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, 26 March 2013

Is socializing the corporate environment killing the digital signage screen for corporate communication networks?

The purpose of internal communication digital signage networks are to help connect the disconnected employee and to help communication between HR and employees, management and labor, to help get everyone on the same page and backroom training. They are also used of course in the lobby with a differently targeted message.

This is a case where digital signage may have seen its day, and the pocket screen may be the killer.

We are now seeing a new wave of corporate communications where employees within a specific corporate group are using Facebook-/Twitter-type applications within the corporate environment.

It works like this. If I am in sales then I can share what I am doing with the rest of the group and what wins, meetings, prospects I am pursuing ... real-time ... and in turn anyone that is part of my group can comment, like, etc. my posting. This goes a long way in to making employees feel part of a team. In addition, I can also collaborate with my team on documents live in the cloud.

So now each individual is updated real-time on their smartphone or desktop with key messages from key players and have their own group that is focused on their mission.

One can post pictures, video and of course text and audio.

In addition some companies are requiring that you follow a few key players such as Human Resources, the CEO and Corporate Communications. This happens in a live, real-time environment.

It's personal, engaging and connected.

Now some rules need to apply, and some companies have put in best practices and rules around postings to remind everyone that this is a corporate social mission network not Facebook.

If you were born after 1980, you are digital; you think in a digital world — and that thinking is different than someone who grew up in an analog world. I for one am a digital wannabe ... but I often have wondered what happens when the digital generation who are texting, creating instant opportunities, instant social meetings and getting instant gratification reaches the analog business world?

Well there you have it ... Yammer, which is just one of the corporate-mission social software applications that bring teams together quickly and in real time, is used by 5 million people and more than 200,000 companies worldwide, including 85 percent of the Fortune 500. A company's network is stored in the cloud, they have instant access to all of their coworkers, conversations, shared files and notifications ... not by email but in real time.

So how does that kill the video screen? Well I leave that up to your imagination, but it just got a whole lot easier for me to share my messages to my colleagues (and not get bogged down in email) within a micro business mission network and not have to create a playlist of content to get there.

Keith Kelsen is the author of "Unleashing the Power of Digital Signage — Content Strategies for the 5th Screen." More information about the book and the book's companion website can be found at His company, 5th Screen, is at Follow him on Twitter @KKelsen.

Posted by: Admin AT 09:33 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
Monday, 28 February 2011
One of most appropriate interaction methods for most digital signage networks is touch technology. Most of us have seen this technology deployed in both public places (for example, ATMs) and private devices (for instance, smart phones like the Apple iPhone or Palm Pre). The technology is proven, costs are constantly declining, and most importantly, users are generally familiar with and comfortable using it.
Once digital signage becomes interactive, several things occur. The content is different, the reaction is different, and the data collected is different.

First, let’s consider how the content changes. Remember digital signage is a new medium, and it is different from the PC. It is encountered in different places and circumstances than the PC and Web sites, and its purpose is different. This means you must resist the impulse to take your Web site and simply transfer it to the digital signage network to create an interactive experience. The result would be a larger, public version of a Web site — and not at all an effective experience in this context. (It is also unlikely that the digital signage network would have access to or allow full Internet access and browsing ability.) Therefore, micro sites would be developed specifically for digital signage implementation.

First, understand that content for touch screens must be designed to both engage the viewer, and to lead the exploration of the interaction. That is, you are not simply throwing open the doors to the user; you are attempting to direct them and elicit inputs and choices that will drive them toward the goal you’ve set for the network — finding and choosing merchandise, exploring a brand, or the like.

There are three key considerations that go into creating great interactions:
  • Create the right attraction. First and foremost one needs to get the viewer to participate because the viewer may not expect to have the ability to interact with the content, as she does with a PC; the first job is to let her know she has that ability here. Creating an attraction loop, message or some piece of upfront content that will motivate the viewer to engage is the first step. This loop needs to be more in line with a typical content found on digital signage following the advice in the previous chapters of this book. The one exception is the attraction loop is just that: designed to attract the viewer to touch the screen.
  • Present one thing at a time. Once you have gotten their interest, keep them engaged and moving through a logical progression. Lead the participant in a guided manner through each step of the interaction you want to encourage. Provide focused layers of information that make it easy to comprehend what is being presented, and direct them to the layer of information that follows. A major difference between digital signage and a PC or smart phone is the amount of time that one will spend with each. Because the time is more limited with digital signage, you need to provide a clear, logical path for the viewer to follow. Offering too much information that is not directed will not motivate the user to continue with the interaction, because they will perceive it too time-consuming and unlikely to provide them with enough value for the time invested.
  • Offer choices. Interaction must be more than simple “next page” buttons in order to engage the viewer and direct toward a goal, such as a purchase. The value of interactivity comes when the user is presented choices, allowed to personalize the information presented, and perceive they are seeing something “special” for them.

Digital signage is powerful, and good content makes it that way. But the next level of effectiveness comes when one truly engages the user through enabling them to interact with the network. Touch screen technology today provides an excellent and proven method to let users decide the “path” they take through your content and personalize the experience. New technologies such as gesture interfaces extend that to another level, and combine interaction with group entertainment. Finally, a linkage with the user’s personal screen on a mobile device extends the interactive component of the network in a way that can stimulate longer interactions, interaction away from the digital signage itself, or motivate a purchase. In all of these cases, the content you create must account for the interactive factor and be purpose-designed for this type of network. Much more than porting a Web site to the digital signage network, this requires thinking in new ways – and like a user.

Posted by: Keith Kelson AT 07:57 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  
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