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Transforming digital signage is all about removing the 'dumb'

Digital Signage Today talks to Luke Hubbard, CTO at Screencloud, about the future of digital signage, advertising and content management.

Transforming digital signage is all about removing the 'dumb'Luke Hubbard is CTO at ScreenCloud. Provided by GregoryFCA.

| by Daniel Brown — Editor, Networld Media Group

The worlds of digital signage, marketing and advertising have never been more dynamic, with consumers re-entering the DOOH space after strict pandemic lockdowns along with the battle of emerging technologies for dominance in the interactive marketing space. It can be a bewildering challenge for companies and organizations to adapt in this ever-changing milieu to reach consumers, boost conversions and maintain steady ROI amid economic challenges.

Luke Hubbard is chief technology officer at ScreenCloud, a SaaS startup focused on transforming digital signage by removing "dumb" signs with interactive, sticky content. Digital Signage Today reached out to Hubbard on how organizations can start transforming content and make it more engaging.

Q: SaaS has exploded in the digital signage space, where digital signage software as a category has historically been known for being difficult for the average content manager to learn and use, especially those without tech backgrounds. How should digital signage companies balance innovative features with a user-friendly approach for various levels of technical skill?

A: I firmly believe that in order for SaaS digital signage software to be successful, it has to be familiar and easy to use. This starts with good UI/UX and features that can be leveraged in real time so that users can preview and see their intended changes reflected back to them right away. It's important to make things simple and easy by default, but still offer depth in the software platform that is capable of supporting more advanced use cases as well. This will help cover most common needs without restricting anyone to a fixed set of options.

Q: What advice do you have for managers, directors and content creators who are struggling to choose the right combination of software and hardware? How can content managers keep content fresh and engaging?

A: I would recommend a web-first approach to the software and hardware in order to future-proof your investment. These days, digital signage is more than images and videos on a loop — so you need to pick a combination of hardware and software that has the power to run advanced web content seamlessly. You should also check that the browser powering the player engine is the latest version (many are not) and that content is running hardware accelerated without hacks. This might mean choosing a platform such as Chrome OS combined with a display rather than going with an all-in-one under powered, SOC-based display utilizing an older browser engine. Getting this right is key, as I've seen so many examples of systems that can play video fairly well, but completely fall down with doing HTML5 justice.

Once your hardware and software are sorted, things start to get interesting. Content really is king. To keep it as fresh and engaging as possible though, you need to have content that changes regularly. The best way to achieve this is to combine scheduled content changes with dynamic web apps that pull relevant information from online sources. This is best achieved by providing out-of-the-box applications and options to integrate with other systems. If you want to take things to the next level, then you can even develop your own custom apps by pulling from APIs as well.

Q: In addition to global relaxation of pandemic protocols, there's a lot of buzz around emerging technologies like AI and holograms. As businesses and consumers come back from pandemic norms, what do you see as the future of digital signage innovation?

A: I see lots of potential for AI to help with content curation and engagement optimization at scale. Before we get there, however, we have to move beyond "dumb screens." We need to close the feedback loop so that the system can start to learn what works best. This can be done by tracking engagement via QR codes and/or using cameras to track user attention.

Once we have a feedback loop, the system can start to make better decisions about what to display, when and how. Ultimately this comes down to having an awareness of context, which is also multi-faceted, including: audience demographics; preferences; dwell time; time of day, etc.

I can see us getting to a place where you plug in your content sources, set your goals and preferences, then let the AI figure out the best approach to take on a per-screen basis.

Q: Do you see more leveraging in the future of apps and user-devices, including phones and the IoT, instead of only using traditional displays in DOOH?

A: I think over time we will see a shift from DOOH displays being "dumb" advertising surfaces to becoming trigger points for deeper interactions on mobile devices. This goes beyond brand messaging or instructions to "download our app" — it's deep linking into apps, too. For instance, imagine sitting in a traffic jam on the way home from work and seeing a meal deal advertised. You open your camera and boom, you deep link into a food delivery app with one-click ordering the meal you just saw advertised with a promo code applied.

That sort of thing is possible now, but you don't see it happening at scale yet.

Q: How do you handle the dual challenges of scheduled content and on the go content like emergency broadcasts and breaking news?

A: Organizations can mix rule-based schedules with apps, which can pull in dynamic content such as breaking news.

ScreenCloud, for example, provides a feature called "takeover casting" which allows content to be sent to displays and shown as a priority, regardless of what is scheduled to play. Capabilities like this can be used by apps such as emergency alerts as well as display real-time apps when new events arrive.

An example of leveraging this kind of tactic, would be companies displaying updated sales figures for say, five minutes, when they have a sale event coming from an online store. This is all configurable via an API and quite accessible to developers who want to integrate with new systems.

As for the future, I see us moving away from explicit time-based scheduling and playlists to smart feeds that adapt based on multiple factors, such as how fresh, time-sensitive and/or relevant to the audience it is, and so on.

Initially, it may feel like giving up control, but established feedback loops can enable the systems to learn and optimize further.

Daniel Brown

Daniel Brown is the editor of Digital Signage Today. He is an accomplished technology writer whose experience includes creating knowledge base content for a major university’s computing services department. His previous experience also includes IT project management, technical support and education. He can usually be found in a coffee shop near a large pile of books.


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