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Digital Signage: The Art of Persuasion

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March 01, 2010
Digital Signage
Jeremy Rock - jrock@rockitgroup.com

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A few years back, I wrote an article on digital signage highlighting the new features that were coming out and the fact that flat-screen technology was focusing on new applications and content to change the way that we view and use signage. Given the time that has passed, we decided to revisit some members of the industry to ascertain which technology drivers had succeeded and what new and innovative solutions are coming to market. While some of the technology had evolved as expected, there were some surprises. The biggest surprise was how much the industry has grown.  Digital signage is everywhere. Signage is no longer contained to meeting room space and a few lobby or public space areas, but from coffee shops to outdoor signage, traditional information boards and signs are transformed into dynamic and interactive content. 

So What Has Changed?
From a hardware perspective there’s a new focus on durability and energy consumption.. Given that most display screens operate on a 24/7 basis, manufacturers have made design changes to address the problem of heat dissipation. Traditionally many of the larger recessed wall-mounted solutions required the use of an external fan to drive the heat away from the display panel.  Display manufacturers such as LG, NEC and Philips have committed efforts on providing commercial- grade, green energy-compliant displays that are focused on durability and longevity. They are also focused on providing energy-compliant components to support their end-to-end digital signage solutions. An example of this may be found in the new solid-state digital media player that LG unveiled at the recent DSE trade show. The new quieter, energy-efficient solution is not subject to the traditional wear and tear associated with heat and moving parts and can conveniently display content including images, movies, audio and other file types, through a local area network (LAN). NEC has also targeted 2010 as the year that they reverse their carbon footprint, and going forward all of its product offerings will focus on being environmentally friendly.

From a software perspective there appears to be a big move toward companies specializing in offering pre-packaged managed solutions over a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform. Many hotels do not have the staff to effectively manage the content on their digital displays and are turning to content specialist companies to manage their digital signage programs. In addition to managing the interfaced feeds from sales and catering solutions and in-room entertainment system providers, companies such as Dyna Sign have focused on managing RSS feeds such as Associated Press, OAG flight information and other data feeds to ensure that the screens are providing targeted and timely information to guests and function attendees. They also target promotional content about the hotel or associated facilities. The hosted solutions allow hotel companies to cross sell their properties in an effective and direct manner. Hotel chains are also using SaaS solutions to offer the ability to login and change the displays of multiple locations at the same time.

In addition to the SaaS model, many companies are providing custom applications that deliver targeted content to viewers in specific industries. These application providers can provide solutions over a variety of hardware platforms.

A review of the solutions revealed that a number of the earlier way-finding solutions were not widely adopted–primarily due to cost and application challenges. These features are starting to gain traction as the price of display screens and certain technology components such as RFID tags are starting to come down and become widely used. These features have proved particularly beneficial for casinos, cruise ships and theme parks, where navigating large properties can often prove challenging for guests.

An example of this technology is Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas which entered into service in April 2009. Partnering with Four Winds Interactive (FWi), the ship installed over 270 digital displays that provided its guests with everything from passive screens displaying non-interactive information to sophisticated interactive touch-screens providing real-time data and way-finding features.  With 18 decks to navigate, the interactive displays were designed to enhance guest communication and assist passengers while they are making their way around the technologically advanced ship. Among other features guests are able to interact with the signs to obtain directions to their rooms, evaluate restaurant options and get information on the daily events. Additionally the interactive screens serve to provide concierge/guest service information, such as spa options and pricing, and provide important safety information. One of the more unique applications that the solution offers is a color-coded restaurant seating guide that allows guests to gauge how full the various outlets are to provide them options on where to eat. The interactive signs also offer guests the ability to access information in multiple languages.

As the technology develops, it is widely felt that the integration of the display boards with cell phones will allow providers the ability to take the features to a whole new level.

The biggest change that we have seen pertains to creating and channeling dynamic content to guests and customers in an effective manner. By targeting certain audiences, hotels, retail outlets, restaurants and other businesses can customize content to each individual viewer in order to provide an effective and cost effective way to market products and services. In addition, the on-demand interaction with guests and users is proving to be extremely advantageous, allowing certain information-driven services such as way-finding or concierge to be automated, thereby negating the requirement in some cases for a staffed employee.  By providing fresh and current dynamic content, customers and guests are kept interested in viewing and interacting with the displays which in turn will provide a valuable service offering.

The drive to target custom content to viewers is one of the reasons that NEC Corporation has recently unveiled its new facial recognition application, which identifies the age and sex of the individual who is targeted by the screen. The technology takes the concept of narrow casting to a new level and actually tracks where a person is looking on the screen. The initial idea is to focus on gender and age marketing. For example women may be targeted with an advertisement for a spa treatment offer or men may be targeted for a round of golf. Outside of providing custom content, the facial recognition application has other potential uses. For example, casinos scan peoples’ faces to identify known card counters, thieves and other blacklisted individuals. Future applications could also involve assisting specific persons with way-finding information. There is no doubt that we are a step closer to that scene from the film “The Minority Report” where the digital signage advertisements change to deliver personalized information. Kevin Ruhman, director of NEC Corporation, hospitality market, said that this technology will be a key differentiator and tool to target a specific message and service to hotel guests.

Social media is also starting to factor into the digital signage arena. GPS and other social media location-based applications such as Mobcast, Zhiing, Buddy Beacon and Google Latitude Friend Finder will allow guests and conference attendees to broadcast their location to other members of their social media groups. As such, the potential to link these location-tracking applications to the digital signage systems represents an opportunity for groups to collaborate and locate each other visually. This could lead to an enhanced application for the way-finding features currently available from various providers.

Digital signage is also starting to factor into emergency communication plans. Marrow Technologies announced that it is releasing a new feature for its Janus Display solution that allows for automatic emergency override messaging.  Effectively a user will be able to select an icon that has a preprogrammed message that can be shown across all display screens. For example, “please proceed to the nearest exit.” Once engaged, the emergency message will override any previously scheduled playlist and be displayed throughout the entire digital signage network.

 Looking to the future, LG is focused on providing platforms and solutions that will allow software providers and end users to integrate their applications with their display screens. The new Pro-centric platform allows hotels to obtain more out of their display devices by providing a user-friendly way to display content. According to Jeff Dowell, vice president, digital signage, LG Electronics USA, Inc., LG’s goal is to “keep it simple.”

From a hospitality perspective, digital signage is viewed as a great way to identify meeting and conference room locations. However, the technology has evolved and now digital signage can be found across all commercial environments. Every facet of peoples’ traditional activities is being affected.  David Levin, CEO of FWi, said, “From the coffee shop to your corporate office to the deli to the health club, you will encounter digital signage.”

Given this perspective, one can expect the industry to continue expanding at a rapid rate, and as the technology evolves and initial install costs decrease, the need to develop and maintain an effective digital signage strategy will be increasingly important.

The drive to provide targeted content has grown tremendously and it is no longer acceptable to provide static images on the display screens that are only one dimensional. Guests are exposed to a greater variety of dynamic content and the use of traditional text and static images needs to be replaced with motion and video. The focus on content will become the critical differentiator between properties, and the ability to target a message or service will become a key factor not only in addressing the needs and requirements of guests from a service perspective, but also in driving additional revenue.
Jeremy Rock is the president of the RockIT Group, a hospitality technology consulting firm specializing in new development and refurbishment projects. He may be reached at jrock@rockitgroup.com or (714) 826-9900.

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Important Factors to consider:

Bill Clapes with Deel Media offered the following uses of digital signage in outdoor areas.
As the use of outdoor digital displays for promotional and informational use starts to become more prevalent, it is important to realize that not all displays are created equal. While certain providers delight in demonstrating water running down the front of their products without consequence, moisture on the face of a screen is only one of the elements that challenge outdoor digital displays.

Several important factors can impact their performance and the customer experience.

Ambient Light: The brightness of a standard flat-panel display is no match for the brightness of the mid-day sun. Most displays designed for outdoor use offer slightly increased brightness compared to those produced for indoor displays. Even with such technological enhancement, there are times of the day when a screen observed in direct sunlight results in virtually invisible content. 

Temperature: A flat screen placed outdoors acts as a giant heat absorber, sometimes reaching temperatures as high as 185 degrees. If this heat is not properly dissipated, the device’s electronic components can begin to melt. 

Moisture, Humidity and Condensation: Rain falling on an outdoor digital display is only one of several moisture issues to consider. Perhaps the most insidious type of moisture is caused by condensation collecting inside an improperly sealed display.

Warranty and Serviceability: Be wary of mail order outdoor displays providers. Even with a stated warranty, it can be difficult to get a reseller to stand behind a manufacturer’s warranty from thousands of miles away.

Features to look for when shopping for outdoor digital screens

Brightness and Antiglare: New LED backlit LCD displays offer greater brightness and a long life span. LED lighting provides the extra brightness required to punch through direct sunlight. Look for displays that deliver more than 1,800 units of brightness, as well as have antiglare coatings.

Temperature Control: Simple cooling fans aren’t enough to bring the internal temperature of a display down to necessary levels. Heat must be properly drawn away from the display and dissipated quickly. Look for manufacturers that provide sophisticated temperature control solutions.

Sealed Display Housings: Only completely sealed display housing will keep your screen safe from rain, humidity and condensation.

Manufacturer: Ensure your outdoor display provider stands behind its stated warranty and has trained display service technicians who can be dispatched to quickly fix any issues.

While more sophisticated outdoor screens come with a higher price point, they’re well worth the investment as they will stand the test of time and present a professional image to your customers.

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