DSE: the year of digital signage
Addtional reporting for this story done by Travis Kircher.
 
Click here to view a slideshow from DSE.
 
LAS VEGAS — There has been much talk over the growth of the digital signage industry and the excitement surrounding it, but that buzz was finally materialized during Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas. All one had to do was stand entrance of the Expo as the ribbon was cut last Wednesday to sense the anticipation from the attendees. A Kentucky Derby-like release from the gate ensued.
 
Broadsign again was sporting the largest booth at the show, a two-story monster equipped with an upstairs conference room and leather couches.
Once inside the Expo, attendees saw signs of a rapidly developing and maturing industry, one that has seemed to grow exponentially in the past year. The big players came even in an even bigger fashion this year, with companies like BroadSign, Nanonation and Wireless Ronin constructing massive booths at the entrance, fully equipped with conference rooms, screening areas and scores of digital screens.
 
Smaller companies were also making their presences known by targeting the single-location market. Companies like Ridgelogic and RedPost presented easy-to-use digital signage packages that were aimed at small businesses and shops that wanted screens but didn't need extensive networks.
 
Other companies saw DSE as an opportunity to launch new products and announcement in a high-profile setting. This year, Scala announced the acquisition of MISC and its ad management software as well as the formation of Scala Canada. BroadSign and Ingram Micro made headlines when they announced a distribution partnership. And Cisco announced the development of the Academy of Digital Signage for those looking to be qualified in content creation and distribution.
 
Here is an in-depth look at what some of the exhibitors had to offer.
 
Building on its sponsorship of PumpTop TV, ABC National Advertising Sales was demonstrating its ad network on a Westinghouse pump-top screen. PumpTop TV screens are placed at eye level at gas pumps and run loops of ABC content and ads. David Daniels, national sales manager of ABC Advertising Sales, said that the news-related programming really reaches a prized demographic at a point where purchases can be made. ABC has content on gas pump screens in four major US cities with nine more planned in 2008.
 
LG's booth offerings continued to stake the company as one of the leaders in digital signage display technology.
Aerva
was demonstrating two of its popular applications, MoApp and AerChannel. Aerva was also running content from BarCast, a network of interactive displays for bars that the company recently partnered with. Using Aerva's MoApp application, customers can use their phones to send text or picture messages to the screen or participate in voting and polling by using text. BarCast and MoApp have been deployed in 50 bars around the Boston area.
 
An industry veteran, PRN displayed its Checkout TV network using several real in-store displays. With the Media on Demand (MoD) application on display at the booth, attendees could use a touchscreen to decide what advertising they wanted to watch on PRN's screens.
 
MoD lets shoppers choose what they want to view in the store," said Tom Connor, senior vice president of programming and creative for PRN. "And it's built on an IPTV platform so we can manage content and report on ads."
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ADFLOW Networks Inc.   Diversified Media Group Diversified Media Group, the industry's pre-eminent managed network provider, offers full-service design, engineering and managing capabilities for digital signage, IPTV, 2-way satellite and disaster recovery.  

Magnetic Media displayed its 3D digital signage solutions in partnership with NEC. Using a product called Enabl3D, Magnetic has the ability to give any flatscreen 3D capabilities. The bezel of each screen is removed and replaced with a custom overlay without voiding the warranty. The screen can then play 2D and 3D content.
 
Magnetic CEO Tom Zerega said the company's starting points have been casinos and entertainment as well as tradeshows and exhibits.
 
Symon's new all-in-one LobbyView product was demonstrated using three portrait-oriented screens.
Exhibio
was on hand exhibiting its Digital Signage System using a series of 42-inch screens. Exhibio's system is a hardware and software solution designed for easy use. The content manager is built around a WYSIWYG interface, while the Display Control System drives content to the screens. Exhibio was exhibiting both the compact and rackmount versions of its media players.
 
Netkey, fresh off its announcement of its value-added reseller and channel partner program at Screen Expo, demonstrated its digital signage software on numerous screens and PCs at the show.
 
"We're knee-deep in the VAR program," said James Dougherty, vice president of channel development for Netkey. "We're also developing more upgraded content for our new customers."   Symon Communications released a new media player called the Symon Integrated Appliance on the first day of the show. The SIA is an entry-level digital signage player that comes pre-loaded with software so deployers of all technical skill levels can set it up easily. At the show, the SIA was shown as part of the company's LobbyView product, which is a package consisting of an integrated LCD monitor, media player and Symon management software.
 
Planar Systems used the show to propel a launch of its next-generation digital signage software. Planar was demonstrating CoolSign 4.0, an enterprise-level digital signage software suite, on various sizes of LCD screens around its booth. The new software is designed for better remote management capabilities and scalability for running all sizes of networks. As announced the week before the show, CoolSign 4.0 also integrates with Google Calendar and Google Docs so anyone can control key parts of the digital signage content using the Internet.
 
Wireless Ronin Technologies cleaned up on the Expo's Digital Signage Awards, taking home the Environmental Design Integration award for KFC's digital menu boards, the Interactivity Innovation award for the Ford SYNC display and the Hospitality award for Carnival Corp.'s casino digital signage.
 
The company also exhibited its newly-released RoninCast for Automotive digital signage systems, which narrowcasts information key information to the customer at the point of decision at an auto dealership.
 
"RoninCast for Automotive is designed to engage today's sophisticated automotive shopper," said Jeffrey Mack, president and chief executive of Wireless Ronin Technologies. "Today's consumer has very specific expectations and demands when they walk into an automotive dealership."
 
EnQii, who recently won a DIGI Award for Excellence in Technology for Healthcare, was exhibiting with several partners, including LocaModa of Cambridge, Mass., Ping Mobile and EGT Networks, creator of the Casino Channel Network. CCN is a content supplier for targeted messages to gamers in casinos. In Las Vegas, EnQii has overseen CCN digital signage installations at the Luxor and Excalibur casinos.
 
"Whether it is a private media network owner, chain retail, bars/casinos or health clubs, we start with our client business model in mind and then drive the maximize their benefits while delivery lowest total cost of ownership for their network," said Stuart Armstrong, president of EnQii North America. "Additionally, we think beyond the screen to include various revenue streams such as mobile marketing, localized messaging, product uplift, supply chain efficiencies and staff training."
 
Making its tradeshow debut, RedPost, a start-up digital signage provider, was thinking street-level rather than enterprise-level. Based in Goshen, Ind., RedPost is aiming to replace traditional billboards with digital signs in venues such as coffeehouses and grocery stores. At the show, the company announced it will expand its signage to seven beta sites in the coming months.
 
"We're focusing on the long tail target, the people wanting just one or two screens, said Eric Kanagy, CEO of RedPost. "Overall, it may end up being a much larger market."
 
LG hosted a demonstration of LongPen at its booth during the show, which featured authors Ron St. Angelo and Norm Hitzges signing their book, The Greatest Team Ever, from their homes using LongPen's remote signing technology. During the demonstration, attendees watched the authors signed a tablet PC via a video conferencing setup. Using an IP network, the signatures were sent to a robotic arm holding a Sharpie at the booth which then signed their actual book in the authors' handwriting.
 
Donna Kinoshita, vice president of operations for Unotchit, makers of LongPen, said that signatures delivered using LongPen are legal and when studied by a forensic scientist, could not be differentiated from the originals.

The copy displayed on the side of the Advantech Corp. booth read "Best Performance, Reliability and Manageability" and that's what the representatives of Advantech claim to provide. Traditional signage and digital displays intricately combined at the booth to demonstrate how Advantech's ePlatform services can be utilized to give retail clients the most efficient and effective self-service solution available. The booth was alive with diagrams of retail self-service applications, as well as examples of how Advantech RISC-based and x86-based players dramatically enable in-store promotion and integrated point-of-sale displays.

It was difficult to miss the AlivePromo booth with the giant waterfall that drops water in the shape of letters, numbers and symbols. According to Matt Rogers, director of marketing and communications for AlivePromo, the waterfall was just a symbol of what the company can do when it comes to digital signage applications.

"This is what AlivePromo does: AlivePromo specializes in these custom-tailored solutions where we can do some pretty high-end stuff," he said. "This is just one example of what we can do."

Audience measurement is everything in the world of advertising – that was the message at the booth shared by Capital Networks Limited and CognoVision Solutions Inc. The two companies were showing off their new audience measurement solution, which can not only count the number of individuals viewing a digital sign, but also identify the age and gender of each viewer and target advertising specifically to them.

"In a retail environment, a lot of store owners, mall owners and so on, target ads or sell ads to the public," said Faizal Javer, the director of operations for CognoVision. "What we are able to do is capture audience metrics."

At the Channel M booth, President and Chief Operating Officer Eric Hebel was excited about a recent Channel M study that found that the company's in-store signage content improved sales at Gamestop video game stores by 20 percent.
 
"All the results came back exceptional," he said. "It showed that an extremely high percentage of people watch the programming, a high percentage of people recall what they've seen on the programming and most importantly, the programming drives sales."
 
Things were busy at the Celergy Networks booth. Recognizable by its bright orange color, the booth itself explained everything the company is known for:  Network cabling installation and IT infrastructure design. The company also boasts itself in its ability to remotely monitor the ongoing processes of a client's network, being able to respond quickly in the event of any disruption.

The ET Media booth was also abuzz with activity. A provider of embedded media software and a media system solution provider, ET Media grew its business offerings by maintaining an employee base of expert professionals. A banner over the booth proudly displayed the company's name in two different languages, and digital displays were constantly showing examples of how ET Media's solutions have been utilized in the past.

There were several digital signs on display at the crowded Hy-Tek booth. One interactive display invited the viewer to type their name via an interactive keyboard shown on the screen. Hy-Tek is known for manufacturing its Tek Panel line of large LCD computers with built in HDTV. With screen sizes up to 46" inches and built-in computers with Pentium processors, these digital displays are all-in-one solutions, able to handle high resolution graphics and multimedia presentations without the need of a separate computer.

The Microspace booth was vast and the company says its services are even vaster. Specializing in providing broadcast video, data and audio satellite services for business applications, Microspace bases its services on its high-speed video, data and audio broadcasting technology, which the company calls "Velocity". There at the booth, there were digital displays pointing in virtually every direction, all alive with high-speed, high-action video that plays crisply and clearly.

Technology. Expertise. Execution. Those were the promises made at the Reflect Systems booth. The digital signage company prides itself in its ability to help its clients launch and manage digital signage networks by focusing on three key areas: content strategy, screen placement and technology. The company uses its digital signage software, ReflectView, to do just that.

At the RichSource USA booth, managing director Wen Hong was actively showing attendees how his company has specialized in providing networked digital signage solutions in Hong Kong and is now bringing those solutions to the U.S. market.

"We call ourselves a total solutions partner for anybody in the digital signage industry," Hong said. "As you walk around this expo, you can tell: they're either in hardware, software or they're integrators. Or screenmakers. Or content guys. Nobody really is a solutions company: we are trying to come into the US market differently."

At the Southern Vision Systems Inc. booth, a company that specializes in manufacturing cameras to capture high-speed events was showing off its voLANte (video over LAN technology) digital signage solution.

"This is a 100 percent digital signage solution from the PC output, across Ethernet, to remote receivers," said Bob Sharp, director of sales and marketing for the company. "So we start out digital and we end up digital. It's audio and video. It basically takes the DVI output from your PC and sends it across Ethernet – standard, off-the-shelf Ethernet – to our remote receivers."

Sharp added that the company uses a solution called "LocalPlay" to store local content so, in the event of a disruption, the screens can switch to that content rather than a static blue screen.

At the Spacenet booth, Alasdair Calder, director of product management for the company, explained how Spacenet is able to provide both VSAT and terrestrial network solutions for their clients. He showcased the company's Prism solution.

"So once the DSL or the Cable goes down, then the Prism box here will automatically switch to the satellite network," he said. "Having satellite at your location helps, because satellite is actually a multicast medium. So customers don't just use it for the backup portion of the network."

At the bright yellow Tightrope booth, the focus was on the company's Carousel digital signage framework – a solution that, according to literature handed out at the booth "is a hardware and software package designed from the ground up to provide organizations with an easy and reliable way to communicate with dynamic digital signage." Carousel has the ability to display high-def images, video, text, RSS feeds, live video and meeting management systems.

Ralph Bachofen, director of product management and marketing was busy at the Triveni Digital booth, explaining how his company provides digital signage solutions for a number of verticals, including retail environments, service shop lobbies and houses of worship.

"We are in the content distribution environment," he said. "That's what our strength is. We do a lot of point and multi-point content distributions and solutions…pushing it out from one point to multiple points – to many locations – to the players, so to speak, and from there, played out on the screen."

At the USAV Group booth, Jim Huber, general manager and director of sales for Nor-Com Inc., explained the logic behind what USAV is.

"USAV is a group of systems integration companies across the United States that have banded together for the purpose of sharing best practices and for national platform initiatives such as digital signage," Huber said. "We are a one-stop shop from integration, design, engineering, installation and service for a national, regional or local rollout. Because we have so many partners across the United States, we can make sure it is installed, engineered and designed properly."

At the Prism Technologies booth, company representatives were offering a variety of digital signage content solutions to attendees. Examples? How about engaging 3D modeling, such as animations that fly through crowded cities? Or interactive content that enables the viewer to zip through a retailer's catalogue at will? Or even content that can be used in a self-service kiosk application?

Keith Sugawara, the general manager of the Connectivity and Wireless Division of Silex Technology, was glad his company is an exhibitor at the Expo.

"We've been very pleased with the interest in our wireless technology," he said. That technology, dubbed the Multicast Video Distribution System (MVDS) by the company, provides a highly flexible way to handle digital signage applications in almost any kind of environment.

"We provide connectivity solutions for digital signage," he said. "Our unique capability is that we can multicast video and audio across either a wired or wireless network infrastructure. This provides advantages over other analog-based connectivity solutions including overcoming wiring infrastructure challenges with our wireless technology."

It takes more to make a good digital signage deployment than good digital signage. The deployer also needs to ensure that the signage is located in a good environment. That's the mission of Skyline Exhibits, a company that also had a booth at the show.

"We created branded platforms for digital signage platforms," said Chuck Schaefer, president of the company. "In other words, we create environments for digital signage to be effective in retail environments through displays, graphics and structures that can be used in a wide variety of applications. So we're a manufacturer of fixtures and total turnkey solutions all the way from design through installation."

Radical Computing Corp. also had a booth at the Expo and Tim Ruban, chief executive officer of the company, was on hand to promote the company's Retail Path Networks digital signage media players.

"There are a couple of really cool things about it," he said of the solution. "First of all, you can run multiple channels from the same device. So you can drive up to four unique content environments in a very small footprint device with virtually no moving parts. So this is a very robust infrastructure.

The X2O Media booth was surrounded by buzz and activity, as the company had recently announced the launch of the next generation of its Xpresenter platform, which covers all the steps in the digital signage workflow from content authoring, scheduling, management, distribution to remote management and playout. The software features a recently-patented and unique PowerPoint-based approach to content creation and includes an enhanced style gallery of graphics templates, video clip previewing and tools for quickly resizing presentations to fit the varying dimensions of output displays.

Guillermo Amtmann, president and chief executive officer of ZipCast was also excited to be at the show. 

 
"It's great," he said. "It's overwhelming. We have not stopped talking to people. There have been people waiting to talk to us. That's very nice."

His company provides a digital signage advertising network that enables affiliates to access a global database of clients, gain exposure to national advertisers and generate revenue.

"In this industry, that's our core business – selling the advertising – and for that we need to place screens," he said. "So we're facilitating the network to place screens."

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