The Digital Signage Explosion


Digital signage is one of the fastest-growing components in the AV industry. It is bringing AV into supermarkets, car dealerships, retail stores, and other places where AV has never appeared before.

Digital signage is a combination of high-resolution digital displays with dedicated computers and software, allowing companies and organizations to communicate with the audiences they want to reach, with the targeted messages they wish to issue, at the precise time they want to convey it. What makes digital signage a growing trend is its flexibility - a networked digital sign can easily change its message based on its location, the season, time of day, inventory levels, or special events. The sleek look of plasma and flat panel screens is part of the appeal, but so is the software that generates creative, crisp images and the changing content.

There are several types of digital signage, ranging from the simple to the complex. The most basic digital signage can be created with a laptop, a PowerPoint presentation, and a monitor. Sophisticated, interactive digital signage allows individuals to use touch screen technology to select the information they wish to view. This may be implemented at information kiosks in retail environments, museums, and many other public spaces.

There are many options for displaying content. New digital signage systems often use LCD monitors because they tend to have less glare, use less power, and have fewer problems with burned-in images. Plasma screens are the next most popular choice. The monitor size is dependent upon the location of the installation. A mall directory or a command-and-control facility requires a large display, but the checkout area of a grocery store or a museum exhibit may call for a less obtrusive option such as a 20-inch, or smaller, monitor.

In many cases Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) distribution allows organizations to implement digital signage networks through cost-effective, centrally managed content distribution systems. These systems offer an inexpensive delivery method for advertising, entertainment, and information through a single sign or a network of screens instantly and simultaneously. Other, more complex systems use satellite or broadcast technology to distribute content. A networked system of digital signage allows many advanced features, such as the automatic insertion of relevant information including weather reports, stock tickers, transportation terminal information, and local news.

A primary element consistent with any successful digital signage implementation is not necessarily how big the screens are or the distribution method: Compelling content must be developed and messages delivered in a timely, targeted manner.

Some organizations have people with creative skills on staff, while others outsource this function. Repurposing ads, demonstrations, and other communications for use in digital signage is also possible. Easy-to-use software makes it possible for most staff to create content that attracts new business or explains available services. Many companies decide to gradually invest in digital signage before fully committing to a global implementation. Understanding and establishing clear objectives for the digital signage is essential.

Milwaukee Art Museum: Beautiful Technology
The Milwaukee Art Museum's physical expansion over the years has significantly increased its role as a comprehensive art institution. The Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion, the first Calatrava-designed building to be completed in the United States, was named Time magazine's "Best Design of 2001."

"This was a monumental project, encompassing an exceptional architectural and engineering masterpiece, dramatic new gallery space, expanded facilities and visitor amenities, and elegant public gardens," says David Gordon, museum director and CEO.

Adds Elysia Borowy-Reeder, senior director of marketing and communications, "When we considered digital signage, we had to be sure that it would complement and blend with the unique architecture. It's difficult to place signage without detracting from the overall experience, so we decided to go with a system that allowed us to deliver a lot of information without a large footprint."

The solution was two Sharp 27-inch LCD screens placed in the Windhover (Grand) Reception Hall. The system, which is fed by AxisTV Version 6.2 Standard Edition, has been a hit since it went online September 14, 2006. "We're able to advertise both current and future programs to visitors. It's a great way to create awareness," says Reeder.

The museum uses a horizontal three-frame layout on the screens. One large frame displays marketing bulletins about current and upcoming exhibitions, special events, and store promotions. Two smaller frames advertise visitor tips and event schedules. The content can be easily updated with web-based software.

Several members of Reeder's team determine the type of content that will be displayed and take care of message scheduling. The in-house design and publications department creates polished graphics in Quark® and PhotoShop® and then imports them into AxisTV. The team also creates and displays event schedules.
Fletcher Jones Mercedes: An Eye-Catching Idea
The new, $30 million Fletcher Jones Mercedes Benz dealership in Las Vegas features a myriad of plasma displays in this "Bellagio of all dealerships." The Fletcher Jones team has a deluxe facility, with amenities that include a complimentary Starbucks coffee bar, an elegant boutique, and a full-time manicurist. "The plasma screens add a lot to our store," says General Manager Bernie Schiappa. "They help clients know where things are, what services we offer." The sleek plasma panels integrate well with the understated mahogany walls and stone flooring imported from Italy. The visual messaging system, installed by Kelley Communications of Las Vegas, has six locations around Jones' 205,000-square-foot facility.

The dealership uses AxisTV to run different messages to be created for each screen. Messages can be "instructed" to stay still, crawl, or scroll horizontally or vertically. Each can be changed on a moment's notice, or scheduled to appear and disappear at specified times.

"Customers love seeing their name up in lights," says Sales Assistant Rene Zemp, who presents vehicles to clients in the designated delivery bay. "I take a picture of the car, then put it up on the screen, and create a personal 'Welcome and Congratulations' message. It's a lot of fun."

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This article was written by InfoComm International®, the international trade association of the professional audiovisual and information communications industries. Readers can see a variety of digital signage options and receive valuable training at InfoComm 07.

Plasma displays help the Fletcher Jones Mercedes Benz dealership in Las Vegas become the "Bellagio of all dealerships." PHOTO: Fletcher Jones Mercedes Benz