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Bright Lights, Dynamic Content

While dining at a Chicago-area restaurant last month, my sister experienced a first: A wine list was handed to her in the form of an Apple iPad. "Interesting," she thought. "It's easy to change and they don't have to reprint it." A graphic designer friend of mine, meanwhile, spotted digital menu boards inside a Burger King fast-food restaurant. This same friend has seen similar types of electronic signage in movie theater concession stands, complete with animated, bubbling images of Coca-Cola, which amazed her but didn't faze her video-game savvy seven-year-old son.

At a municipal board meeting in Oswego, IL, a far western suburb of Chicago, a digital-vs.-traditional signage debate was quickly squelched. It was a no-brainer, said trustee Gail Johnson: "Either pay $40,000 for a fancy electronic sign or $1,800 for the regular kind." Taxpayers in town can rest assured that elected officials chose prudently for the sign marking their new Village Hall building. But the e-technology is not as cost-prohibitive as it was 10 years ago—some 75 percent less in the case of digital billboards, which fetched a steep $1 million in 2002 but dropped to a more palatable $250,000 or so by 2010. To recoup their ROI, operators such as Clear Channel Outdoor charge customers anywhere from $2,500 up to $7,000 a month to advertise on an LED billboard. Eyeballs, or views, are what they're paying for, from under a half a penny per eyeball up to as much as 30 cents per person.

Those pennies have added up to profits welcomed during the US economic recession and subsequently slow recovery. "One operator told me that although digital makes up just four percent of his inventory, it accounts for nearly 50 percent of his revenue," blogged Darrin Friskney, director of Watchfire Digital Outdoor.

Marco Boer, VP of digital print research consultancy IT Strategies, explained how, "strategically placed at bottlenecks and heavily congested areas such as the highway through San Francisco, digital displays have an opportunity to reach more than 875,000 people daily. Even areas with low populations such as White Plains, NY (56,000) have high commuter presence (200,000)." (Read more about this study here.)

The electronic billboard market in the United States grew in excess of 150 percent (CAGR) between 2006 and 2009, reported IT Strategies. Forty-one states and many large cities now support the use of high-efficiency, light-emitting diode (LED) billboards, which operate using far less energy. Energy requirements for some boards have been cut in half in just two years, reported As LED has moved in, liquid-crystal display (LCD) flat-screen technology was noticeably absent at the SGIA 2011 show last autumn, Boer observed.

Three and a half years ago, there were a little more than 500 electronic billboards out of an estimated 450,000 total billboards in the US. Today, there are approximately 2,500. "That's pretty impressive for a product that's disrupting a 150-year-old industry," Friskney noted in his blog last November. And I.T. Strategies predicted that the installed base is likely to grow to between 12,000 to 16,000 units in the US over the next three years, said Boer, accounting for some 3.5 percent of all billboards installed.

Many local communities still fight the aesthetics battle, of course, arguing that billboards of any kind "junk up" their roadways. Yet struggling governments are looking for ways to raise money in a volatile economy. In addition, there are ongoing safety concerns about who is distracted more by electronic billboards, teenagers or senior citizens. At speeds of 55+ mph, statistics show that drivers looking away from the highway for more than two seconds—either down at text messages on their smartphones or up at color-calibrated, digital LED billboards—take a deadly risk no matter their age.

"While over 96 percent of billboard locations will continue to be printed billboards in the US market through at least 2015, electronic billboards will become more ubiquitous," IT Strategies' Boer wrote. "The driving factor is the ability to provide more advertisements in the same space, increasing the revenue utilization of that space, followed by a reduction in labor costs. Factors holding back more placements and conversion from printed to electronic billboards will eventually not be hardware cost and return on investment [ROI], but mainly outside factors, such as regulatory and community opposition."

Commuters, Shoppers <3 Interactivity

It's not just Valentine's Day that got people in the mood as they traveled by train through London, England, last month. Unilever's Dove beauty brand also spread a little love and happiness throughout the usual frenzy at Victoria Station, which has a daily footfall of around 350,000 people. Beginning February 13, commuters saw a different question each day on the large-format Transvision screen, inviting thoughts and reflections on the beautiful women in their lives. Visitors were encouraged to text or tweet their responses, which then were displayed on the screens for all to see. The brand engaged commuters to answer questions such as:

  • Who is the most beautiful woman in your life?
  • What makes you feel beautiful?
  • What puts a smile on your face?

Dove brand ambassadors spread the love even further by sharing small gifts relevant to each day's question, surprising and delighting commuters throughout the station. To celebrate Valentine's Day, commuters were asked, "What do you love about your Valentine?" and were presented with a beautiful white tulip inviting them to share the flower with the women who light up their lives.

The campaign, booked by Kinetic and Mindshare, created by Billington Cartmell, ran on JCDecaux's Transvision screen through Feb. 19. The campaign was delivered via Grand Visual's OpenLoop platform, which allows clients and agencies to manage live social media feeds from their desktop and publish them instantly across digital out-of-home formats.

"We hope the engagement and interactive nature of our campaign will bring a smile and a moment of Dove's warmth to Londoners during their daily commute," said Unilever's Jocelyn Hsieh, senior brand development manager on Dove Global. James Byard, account director for Kinetic, added, "As well as being a great demonstration of the dynamism available in the out-of-home medium, Dove's campaign is a great show of what can be achieved when a creative is so relevant to an environment."

For use inside stores, Reflect Systems, Inc. released its ReflectView 6 rich-media software suite last month, making it easier for businesses to customize, manage, and transmit content seamlessly on any scale, said the company. The upgraded version features developments in content and channel tagging, preview capabilities, and distribution. ReflectView was originally introduced in 2005 and has since been employed by more than 20 major brands, businesses, and retail chains, including BestBuy, Target, GameStop, and Verizon Wireless Its digital media network has been used to manage more than 250,000 screens throughout the United States and Canada, powering in-store media ranging from digital signage for merchandising to interactive applications.

New to ReflectView 6 is an in-depth tagging system that allows users to apply descriptive tags and rules to individual files, playlists, and channels, resulting in more efficient content management, according to the company. The tagging system ensures the right messages are experienced in the right way and helps to streamline the content-management process in a number of ways:

Usage rules create safeguards that prevent unfavorable combinations of files, playlists, or channels such as landscape files played on portrait video screens or standard-definition files displayed on high-definition channels. A tiered rule system also allows users to see whether a particular file is "recommended," "allowed," "not recommended," or "prohibited" for a particular channel or playlist and sort accordingly. Descriptive tags make it easy to search for content that meets specific criteria.

ReflectView users now have the ability to preview content (videos and playlists) in the ReflectView Publisher as well as through a link-sharing feature that allows individual content files and full playlists to be accessed from desktops, laptops, tablets, and "smart" mobile phones—and experienced in the same way as at a website. This new feature has been designed with efficiency in mind as multiple viewers can preview and comment on content quickly without the hassle of access restrictions or content quality concerns.

With the next-generation ReflectView 6, users have an even greater pool of data and metrics at their disposal for requesting reports. Content playback can now be evaluated using even more specific parameters including location/classifications, content tags as well as date range and content type, said the company. Access to these new report parameters allows users to provide all manner of playback reports sliced and diced to meet any reporting needs.

Reflect has also added two distinct content delivery features to version 6 designed to complement its scalability and provide greater control over management of content streams. Users are now able to employ "interrupt mode," which pauses transfers mid-stream to allow content to be inserted for rapid delivery, and "prioritization mode," which allows the sender to place content at varying priority levels within the transfer queue.

Tracking Digital ROI

The ability for marketers and advertisers to measure their ROI looms large in the digital realm—and it's a big part of the reason that Coloredge New York - Los Angeles recently entered into a partnership with YCD Multimedia, an industry leader in digital signage and digital-merchandising with a platform of software applications. YCD's products enhance the evolving in-store customer experience by seamlessly integrating retail and communications applications, making the firm an ideal partner, said Coloredge NY- LA. A key component of YCD software is its ability to monitor ROI. By tracking sales data for a specific product or campaign, clients are able to determine the success of digital promotions and decide how to immediately boost profit. "YCD Multimedia's sophisticated, real-time data analytics combined with dynamic content provided by Coloredge's interactive team results in high-impact digital media with a measurable return on investment," said Christopher Searson, Coloredge VP of creative services.

Coloredge works closely with clients every step of the way to offer a completely customizable and scalable digital marketing strategy, providing display placement and in-store architecture as well as content creation and management. In addition, YCD offers patented technology, including the YCD|Player, an integrated onsite audio/video player; YCD|Platform for remote media distribution and management; and hardware products such as the MuVi videowall that can synch up to 12 screens on a single player, enabling customers to display up to 12 zones of video content, individually or stretched across a single "canvas." YCD's recent acquisition of C-Nario (another global leader in digital signage) offers complimentary technology that addresses an expanded market, ranging from retail chains to major venues.

"Through our partnership with YCD Multimedia, Coloredge has positioned itself to deliver even more efficiency for our clients' brand messaging through a highly impactful convergence of traditional print and dynamic digital media," said Don Uzzi, CEO of Coloredge.

Ziv Levavi, senior director of US operations at YCD, added, "As the print industry continues to evolve, digital signage provides for an innovative access to customers through a varied platform that combines digital displays, analytics, and interactive elements that were formerly unavailable. The synergy between YCD and ColorEdge creates a digital marketing application tailored to enhance traditional graphic production for many verticals."

2 Shows Focus on Education

At this month's ISA International Sign Expo (March 21-24 in Orlando,, a track of courses devoted to the rapidly expanding field of digital dynamic signage has been developed in conjunction with the Digital Signage Foundation. Topics include business and technical aspects as well as building vendor partnerships. These are among the 75 courses covering 13 distinct tracks offered as part of the educational lineup at the annual show, which features some 1,900 exhibitors and draws nearly 20,000 attendees. "Throughout the four days of Sign Expo 2012, there will be opportunities to learn the latest technical skills and management practices as well as ways to grow and expand business," said Lori Anderson, ISA president/CEO.

Also this month (March 6-9), the Digital Signage Expo 2012 (DSE) is set to convene in Las Vegas. Co-located with the Interactive Technology Expo and Digital Content Show, DSE bills itself as the world's largest international tradeshow and conference dedicated exclusively to digital signage, interactive technology, and digital out-of-home networks. Follow DSE on Twitter at DSExpo, or for all DSE 2012 updates, use the #dse2012 hash tag.

For year-round news and information on digital signage, visit DSE's new Digital Signage Connection web portal at