Digital Signage Industry

Digital Signage Today Interview with Richard Trask, Director of Public Relations, Scala

By February 5, 2008 2 Comments

Dicktrask
Tell me, in a nutshell, the history of Scala, Inc.

Founded in 1987, Scala pioneered the Digital Signage
industry and today remains the world’s leading provider of software for
creating digital signage networks, driving more screens that all competitors
combined. The company’s InfoChannel
product line is used for dynamic digital media networks in retail, education,
entertainment, government and other industries for diverse applications such as
Retail Advertising networks (Retail TV), Corporate Communications (Employee
TV), Digital Billboards, Digital Menuboards, Digital Posters, Community Access
channels (Cable TV), Hotel lobby signage and information channels, Gas Pump
"toppers", Convention Center Signage, Interactive touch-screens and
Kiosks, etc. The Company’s cutting-edge InfoChannel software platform powers
thousands of digital signs around the world including the digital signage
networks of Rabobank, IKEA, Bloomberg, Burger King, T-Mobile, Virgin MegaStore,
EuroDisney, Kiwi, McDonalds, Warner Brothers, Santiago Airport, Ericsson, The
Life Channel, Rikstoto, FuelCast, Repsol, Shell, NorgesGruppen, The Wall Street
Journal Office Network and many more. Scala is today headquartered near
Philadelphia, PA and has wholly-owned subsidiaries in The Netherlands, France,
Norway, and Japan with a direct presence in a number of other locations and
countries. Scala’s products are primarily sold through an international network
of Scala Certified Partners.

What was the company’s
original focus? And when did that focus evolve into what it is today?

Founded
in 1987, Scala’s roots were in the Cable TV industry. Running on the Amiga
platform, Scala
software was employed at local and public television channels
across the world. Today, Scala still maintains leadership in this industry with
a commanding market share. In the mid-1990’s Scala’s visionary leadership
foresaw a potential market for out-of-home networks that could address the demands
of retailers and corporations alike – digital signage. Today, with the cost of
infrastructure, hardware and screen technology being a fraction of what it was
just a few years ago the realization of a Digital Signage industry has become a
reality with Scala commanding a leadership position around the globe.

What does the name Scala mean?

Originally,
Scala software was developed in Norway. The name Scala, while it being fairly
common around the world, means “stairs” in Norwegian. I am not sure the relevance
this holds to the company’s business objectives.

How many copies of the Scala
software would you estimate there are out in the field?

Today, Scala maintains
about 50,000 players driving approximately 200,000 screens around the world. In
2006, Scala sold digital signage solutions in over 60 countries around the
world.

What are some of the most
interesting implementations of the Scala software that you’re aware of?

Scala’s
InfoChannel
product suite is used for dynamic digital media networks in retail,
education, entertainment, government and other industries for diverse
applications such as Retail Advertising networks (Retail TV), Corporate
Communications (Employee TV), Digital Billboards, Digital Menuboards, Digital
Posters, Community Access channels (Cable TV), Hotel lobby signage and
information channels, Gas Pump "toppers", Convention Center Signage,
Interactive touch-screens and Kiosks, etc. Some interesting applications
include:

  • Rabobank — a major international bank based in the Netherlands with subsidiaries in the United States. Rabobank installed Scala InfoChannel to modernize their bank properties and to provide better services to their diverse customer base.
  • Burger King, Germany — installed Scala InfoChannel in over 600 restaurants throughout the country. Each restaurant displays a digital menuboard, integrated in their static signage that promotes “upsale” items for customers ordering their meals. The second channel provides music videos and sporting events to encourage customers to come into the restaurant.
  • The Life Channel, UK — an ad-based network displaying ads and live-feeds into doctor’s offices and clinics across the UK. Branded ads are sold to pharmaceutical companies and medical services providers to promote their products and services. Live feeds provide news and weather information and educational programming to patients waiting in the waiting room.
  • Santiago Chile Airport, Chile — displays a network of digital signage screens located at the ticket counters throughout the airport. When the ticket counter is open 2/3 of the screen displays and integrated Flight Management System informing visitors of flight status information and 1/3 of the screen displays advertising from shops located throughout the airport. When the ticket counter is not in operation the screen displays 100% advertising.
  • FuelCast — installed thousands of “gas pump top” digital signage screens that are activated when the customer lifts the pump handle. The ad-based content promotes local brands and encourages customers to purchase snacks, drinks and other products from the store. Live feeds are also included to inform customers of weather and traffic conditions in the local area.
  • Other interesting installation include: IKEA, Bloomberg, T-Mobile, Virgin MegaStore, EuroDisney, Kiwi, McDonalds, Warner Brothers, Ericsson, Rikstoto, Repsol, Shell, NorgesGruppen, The Wall Street Journal Office Network and many more.

You recently issued a major
upgrade – what were some of the biggest changes?

Scala
InfoChannel 5
was a ground-up restoration of our previous product line –
InfoChannel 3. InfoChannel 5 represented the next generation in digital signage
solutions.

The principal product of
the new platform, InfoChannel 5 Content Manager exemplifies this new generation
of digital signage software with new product features that benefit a customer
by streamlining workflow, reducing administrative costs, and improving signage
quality.

  • Easy to Use Content Management and Planning — Managing your digital signage content can be challenging, but with the new state-of-the-art content management, planning and scheduling tools included in Scala InfoChannel, management and control of your network is both improved and simplified – reducing the resources required to control and maintain your network. New template support – plan-based content distribution, timetables, and playlists – keep you in control of your network from wherever you are in the world.
  • Cutting Edge Architecture — Behind every great application is a great architecture. Scala InfoChannel is no exception. Newly added features – including easier upgradeability, better compatibility, secure database backend, proof of playback reporting, and simplified content delivery – give Scala InfoChannel the flexibility, security, scalability, extensibility and ease of use that your market demands.
  • Simplified System Management — Content management and planning are key to the success of any digital signage network, but without careful system management of network components your message may not be delivered to your intended audience. The new Scala InfoChannel Content Manager provides tools for maintenance scheduling, roles and workflows, and a field-proven stable & scalable transmission engine all controlled by a new intuitive user interface that ensures reliable delivery of your content to your audience.
  • Superior Visual Quality and Performance — The appearance and performance of your content will capture and keep your audience’s attention with crystal clear, smooth tickers, crawls, and animations. The new Scala InfoChannel platform offers many advancements in quality and performance including: multi-channel support per player, resolution independence, auto scaling, auto rotation, multiple frames per channel,
    and more consistent timing in addition to better performing graphics.

What’s the one feature your
customers ask you for the most, and when do you think it might see the light of
day?

In
InfoChannel 3 the mode of operation was to create a script (content) and send
that script to a Network Manager that assigned the content to a specific
player. This technique was inefficient for large networks where multiple
content playlists and multiple players existed on a network.

The
most requested feature was a better way to manage and distribute their content.
Customers wanted to create playlists from assets created inside of Scala or
from their own asset pool. They requested a means to plan their content in such
a way to provide for each playlist to be assigned to different time segments
including: hours, days, weeks or even months. They wanted the content manager
to manage the distribution of the content throughout the network and maintain
the integrity of the network.

All
of this and more were provided with the new Scala InfoChannel 5 Content Manager.
The Content Manager, the core to the Scala InfoChannel suite, is a generation
ahead of anything that is available in the marketplace today.

Tell us about your partner
network, and how it works.

The
Scala Certified Partner Network represents a real asset to Scala and all of the
Scala Certified Partners (SCP) in the network. The SCP network (>600
worldwide) is comprised of A/V companies, integrators, infrastructure
providers, content providers, hardware manufactures, screen manufactures, and
network operators all certified by Scala and reselling Scala InfoChannel in
over 60 countries around the world.

The
obvious benefit of the network is the many “feet on the street” the network
provides to Scala’s sales initiative. Each of the Scala Certified Partners
(SCP) are managed by Scala Channel Managers located in Scala offices around the
world in the US, UK, France, Netherlands, Norway, China and Japan.

The
equally important and critical aspect of the Scala Certified Partner Network is
that is not only facing our customers but SCP’s provide services and products
to each other. For example, if a Content Provider is building a network for a
customer, the SCP can reach into the Scala Certified Partner Network for
hardware, screens and other products and services needed to fulfill the
customer’s requirements.

You’ve been in this
business a long time – how different are retailers’ attitudes toward in-store
technology from, say, five years ago?

You
are correct; Scala is celebrating our 20th anniversary this year – a
feat no other Digital Signage company can match. Five years ago only the
innovators and early adopters, like Tesco in the UK, would consider
implementing digital signage. The technology wasn’t proven and the risks were
very high — not to mention, the investment to implement a digital signage
network was considerable.

Today,
with the investment cost is shrinking and the acceptability of the technology
in the retail marketplace growing — the implementation of digital signage
technology in retail spaces is becoming more pervasive. While the industry is
still not at the point of unbridled implementation, the number of retail
customers has grown significantly — second only to Scala’s largest vertical
market, the entertainment industry.

What’s next for Scala?

Bang_ref_3While
Scala is still a private company, Scala sales in Q3 2007 were the highest in
our 20-year history and came in at 64% ahead of the same quarter last year.
With consistent positive cash flow from operations and five consecutive years
of profitability under our belt, Scala today has no debt and the strongest
balance sheet in the industry. Our strong performance in 2007 follows a sales
growth of 59% in 2006 (vs. 2005) coupled with an even stronger growth in EBITDA
(profitability). Our four wholly-owned foreign subsidiaries maintained their
strong performance each setting new sales records and together generating
around 50% of sales in both 2006 and 2007 year to date.

Scala
remains focused on providing end-to-end software solutions for centrally controlled
digital signage networks used in a variety of both customer and employee facing
applications deployed in retail, banking, quick service restaurants, gas
stations, public spaces (airports, shopping malls, etc), community access
channels (Cable TV), hospitality and entertainment venues (theaters, amusement
parks, casinos, etc), convention centers, etc. Supporting both interactive
(e.g.: kiosk, touch screens, etc) and passive playback of content, which can be
delivered across satellite or terrestrial (wired or wireless) broadband
communication networks, Scala InfoChannel platform is truly in a league of its
own driving more displays around the world than all competitors combined.

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