  Although fun and seemingly cutting edge when they first appeared, the power behind this is virtually untapped. The tablet is brought to the table three times during the course of a meal – first as a specialty cocktail, alchol, beer or wine by the glass, then as a wine by the bottle selection, and finally, with a dessert and an after-dinner cocktail list.  

Let’s break down the power behind this single device. Users now have the ability to track the wines, beers and liquors that are being viewed, that also enables them to adjust their purchasing according to how people have reached their decision in making their selection. The analytical data not only shows the types of wines and how they are being viewed (price, varietal, region) but also what is not being considered, which assists the buyers to adjust the pricing. 

Another trend has been the ability to generate revenue through partnerships with the distributors. When they see a consumer ready to purchase a drink with vodka on a Friday night in Las Vegas, ad dollars become easily attainable through the suppliers. The ability to market internal promotions and capture customer contact information through the share feature are other benefits of the tablet.

The guestroom television has become a major initiative for MGM Resorts in the past few years. When I began in this industry in the 80s with Marriott, PBX was a revenue-generating department; subsequently, as cellphones became mainstream, telecommunication departments were no longer profit centers. Much the same has happened with VOD (video on demand). 

The lucrative market that hospitality once had on recently released movies is no longer viable, and a fragmenting market has exasperated the problem even more. Content was previously viewed by the masses typically as a family or a certain age group. Now everyone is watching programs that appeal to them on their personal device at different times and locations. The approach MGM Resorts has taken as a company is that the guestroom is now part of a high-rise network which includes Wi-Fi, room controls (lights, curtains, thermostat, locks, etc.) interactive minibars, along with a television that the company views as a marketing portal.

Converting legacy coaxial cable into an IP-based infrastructure has been common in the residential market for quite some time; now hospitality is begging to follow that same path. In the past 12 months MGM Resorts has converted more than 8,000 guestrooms onto an IPTV platform using Tangerine Global software riding on a DOCSIS III backbone. The ability to insert a simple UI with tracking analytics, along with the ability to begin transferring much of the in-room print collateral, has major potential.

In-room dining menus are now viewed on the television screen with dynamic pricing and potential upsell opportunities. The ability to book restaurant reservations, purchase show tickets and reserve spa appointments brings all new interfaces into the guestroom. On the programming side, MGM Resorts can now track what customers are viewing, and just as important, what they are not, which enables the company to adjust the pricing on the content currently purchased. Another potential revenue option is to give the guest a channel to stream individualized content from his or her mobile device to the guestroom television by purchasing a premium bandwidth plan. Would you pay an extra few dollars to stream the movie you rented on your iPad to the television in your hotel room?
The biggest push MGM Resorts will see over the next several years in hospitality will be in the mobile self-service space. Many may already have heard about mobile check-in with Starwood properties, along with a few other hoteliers. This, MGM Resorts believes has the biggest potential to change the industry, along with streamlining operations. The inevitable adaption of technologies such as Bluetooth Low Energy iBeacons, SquareTag and Tile, along with the mobile wallet on the horizon, will enable the guest to fully control his stay. The ability to transfer information, reservations and appointments from a large-format touch screen to a consumer’s mobile device through iBeacons is not far off. 

The personal preferences alone will enable hotel operations staff to greet the guest by name as he or she walks into one of MGM Resorts’ restaurants, asking if they would like their usual beverage, along with verifying that they will be ordering from the gluten-free menu tonight. With this database, the server will confirm that they are attending an 8:00 show and will have them fed and ready by 7:30 knowing that they will pay via room folio or with their mobile device. In the not too distant future, upon a visitor’s arrival at one of MGM Resorts’ properties, his or her luggage will be identified with the guest’s room number. The guest will bypass the front desk and head straight to the room using a mobile phone to unlock the guestroom door.

The old real estate adage, location, location, location, is becoming convenience, convenience, convenience. The walk-through resort will soon become as mainstream as the drive-thru window.

Randy Dearborn is the vice president, multimedia and guest technology for MGM Resorts International.

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“The hospitality industry is embracing this technology for a number of reasons. (Digital signage helps with the) reduction of manual work, reduction of costs of printing and sending staff to each meeting room to change the placards, etc.”  - Raman (R. P.) Rama, vice president and CIO/CTO, JHM Hotels

“(We) are working on indoor geo-location mapping services. After project completion, we will be able to directly interact with mobile users with push notifications, wayfinding services.”  - Chet Patel, complex director of IT, Disney Swan & Dolphin

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