Blog: Keith Kelsen 

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

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

If digital signage were real estate, then the aspect ratio would be the overall shape of the lot – in the case of screens, its width divided by its height. Many people are already familiar with this general concept thanks to the proliferation of HDTV and its “wide screen” images. For digital signage, this is more than about the sheer size of the screen, though – it’s about getting the shape of the content, particularly video content, to match up with the screen.

It’s quite likely, unless a network or multiple networks are of single aspect ratio and all the content for the networks can be built from scratch or acquired in that same ratio, that the network operator or agency will need to decide how to place content of one ratio onto the screen of the other.

The aspect ratio of the traditional television screen prior to HDTV was developed from the movie screen, built to display the 35mm film that had been developed in Edison’s time. It is not quite square: The aspect ratio is 4:3, (Figure 1) also known as 1.33 (what you get when you divide 4 by 3). Until recently, most computer screens were also built on a 4:3 aspect ratio. Almost all films prior to the 1950s, the vast majority of TV programs until very recently, and TV ads, were all shot in this aspect ratio and hence fill up the full frame of such a screen.

In the 1950s, in an attempt to stave off competition from television, the movie industry developed a collection of wide-screen formats, and today filmgoers are accustomed to seeing movies that are almost twice as wide as they are tall – and in some cases, even wider. The development of HDTV involved the adoption of the most common of these newer aspect ratios, 16:9, also commonly called 1.78 (Figure 2). Many films since the 1950s, significant prime time and sports programming on TV, and some TV ads, are in this aspect ratio. Almost all PC screens being sold today are in this format, and as HDTV becomes more widespread, more video will be available from the TV world in this format as well. If one is installing a new digital signage network, chances are it will consist solely of 16:9 screens, whether they are small shelf-mounted POS screens or large outdoor billboards.

These are the most commonly encountered aspect ratios but there are others, notably the 2.35:1 format used by some movies, typically high-budget productions. (It is extremely rare to find digital signage in this format; there are few manufacturers.) And some screens in custom form may have unique ratios, or they may be taller than then are wide to accommodate the location (the large exterior digital signs in Times Square are an example of the latter).

The reason these ratios matter is because content created in one aspect ratio must be modified in some way to be displayed in another. This can create a number of problems for a network operator – if a digital signage network consists of screens of different aspect ratios, the same content will look different on each type without special treatment. Even for a network comprising a single screen format – and 4:3 is being phased out in existing networks as hardware is updated – any content created in another ratio poses the same display issue. (This is another reason for considering carefully the direct use of TV commercials in digital signage networks, since almost all ads today are still in 4:3.)


There are two basic methods for taking 16:9 content and presenting it on 4:3 screens, methods that might be familiar to buyers of wide-screen movies on DVD but watch them on older TVs.

The first is known as letterboxing (Figure 3). In this approach, the 16:9 image is allowed to fill the horizontal width of the screen. Because of the difference in ratios, this means the content will not extend the full height of the screen. Instead, it is centered vertically on the screen and two black stripes are displayed as borders on the top and bottom of the image. Letterboxing has the advantage of retaining the full image of the original content, although it leaves some significant screen real estate unused. If the screen is not sufficiently large, then some individual objects in the image might become less distinct.




A second approach is to allow the 16:9 image to fill the full vertical height of the 4:3 screen (Figure 4). By necessity, this means that the full width cannot be presented and some of the original image will not be visible. This can be done by cropping out both the left and right sides of the original image and displaying the 4:3 section at the center, or by a more laborious process called “pan and scan” in which the cropping may be more pronounced on one side or the other in order to keep important parts of the image centered. This typically requires an editor or technician to view the original content and determine which part of each frame to crop, and then creating a 4:3 version of the original according to that decision. In either case, the content takes up all the available screen space, but at the loss of a considerable amount of the image.

Know what type of network the content will be deployed on — Ask for the specifications.

Posted by: Admin AT 03:11 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Tuesday, 17 December 2013

My title of these trends has changed this year to reflect the industry morphing into something new, something connected to the digital consumer….for all screens are part of the continuity of marketing messages including the increasingly powerful pocket screen.

As I reflect on last year’s predictions, it struck me how this industry is shaping up and what forces are driving new innovation and how each and every one of us in the industry is one of the forces that count no matter if it is one big screen or 500 small screens all connected to the mobile digital consumer.  I believe that 2013 marked a few changes in the industry; some that were subtle but important and others more obvious and game changing.

And now…on to 2014.

1.       2014 is the year of BIG and small!

This coming year promises that you will need to go big or…go small. With the trends that I see in the marketplace, it’s no longer (within the retail, hospitality and dining environments) ok to put a screen on the wall and expect the consumer to pay attention.  There is now a higher saturation of screens in the market place. The shopper is no longer wowed by the HD screen on the wall.  In the 5th Screen’s Good, Bad and Ugly Content Worldwide Survey, 40% of the participants saw digital signage in the retail environment.

The industry is headed toward creating BIG screen participation marketing experiences using huge video walls and large 65-80 inch screens with touch, gestural, virtual aisles, and augmented reality to engage the consumer in experiences that get the shopper off their pocket screen and onto the brand screen, engage them and then link to their small pocket screen to continue the conversation between brand and the shopper.

For the small screen, think tablets and mobile.  Both iPad and Intel based tablets are permeating the market place.  The recent announcement of Applebee’s deployment of Intel based tablets at each table is leading the way.  We now see them at Subway on the counter next to the register, in the hands of associates, at the shelf next to products, in new concept stores. These small screens will be interactive with a personal one on one purposed experience and with the goal to continue the conversation on the smallest screen; the pocket screen. And to help this #1 trend, tablets are getting more powerful and less expensive by the day.  The key to their success will be how these screens engage the shopper.  These deployments will, I believe will be the most significant growth area in the marketplace. Remember that saying great things come in small packages.

The combination of BIG and small screens in the new retail environment is the key to brick and mortar brand survival in the digital world.

2.       Participation Marketing and Gamification

In today’s attention grabbing environment the consumer is inundated with over 1,200 messages per day on average according to recent studies.  But, it is no longer the consumer watching, it’s about what they do.  And they DO media, not watch media in the marketplace.

Today if a screen does not deliver an engagement and story in a PoW network (Point of Wait, where the consumer has dwell time) or PoS Network (Point of Sale, where the consumer is shopping) environment it’s a waste of resource and the consumer will simply not care.

The engagement process might be touch, gestural, augmented reality or simply text to this number from their pocket screen.  The key is to give the engaged the consumer the chance to win something, anything or just offer to give them something and they will give you (the brand), personal information in return and connect with you the brand on their pocket screen for the ongoing conversation. The Gamification of retail is underway and using participation marketing techniques in 2014 is going viral and it will give the brand and retailers a high ROI and ROE (return on engagement).

The anti has just gone up and the consumer demands something to DO not something to watch.

3.       Great Content

Today’s consumer demands high quality experiences and the only element that we have to deliver on that promise is to create great content.  Content is one of the most challenging daunting tasks that has plagued the industry, but this year is the year that agencies are stepping up to the challenge.  We have reached a point that the knowledge base has finally sunk in…TV ads do not work on digital signage. Yes I know, those of is in the industry have been saying that since day one.  But now over a decade and half later agencies are on board with this.  And purpose built media for digital signage is now the new standard. In my recent 2013 worldwide survey on content 55% of the survey participants said that the content was mediocre and 8% considered the content bad. In contrast 35% considered the content good and only 2% considered the digital media to be great.

So why do I think Great Content is on the horizon? Now we know.  Now we know that every piece of brand media that the consumer comes in contact with has to be great or risk the perception; Bad Content=Bad Brand, Great Content=Great Brand.  Combine this with the fact that brands are making larger investments in their digital assets or they die. Brands understand that the past decade of feverish developments in intersecting digital technology requires them to create great content in the digital world. As brands become digitally bonded with consumers, the only perception is how great that content is and this will directly affect the consumer’s attitude toward the brand at every digital touch point.

 Look for great content on all screens, because the brand’s survival depends upon the digital bond.

4.       Connecting The Dots

This has been on my list for the last 3 years and this year moves up to #4 position.  The pressure for all screens to work together seamlessly is even stronger in 2014.  Call it omni-channel, transmedia experience, mobile connection, or whatever.  The bottom line is that a consumer is looking for an experience that is seamless. From their point of view, that means what I see on TV, on my tablet, on my smart phone and in-store creates a seamless experience on that path to purchase.  The industry gets it, the agencies get it, even IT gets it, and marketing definitely gets it.  But it does take the fundamental architectural changes in the backend.  And that process began for most retailers in the last 2 years and it is still in it’s infancy.  Through the omni-channel implementation in the retail sector, the seamless experience will become more of a reality this year. This is the time when the consumer touches the cloud and the consumer does not care which screen they are interacting with as long as it is entertaining, helpful, or useful.  Look what Apple just did…iBeacon (although not new just NFC the apple way)… but it does that tell us the experience is changing in retail and it simply does not matter which screen.  Digital signage will be a connected cloud experience or it will be ignored.

 Look for more seamless experiences across all screens where digital signage is a part of the cloud ecosystem.

5. Data and Experiences

Big Data is something that was a buzz in late 2012 and in early 2013…but what happens when small data drives the real time experience?  We have seen this in simple terms when weather data drives products offered like hot chocolate when it’s snowing or an umbrella sale when it’s raining.  But the world of data is changing and becoming part of the very fabric that we live in.  AutoZone utilizes big data to tap into a variety of databases, such as the types of cars driven by people living around their retail outlets.  This has given Auto Zone a competitive advantage because they can offer inventory to their customers with what they want, where they want it.  Image when this gets integrated into their digital screen strategy.

Small data will begin to drive our interactive screen experiences in new (unnoticed by the consumer), but extremely useful natural ways.

Posted by: Admin AT 10:04 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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