|| The Perspective
Tuesday, 29 January 2008
Bill Gerba, president of WireSpring Technologies, regularly blogs about digital signage at Wirespring.com. The following column, dated Jan. 14, 2008, first appeared on that site here.
About a week ago, a fairly seismic shift occurred in the ad-driven digital signage market. NBC, which already provides content and sells ads on various digital signage networks, decided that they would hold the first-ever "upfront" for digital out-of-home media. Their goal? To sell the majority of their ad inventory in a single session. Citing the TV writers strike and a shift in advertiser interests, NBC representatives suggested that content and ads on their screens will reach people "more than 3 billion times" in 2008, making them an ideal place to spend ad money. Ad Age initially reported the news (here's a copy from Google in case that link stops working), and I wrote an article for Digital Signage News to encourage some dialogue about it. After a week of other folks sharing their opinions, a few clear schools of thought emerged -- each championed by someone coming from a different part of our industry. They're all worth considering, and I'll summarize them below, but ultimately I'd like to leave it up to you to decide whether NBC's move is a good thing for the digital signage community... or not.
While I'm certainly impressed with NBC's aggressiveness and confidence in their ability to sell their digital screen space just like TV, I dislike the idea of trying to squash our shiny new medium into a decades-old framework invented when there were only three significant sources of inventory (namely ABC, NBC and CBS), and it took months and tons of cash to produce an acceptable-looking spot that tied into an existing campaign. Further, having to buy space upfront, while nice for padding NBC's coffers, does little for advertisers who might not know exactly when or where they want their out-of-home spots to run. After all, one of the biggest benefits of advertising on digital signs is that they let advertisers deliver content to the right audience at the right place and at the right time, but even the best marketers can't always predict what the right time is. With our medium they don't have to, since screens can be updated virtually instantly, giving advertisers the ability to respond to changes in product demand or consumer opinion faster than they ever could on TV. Likewise, content for digital signs can take advantage of new technologies like Flash, HTML and dynamic data sources that allow for quick revisions and favor last-minute insertion.
I do think that getting media buyers and planners interested in our sector is a good thing, and I certainly appreciate that NBC is one of the few companies that can virtually force that rather stalwart group to change direction. At the same time, I have a bad feeling that a purely supply-driven model won't work to our industry's favor in the long run, and this could be the event that starts us down that path. I would have much preferred to see NBC adopt a more open bidding system (maybe through eBay's ad auction) that better unlocks the "timeliness value" of digital signage content. In fact, Motomedia's David Weinfeld left a comment more or less in agreement with this perspective. His take on NBC's position is that despite lots of chest-thumping, nobody else has gotten the digital signage ad sales model right, so they're merely falling back on what they know:
"The reason that large media companies, such as NBC and, arguably, PRN, are choosing how this media is being sold initially is that many screen networks are still struggling to monetize their viewership. NBC has the size to be, what is known in the financial industry as, a market maker. They have the relationships and the clout to make a digital out-of-home upfront profitable, even though it is not the correct advertising sales model for our industry.
The digital signage industry does not yet include enough seasoned advertising sales professionals to direct the ship toward bountiful advertising revenue. Many networks, both good and bad, grew from entrepreneurs who identified the potential growth of our space. These individuals, however, lack the advertising sales expertise to effectively position their networks. Large advertisers want metrics and a national footprint before agreeing to make an investment in a digital out-of-home network. There are numerous networks in our industry that I believe were started with the 'if you build, they will come' mentality toward advertisers. This, of course, has proven to be a faulty string of logic.
NBC is calling the shots because they are the elephant in the room. It's the job of network owners, unified network groups, such as Seesaw and Adcentricity, and digital signage industry associations to stand up and come up with a better model. Because if we don't, big media will come in and take over control of our industry. The question comes down to: is this what network owners want? Do they want to build out networks and sell to the likes of Clear Channel, CBS, etc.? Or would they rather decide the direction of an industry they have put in the time and energy to build?"
In our free market economy, everyone's free to compete, but he who makes the most money wins. The problem in our industry is the corollary to that rule, which basically says that he who starts out with the most money is probably going to make the most money, especially when there's a huge gap in spendable cash between him and the next guy. That's essentially the situation that we have right now. After all, NBC's parent company is GE, #6 on the Fortune 500. Of course, that still leaves five spots for bigger companies, and a certain retailer in that group is pretty heavily invested in digital signage advertising :)
The discussion certainly didn't end there. Fellow blogger Rob Gorrie felt that even the small companies working on solving the ad sales problem could have been more successful had they merely listened to what ad buyers were asking for:
"Behind the scenes, the major Outdoor players are all saying that if we (Networks, organizations and associations) don't dictate standards (for sales, measurement, content, etc) THEY will because they feel we're screwing this medium up by stagnating it and not making decisions/squabbling.
Forcing a sale model does not a medium make but it IS a start....especially for getting attention.
One of the problems I run into regularly on the Network side is that this medium has been sold a particular way for 5+ years by the Network Vanguard/The 'adults' in the playground. Understandably, they don't want to change how they do things (you wouldn't either if you did something a certain way for 5 years and were just starting to see some success).
The agencies have been saying what they want for 3 years and we haven't been listening...or at least it doesn't look that way to them. I've seen a lot of lip service given to media agencies by some major Networks but very little change in how the Networks actually do business."
Cooperation between technology providers, agencies, industry organizations and the networks themselves is certainly a big challenge these days. It's a frequent topic of conversation for POPAI's Digital Signage Advocacy Group, though admittedly we've made little progress in figuring out how to solve it.
A third argument came from Ben Caswell of BannerCaswell Productions. He suggests that we might be looking in altogether the wrong place, since:
"Targeted entertainment will drive the industry.
It is not driving it yet so the 'up fronts' or -- in Rob's case -- pitches to media buyers are selling ad time on Networks that until very very very recently was a medium strictly for advertising.
Content in the DS space meant moving ads. Until the last 6 months, very few were thinking NBC/CBS/ABC content, least of all those companies themselves...
So when an ad buyer says 'when it gets like TV' -- and to complement Rob's ad sales interpretation -- what I hear is 'when there is a reason to think that people want to watch the network,' i.e. when there is targeted entertainment, then we will buy time. Because content drives eyeballs and where eyeballs are the advertisers will be sure to follow.
The 'moving ads'...or 'poster plus' networks will continue to thrive on remnant buys. Go Seesaw.
However, the premium buys will come only for networks with enough of a dwell time to entertain with programming that is not flash, powerpoint, adobe photoshop or simply OTHER ads."
I certainly like that notion from a "purist" perspective, but the capitalist/pragmatist in me feels that advertising will drive the content on many of these networks, and not the other way around.
One thing's for sure: with NBC making the first big move, everyone else -- and I mean everyone -- is now in a reactive mode, not a proactive one. The other TV networks, the big media conglomerates and even those retailers who have secret desires to become media companies will either have to step up and play by NBC's rules, run with a model set forth by one of the smaller companies in our fledgling industry, or forge their own path. Indeed, there's a tremendous opportunity for inter- and intra-industry cooperation that could yield a more cohesive set of offerings, better compatibility between networks, and stronger buy-in from agencies. But there's also a chance that every company will decide to do their own thing, fostering the fragmentation that seems to define us nowadays.
So, what do you think...
- Is NBC's upfront good or bad for our industry?
- Will it have a major impact on future events, or is it just a one-off deal?
- Which companies (if any) will respond, and how?
Bill Gerba is the CEO and co-founder of WireSpring Technologies Inc.
Monday, 21 January 2008
For the last several months, I’ve been collecting and reviewing news reports about the world’s migration toward EMV compliance — the smart-chip-card standard that Europay International, MasterCard Worldwide, Visa International collaborated in 1999 to create.
EMV isn’t new, but it continues to garner its fair share of media attention, and a number of software-testing vendors in the ATM space have taken an interest. So, I like to keep an eye on how the migration is developing, all the while wondering if and when the United States will make a move.
Snap: If you’re a retailer or banker, don’t sigh. The United States doesn’t appear to be making any movement, and Visa and MasterCard aren’t expected to put any pressure on card issuers and retailers anytime soon.
Canada’s migration to EMV has reportedly progressed smoothly. A number of factors, including experience gained from the United Kingdom’s migration and the fact that Canada has one electronic funds transfer network, Interac Association, have contributed to Canada’s success, says Ian Kerr, chief executive of England-based Level Four Software Ltd.
Level Four is working with banks in the United Kingdom, Canada and other parts of the world as those countries make the move to EMV. Other companies, such as Canada-based Phoenix Interactive Design Inc. and United States-based ACI Worldwide Inc. also are working with financial institutions throughout the world to help reach EMV compliance.
And as more domestic migrations occur, they begin to move at an accelerated adoption pace, simply because the industry is learning as it moves along.
“In the U.K., the testing piece was the last thing we did,” Kerr said. “We learned from that experience, and it's a lesson we’ve been able to use when we move toward EMV in other countries, like Canada. Now we test earlier.”
In fact, Canada’s success thus far bodes well for meeting the compliance deadline of 2012. Unlike the U.K., where the 2006 deadline was missed by banks and retailers alike, Canada appears to be on target.
Mexico’s EMV compliance deadline was the end of 2007. I guess we’ll soon hear how that country fared.
So where does that leave the United States? Well, somewhere in the middle, literally.
Contactless and EMV
We see more of a push in the United States for contactless payments. MasterCard this week announced that First Hawaiian Bank ($12.5 billion in assets) is issuing its PayPass debit card, which Giesecke & Devrient is providing.
G&D specializes in smart cards. To date, it says it has supplied more than 10 million contactless payment cards to U.S. banks, and 2008 is expected to be a year of contactless growth in the United States.
MasterCard Worldwide also sees opportunity for its PayPass cards, which now total 20 million, along with 80,000 merchant-acceptance locations, in 20 countries.
In 2005, the Smart Card Alliance recognized Chase Bank USA for its innovation in the contactless space for the issuance of its “blink” credit card. Chase was recognized because its “blink” introduction marked one of the first innovative moves in the U.S. payment card space in more than a decade.
“We expect a huge change in smart cards used in payment applications between 2004 and 2010 and that will be driven by take-up of contactless payment cards in the United States ,” said Karthik Nagarajan, senior analyst for Frost & Sullivan, in “Americas Smart Card Market Analysis,” 2005.
There’s no question that fraud spurred the push for EMV adoption in countries throughout the world. Credit fraud has long been a problem in the United Kingdom. After the introduction of chip and PIN in 2004, the U.K. reported a 25 percent drop in card fraud within two years. The replacement of the easy-to-copy mag-stripe is to thank, according to the U.K. payments association APACS.
And while some recent industry reports have questioned how effective the smart chip will continue to be at curbing fraud, there’s little question that it’s more secure than the mag-stripe.
The same can’t be said for near-field communication, on which basic contactless cards are based. Radio frequency identification, which is typically used, has been challenged by a number of industry experts who claim it can easily be intercepted. While some argue that RFID transmissions can be encrypted like any other type of communications frequency, the mere openness of it all has left many skeptics unsatisfied that the technology is safe.
And though the technology that governs RFID and smart chips is, on a basic level, the same, the RFID chip fundamentally differs from the smart chip, which in and of itself is a mini-computer, capable of sending and receiving transmissions. The RFID, on the other hand, is very basic and dumb, only capable of receiving messages.
So, the United States is expected to continue down its road of contactless adoption, a stage that was set a few years back when Citibank introduced its “blink” card. But the move is a curious one, to say the least.
The argument against EMV migration in the States has largely fallen on the huge investment retailers and bankers would have to make. The costs associated with purchasing EMV-compliant POS systems and issuing EMV-compliant cards has made migration cost prohibitive, without having high card-fraud numbers nudging the initiative. But a move to RFID contactless puts a similar financial demand on retailers and bankers. POS systems must be replaced and cards must be reissued.
My question: Why are Visa and MasterCard allowing the United States to take a baby step when a leap makes more sense?
Tracy Kitten is the editor of ATM Marketplace.
Tuesday, 15 January 2008
Determining the return on investment of a digital signage network isn't always easy.
Ask a savvy investor to divulge the five-year average return on the mutual fund he's using for his 401k investment, and he'll rattle off the answer quicker than the Fed can print money.
Ask a farmer how much a given fertilizer costs and how much bigger his crop yield is because of it, and he'll respond with more certitude than the rooster that crows at dawn.
But ask a digital signage network operator about the return on investment (ROI) of his digital signage system, and the answer may be tinged with a degree of uncertainty and hesitation.
Why? Because in many ways the factors that go into determining the ROI of digital signage can be a bit, for lack of a better term, "squishy." Figuring out the ROI of digital signage can be like walking through a heavily rain-soaked field: You know eventually you'll reach something firm on which to build your next step, but getting to that solid foundation can be a little tenuous.
Wouldn't it be great if it were as simple as looking at the cash spent to set up and maintain the network, measuring the cash generated or saved by the digital signage network, dividing the latter by the former and coming up with a return? While that might be practical in some digital signage applications, the "squishiness" of many others makes arriving at the return on investment of a digital signage network much more difficult.
To illustrate the difference, consider these two scenarios: a casino that's replacing all printed promotional signage with digital signage and a corporation setting up a digital signage network to communicate with employees.
In the casino scenario, the gaming facility typically spends $300,000 annually to print promotional signs, plus an additional $50,000 annually for the salaries of employees who replace old signs with new signs to update patrons on the constantly changing entertainment acts, restaurant specials and casino promotions.
By replacing the traditional signs with a digital signage network, the casino will have a one-time expense for the cost of the LCD or plasma panels, the digital signage media players, network cabling, routers, and ancillary hardware. Let's set that one-time cost at $300,000, and throw in $50,000 annually to maintain the network.
For the sake of this scenario, the cost of creating content will be virtually the same. Graphic artists using Adobe Photoshop and InDesign to create print ads will now use Adobe Photoshop, Premiere and Flash to create content for the digital signage network.
Figuring out the five-year return on this digital signage network is a snap: $1.75 million in printing and labor savings ($350,000 x 5) divided by $550,000 ($300,000 for the initial installation and $50,000 x 5 years for maintenance) = 318 percent return for five years, or about 64 percent annual return.
While there could be other factors impacting the total ROI of this system (such as advertising revenue from allied businesses wishing to advertise on the network) this scenario illustrates that there can be a straightforward ROI assigned to some digital signage applications.
Squishy comes into play in scenario No. 2, the corporate digital signage network. A corporation installs a modest digital signage network that includes a sign to greet visitors in the lobby, several digital door cards to identify what's booked for various conference rooms and a digital sign in the corporate lunchroom.
The squishy factor in this scenario relates to identifying and measuring employee and visitor behavior as it relates to the digital signage network. Did a visitor to the company feel more welcomed when she saw a personal greeting on the sign in the lobby? Did that feeling translate in even the smallest of ways to a more productive meeting with the person she was there to meet? Did that translate into some monetary value?
Do the signs used as digital door cards inform the people of the right conference to attend? Do they reduce interruptions, help meetings to start and end on time, and in so doing improve productivity? Can that be measured? What's the monetary value?
Does the sign in the lunchroom create a degree of loyalty to the company by recognizing achievement? Does it improve the experience of employees by keeping them better informed of what's going on in and around the premises? Is there a monetary value that can be measured?
These sorts of benefits are much more difficult to reduce to a simple ROI equation because they're squishy. But just because they are squishy doesn't mean they are not important or real. Being squishy just means it's harder to identify the true ROI of the digital signage network, not that there is no ROI.
David Little is the director of marketing for Keywest Technology. This commentary originally appeared on the Keywest Technology Digital Signage Blog.
Tuesday, 08 January 2008
Bill Gerba, president of WireSpring Technologies, regularly blogs about digital signage at Wirespring.com. The following column first appeared on that site here.
Happy New Year, folks. Here's to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2008 for all. For many, the new year brings with it connotations of renewal, a fresh start, infinite possibilities... and zillions of blog posts with top-10 lists and predictions for the coming months. While I'm as much an optimist as the next guy (oh, stop laughing already), I'm not much for making predictions. Maybe it's because I recognize the futility of trying to do the impossible. Maybe I don't want to trap WireSpring in a self-fulfilling prophecy that belies its full potential. Or maybe it's just because I'm always wrong. But regardless of the underlying cause, I'm not kicking off the first post of 2008 with some corny industry predictions. Instead, today I want to talk about the innovation (or lack thereof) taking place in the kiosk and digital signage markets.
Admittedly, talking about innovation itself isn't very innovative -- I actually got the idea from this month's HUB magazine, which focuses on marketing innovation. As Editor-in-Chief Tim Manners quips, "talking about innovation is kind of like the marketing equivalent of talking about the weather. You know the old joke: Everybody talks about the weather but nobody ever does anything about it." Whether looking at marketing in general or the tiny microcosm of digital out-of-home media like kiosks and digital signage, I think Manners' observation holds true. There's certainly a lot of activity in the marketplace right now, both for interactive kiosks and non-interactive digital signage. But does any of it show the hallmarks of innovation? Does anything out there today make it past the "Gee, that's a neat demo" phase into the "Duh, now why didn't I think of that?" territory that so often marks a truly innovative idea? I can't think of a single thing in the last twelve months that's firmly planted in the latter category, though a few come close. For example:
Not very innovative - New and different form factors: 2007 saw the aggressive expansion of one company's interactive digital signage installations in taxis, on buildings, in public toilets and urinals, on the floor, on the ceiling, and even mounted on people. Are any of these ideas interesting? Sure, they all are. Are they truly innovative? Not in my book. Unique signage placement, even when bundled with (or reliant upon) a unique business model, hasn't solved any of our well-known industry-wide problems, nor has it opened up (or created) significant new markets or otherwise advanced the state of the industry. Likewise, when highly-touted OLED and electronic paper technology makes new screen shapes and mounting options available in a few years, they may offer significant technological innovations, but little industry innovation.
Somewhat innovative - DS that appeals to more than one sense: And throwing up a pair of speakers to complement your hanging LCD screen isn't what I'm talking about. The past couple of years saw some interesting ideas come to light, though. In particular, directional sound came of age, with Wal-Mart Mexico deploying something like 5,000 hypersonic sound speakers to reduce employee fatigue and improve audio targeting in their digital signage network back in late 2006. (Full disclosure: Wal-Mart Mexico is one of our customers.) Since then, a number of other large deployments have followed suit. Directional sound represents not only technological innovation (which has been in the works for years, of course), but also a solution to problems that previously plagued installations. 2007 also marked the advent of scent marketing, with Japan's NTT testing a digital sign platform that could match specific scents with audio and video promotions. I don't think this tech is quite ready for prime-time, but it has a lot of potential for driving sales of food, drinks, perfume, and other products where smell is a big part of the customer experience.
A little more innovative - Interactive store windows: Although it only spanned a few locations, the interactive store window deployment at Ralph Lauren Polo stores this year scored some major headlines, not only in the interactive kiosk circuit but also in weighty, mainstream publications like the Wall Street Journal. On the surface, it looked quite innovative: a huge, dynamic screen that users could interact with simply by touching the store window. In reality though, the true innovation was smaller: let passers-by shop the store after hours. That particular piece has been done many times before, and in a number of different ways -- just think ATMs. Still, it brought the solution to 5th avenue and the New York Open, garnered some positive press for the self-service industry, and from a technical standpoint was visually stunning. Still, we've encountered through-glass touchscreens and rear-projection onto storefront windows a number of times before, so I'd have to say that the combination of these elements was clever and eye-catching, but not something I'd call highly innovative.
Quite innovative - The rise of ad aggregators: In an attempt to solve one of the biggest problems plaguing the ad-driven digital signage community, companies like SeeSaw Networks, Adcentricity and Artisan Live started working on ways to make buying time on screen networks easy for media planners and buyers. While each company has some successes to talk about, we're still a ways away from a digital signage media buy being as foolproof as it needs to be in order to see mass adoption over on Madison Ave (if in fact that would ever happen, and it probably wouldn't). Still, each of these companies (and others, I'm sure) are introducing unique solutions to a highly complex problem, and while the overall concept of "Let's take a bunch of little networks and sell them like one big one" might seem obvious, I'm sure it's quite the colossal undertaking, requiring all sorts of business, finance and technical acumen.
Most innovative yet - Direct feedback/interaction via mobile phones: It certainly wasn't invented in 2007, and it might even be old hat by now, but every time I see a particularly well-done piece of content that has a call to action featuring an SMS coupon or feedback form, I'm impressed. This technique addresses one of the most difficult problems for digital signage vendors: proving out an ROI. With a direct feedback mechanism, advertisers have an accurate gauge of how many people actually were engaged by their ads, and they even have the opportunity to collect some information about them. For viewers who aren't interested, there's no negative consequence. For those who are, participation is just a text message away. Considering the mobile phone and SMS penetration rate in the industrialized world, very few are excluded. Of course, the method isn't perfect: it still requires some effort on the user's part, and it doesn't do anything to address those individuals who were engaged, but not enough to whip out their mobile. But of all the solutions I've seen so far for measuring engaged audiences, this is my favorite.
All considered, this year is likely to bring many incremental improvements to the solutions I've covered above, and that's a good thing. Part of becoming a mature industry is realizing that it's not always necessary to reinvent the wheel. In fact, the best approach is often to learn from (and work from) the accomplishments of others. But there's always the chance that we'll see some real innovation happening -- solutions to the "big problems" that we all face every day: calculating ROI, measuring impact (heck, merely defining "impact" would be great), engaging more viewers, and delivering messages to those viewers effectively.
Wednesday, 02 January 2008
It all happened on my first day at NetWorld Alliance.
I had just wrapped a new-employee orientation meeting and was making my way back to my cubicle when my cell phone buzzed. It was a text message from my older brother.
It said: “(J)Soy rod mrkm o contsta.”
I sighed. The message was obviously Spanish and my brother — an electrical engineer who works in the materials-handling business — had just spent several weeks in Mexico on an extended business trip. He arrived back in the States yesterday. No doubt he was now trying to impress me with that all-encompassing grasp of the Spanish language he picked up during the trip. My own Spanish vocabulary is somewhat limited (mostly to words describing products in the Mexican food industry) so I had no idea what it said.
I never replied, but I brought it up with my brother during a phone conversation that evening.
“I never sent you any text messages,” my brother exclaimed. “Which phone did it come from? My business phone or my personal phone?”
“The personal one,” I said. “The one with the 550- number.”
“No way,” my brother replied. “That phone is still in my suitcase. I never once took it out during the whole trip.”
Confused, he unzipped his suitcase and peered inside. Sure enough: the phone was missing. At some point during the trip — probably at the airport — some fiend had gone rummaging around in my brother’s luggage and stole his cell phone. Now the thief was sending text messages like a madman, possibly with the intent of taunting people on my brother’s contact list. There was no doubt that he’d soon be dialing all sorts of international calls — calls to Zimbabwe and Sweden and tiny little republics — all at my brother’s expense. There was only one thing to do.
Within minutes, my brother was calling up his service provider and cutting off service to the stolen phone.
There’s a happy ending to the story. The phone was cut off immediately and he wasn’t charged for the text messages. Thankfully he discovered the phone was missing before the thief was able to use it to organize resistance leaders on distant continents wanting to rebel against the high cost of paper clips. No big losses, other than the cost of the phone itself.
But the incident did give me pause.
As the self-service industry veers closer and closer to the concept of mobile banking, there’s going to have to be a fundamental shift in the way we view our personal wireless devices, such as cell phones, blackberries and PDAs. The core concept of mobile banking is that consumers will be able to use these devices to interact with ATMs, and to make wireless transactions. Taken to the next level, that could mean that the cellular phone could ultimately replace the credit card.
If that’s the case, then we’re going to have to treat our cell phones with the same care we treat our credit cards.
You wouldn’t forget and leave your Visa card lying in a stall in a public restroom. You wouldn’t let it fall between the seat and the center console of your car and you certainly wouldn’t loan it to a friend to use on a Friday night trip into town.
The same must hold true for our mobile devices. They’re not just compact wireless telephones anymore. They provide access to our e-mail accounts, our personal records — and soon — our bank accounts. They’re like tiny laptop computers that hang on our belts.
And like any other electronic device, they can be stolen.
That means the onus is on industry leaders to find new and innovative ways to block malevolent hackers from stealing cell phones and mining them for priceless personal data. It means that — as mobile banking becomes a reality — we educate consumers about how they can protect themselves against identity theft. And it means there has to be a clear channel of communication between ATM manufacturers, cell phone manufacturers, cellular service providers, financial institutions and ISOs — in short, all of the industries that are working together to make mobile banking a reality.
(J)Soy rod mrkm o contsta.