Blog: Keith Kelsen 

Keith Kelsen (bio)
Chairman & CEO
5th Screen Digital

Tuesday, 28 September 2010
One fundamental question about displaying content on the screen goes back to the real estate analogy. Should there be a single structure taking up the whole display property, or is it better to subdivide and put something in two, three, or even more distinct areas? In digital signage, these screen areas are called zones.

One typical approach is to take the full area of a 16:9 screen and split it up into three areas: one that retains the 16:9 format, another next to it in the 4:3 format, and a short, wide zone along the bottom of the 16:9 area (Figure 1.1).

One could use the first zone for branding content, the second for informational or secondary ad content, and the third as a ticker.

Figure 1.1.

Indeed, the question of how many zones to use — or whether to use any at all — often arises when a network will use data-driven content, such as news headlines, weather forecasts, or stock prices. Although at first the zone approach appears to deal with a number of issues — from providing a way to display the full images of content in multiple ratios to creating variety for the viewer — there is a fundamental question to ask (Figure 1.2). Is it preferable to display this content at all times or does that create a distraction that confuses the viewer or prevents the viewer from focusing on the revenue-generating content?

Figure 1.2

This conundrum is not an easy one to solve, and the answer often depends on the type of network involved. So let’s look at a few types of networks that have zones and some that do not to understand why the given choices are appropriate.

As a rule, most “Point Of Transit” (POT) networks do not employ zones. Why not? Because the function of these screens as something akin to a live poster, combined with the limited time the viewer is exposed to them, means that a powerful message needs to be conveyed in just a few seconds. Advertisers understandably want full command of the screen so there is no interference with their message. Although the message on the screen will change periodically, at any given time there should probably not be any competition for the viewer’s attention from secondary zones.

There are occasions, however, where even a POT network can be more effective with zones, provided they are used in a creative manner. Keep in mind the issue of viewer relevancy. At an airport, weather and other information about a destination is of great interest to a viewer, and having such information displayed in a zone on the screen could attract and hold a viewer’s attention for a somewhat longer period of time, exposing the viewer to ads in the main zone. At the same time, the weather information could also be displayed full screen as part of a loop that also contains advertising. Care needs to be taken with such choices, given the existence of several studies that suggest zones in transit networks do not work and detract from the message the advertiser is trying to get across.

This may change as people become more accustomed to the visual cues of digital signage as it proliferates and plays more of a role in our daily lives. With changes in both content and technology, the perception of the viewer is becoming altered as well. We no longer see mobile phones as oddities, and laptops are part of the tool kit of high school students. Digital signage is well on its way to becoming exactly that ubiquitous, and viewers may soon be more accustomed to them and pay more attention to all their zones. Continual evaluation is the only thing that will clarify how this element of digital signage will be perceived.

One subset of Point of Wait (POW) networks that is amenable to the use of zones is the elevator network. Although there is still a limited amount of time to get a message across and a relatively small amount of screen real estate to do it, the fact is that the average person in an office building rides the elevator six times a day, and each ride lasts an average of 1 minute. This sort of network is ideal for presenting short bursts of content (15 seconds or so) in a few different zones on the screen. The viewer who chooses to focus on one zone during one ride may well choose another zone on the next ride, maintaining interest in the screen and making this approach a viable option for this type of network.

 Figure 1.3

Mike DiFranza, cofounder and CEO of Captivate Network, tells us about the four-zone approach they use in their network (Figure 1.3), the world’s most widespread in elevators. “The main zones are about editorial content that is aggregated and [condensed] by our staff. That is placed on the left side of the screen. The ad zone is placed on the right side of the screen. We positioned the ad zone to the right simply because people read left to right and that way, they see the ads in the ad content zone. On the bottom of the screen under the editorial zone, we provide time and date, and under the ad zone we provide stock and weather information, etc. We also provide a ticker along the bottom that will come in with important breaking news from time to time.”

In other networks, zones are very useful precisely because eliminating the chance for boredom is an important concern. Especially in a POW network like corporate communications, zones help keep the messaging fresh, simply because the viewer sees the displays many times during the day and week (Figure 1.4). Providing zones of information lets viewers focus on different parts of the screen because they are engaged frequently over a longer period of a week.

 Figure 1.4

With zones, keep in mind that it is all relevant to the mindset of the viewer and the type of network. If zones are part of your DNA and are effective means to capture attention, then by all means, use them. Viewers will ignore the screens if their mind-set and the type of network do not match the purpose of why the shopper, dweller, or mover is in the venue in the first place.
Posted by: Keith Kelsen AT 08:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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