By Gerard Bucas, CEO, Scala
Everywhere we turn nowadays, "digital signs" are more and more prevalent. The advent of more affordable large format flat screen displays (plasma,LCD, LED, etc) are even allowing the typical printed "portrait mode" posters to be replaced by these so-called new "digital signs". We see them in banks, airports, retail stores, cruise ships, casinos, factories, call centers and even churches!
However to the casual observer all digital signs are created equal and the importance of the underlying enabling technology platform, or digital signage software, is not always understood or considered.
Many of these new digital signs are simply "powered by" a stand alone DVD player, playing the same DVD-based video over and over again. This may be good enough for digital signs where no central control over playback is desired or where the message seldom needs to change and/or where no "proof of playback" affidavits are required. However, the real power of digital signs is unleashed when the message being displayed can dynamically (and automatically!) be changed depending on the real-time conditions detected at the actual "point of playback". That is where choosing the optimal digital signage software platform becomes important.
For example, why continue playing the "today’s Coke promotion" clip on the screens at the local supermarket when they run out of Coke!? Obviously if the underlying software platform supported conditional playback of content on any Digital Sign it was controlling, a dynamic check could be made on the inventory level of Coke, immediately (= milliseconds!) before the Coke ad was displayed. If the software controlling such a digital sign found that the local inventory level of Coke fell below a specified level, it could then automatically decide NOT to play the Coke ad and another dynamically created advertisement could automatically be played in its place (or it could simply be skipped and play the next ad in a predefined playlist/loop). This would be a simple example of so-called "dynamic digital signage".
Another interesting example of dynamic digital signage is the case where the bananas at the local supermarket are getting a bit over-ripe and the local manager decides to lower the price of bananas in his local POS (point-of-sale) system. If the underlying digital signage software platform is clever (and flexible!) enough, it should automatically pick up the price of bananas (or any other sku or inventory item) from the local POS system at the point of playback and always use the current price directly from the local POS system’s database, the next time the "banana promotion" advertisement is played back. Again a nice example of so-called dynamic digital signage made possible by choosing the correct underlying digital signage software to drive your digital signage network.
Actually this highlights another problem inherent in many digital signage platforms which are often nothing more than "MPEG distribution" networks or a network of inter-connected "MPEG players". In other words if the price of bananas in the above example was embedded in a pre-produced video (generally referred to as an "MPEG" file or video) that was sent to each location, the price could never be changed based on local "dynamic"conditions as the MPEG video file would first have to be edited (a long and/or costly process!) and then retransmitted to the remote location where the price needs to be changed. Besides the fact that the bananas would probably have changed from deep yellow to black by the time all this is done, this approach is obviously very inflexible and requires a lot of communications bandwidth and manual intervention when compared to the correct "dynamic" approach, which would be to simply treat the price "element" as a separate dynamically generated media element which is generated "on the fly" at the time of playback (e.g: immediately after looking up the price in the local or centralized POS database). These dynamically generated elements can of course still be combined with MPEG media elements, for example the dynamically generated price element could be overlaid on top of a graphics background or even on top of a MPEG video. Yet another very important characteristic to watch out for when choosing your digital signage software platform. For more information on these and other important issues related to creating more dynamic digital signage content, see our whitepaper entitled "5.2 million MPEGs… is that any way to run a digital signage network?"