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Create, Manage, and Distribute

Digital Signage Software

By Melissa Tetreault

To the passerby, digital signage is a monitor with dynamic content streamed to entertain, grab attention, or point to the right direction. What creates, manages, and distributes that flashy content? Software.

Various software packages are offered as networked or standalone solutions. One up-and-coming networking option is software as a service (SaaS). Networked systems are generating interest based on company needs. Explains Jeffrey Curtis, senior VP, sales and marketing, Helius, a Hughes Company, "There is not a magic number of locations or company size that dictates standalone over networked, but it really comes down to the functionality required along with management capabilities."

Creating, managing, and distributing content across a network of digital signs is complicated. This is why most vendors sell a suite of products to deliver the whole package, but offer separate products as well.

Market Success
Markets currently finding success with digital signage range greatly for a number of reasons. "Digital signage allows people to communicate specific information to an audience, whether they are customers, employees, or visitors. When the system is built around real-time data, the ability to inform, educate, or entertain is significantly improved," explains Elizabeth Cartan, marketing coordinator, Omnivex Corporation.

Three popular segments are healthcare, hospitality, and travel. "Advertising-based markets, often referred to as out-of-home advertising in airport terminals, shopping malls, or train stations is growing rapidly. What these applications have in common is the need to provide frequently changing communications to a audience who will be in the vicinity of the sign for a brief but defined period of time," shares Brad Gleeson, VP, business development, Planar Systems Inc.

Janice Litvinoff, senior manager, product marketing, Cisco, explains why financial, retail, and educational institutions are utilizing digital signage. "Financial service institutions use digital signage to drive revenue, seek differentiation, and improve the customer experience. With digital signage retailers are able to transform the customer’s in-store experience, which results in a stronger brand and increase in sales. Retailers can deliver visually attractive, dynamic, and targeted messaging as well as promote products and services on digital signs strategically placed at the point of purchase to drive sales. Digital signage helps educational institutions extend the learning environment by streaming live broadcasts into classrooms or dorm rooms as well as provide up-to-the-minute schedules/schedule changes, important news, and emergency messaging."

The entertainment industry also finds success with digital signage. "Primarily dominated by the big money gaming industry and sports venues, the entertainment industry employs digital signage for a number of reasons including products and service information, digital menu boards, interactive information kiosks, brand management, etc. Go to any casino in the U.S. and you will find hundreds—if not thousands—of large format indoor and outdoor digital screens delivering focused messages to its customers," says Richard F. Trask, director, PR, Scala Inc.

Product Roundup
The following information describes some digital signage software’s differentiating characteristics, pricing, and available purchasing channels. We’ve linked company names to Web sites for your convenience.

The BroadSign Suite is a software platform for managing digital out-of-home networks distributed as SaaS. Clients using the service pay a monthly fee that includes support and maintenance. The suite breaks down into three main components—BroadSign Administrator, BroadSign Player, and BroadSign Server. BroadSign Administrator is used to configure a network, activate players and screens, create schedules, execute campaigns, monitor campaign performance, and network health. BroadSign Player is the software component installed on playback PCs to receive the content and schedules from BroadSign Server and to send back performance reports. The server, which is accessible anywhere Internet is available, is completely managed by BroadSign, ensuring the highest level of security, reliability, and scalability. The suite is compatible with Windows and Linux. Pricing depends on volume and other parameters. The product is available directly through BroadSign International.

Cisco Digital Signage provides scalable, centralized management and publishing of high-quality content to networked digital signage displays. Specific to this software is the Cisco Digital Media Manager (DMM). Through the DMM, users can create, manage, and distribute content to the Cisco Digital Media Players (DMPs)—managing assets, creating playlists, scheduling capabilities, customize layouts, and manage user accounts. The DMPs are dedicated, solid state devices that allow for high definition live and on demand video, motion graphics, Web, and dynamic content to play back on digital displays. The system operates on any IP network and is purchased through Cisco’s reseller channels.

Helius offers several products for the digital signage market. For entry-level digital signage, Helius MediaAuthor works with Microsoft PowerPoint to create content for one or many displays. At an economical price, MediaAuthor allows for the quick creation of professional-looking digital signage content, complete with video playlists, news, and weather tickers. MediaAuthor also manages and distributes that same content to digital signage players through an IP connection. Cost varies depending on set up—a typical MediaAuthor content development license is $700 and player hardware and software is $1,400 per screen. At the enterprise level, Helius MediaSignage is a digital signage solution for managing and deploying content across large numbers of screens in many locations. Helius also offers its own line of specially configured hardware for hosting its digital signage solutions. Prices for MediaSignage vary based on deployment size and optional add-on modules.

Omnivex provides a suite of software products to manage a complete digital signage network. Omnivex Display is for content management; Omnivex DataPipe, data management; and Omnivex Control, device management. In basic terminology, information is assembled and transmitted across a network to one or more local computers that are connected to one or more displays. The system is compatible with Windows O/S, RFID, any RGB device, etc. Prices vary depending on the application and number of locations. A basic system can cost $3K and depending on size, enterprise systems can be anywhere from $100 to $500K, with most systems falling in the $10 to $30K range.

A networked system, Planar Coolsign 4.2 is an enterprise-class digital signage platform. It can create, manage, and distribute content. The Coolsign Network Manager and Coolsign Transfer Server software modules are components that organize, distribute, and schedule content on the network. The system is based on Microsoft Windows Server enterprise industry standards and can be purchased through Coolsign resellers and service providers.

Scala InfoChannel combines InfoChannel Designer, InfoChannel Content Manager, and InfoChannel Player, for a full end-to-end digital signage solution. InfoChannel Design is optional, the InfoChannel network does not require that content is created with it. However, it consists of an easy to use interface, TV playback, can publish to HTML or video, and supports a range of media. InfoChannel Content Manager is a server based application that plans and schedules to control your network from wherever in the world. Scala InfoChannel Player allows for multimedia playback on dynamic signage including plasmas, TVs, and kiosks. The entire InfoChannel suite is compatible with Windows and Windows Vista operating systems. Custom pricing is available based on customer demand and requirement. Products can be purchased through Scala Certified Partners.

What’s Next?
As previously mentioned, SaaS is slowly becoming the distribution model of choice for many digital signage vendors. SaaS is an application hosted as a service to customers across the Internet, allowing for significant savings on up front investment into infrastructure and ongoing operating costs. SaaS software allows for an application to be hosted on a vendor’s Web site or be handled by a third party application service provider.

"Corporate installations are almost all network based systems," explains Omnivex’s Cartan. She shares SaaS candidates and what might be its one downfall. "Bundled solutions are low cost, low return products that may be used for very simple requirements such as reception areas. The software should be capable of managing your entire network of displays, whether you have 20 screens or 2,000. SaaS models tend to fall in between, allowing companies to outsource the operation of their system. However, it greatly limits access to useful information that may only be available from within an organization."

Customers may be turned off by SaaS if they have concerns about ownership. "Most people who consider SaaS as a solution are concerned about who owns the content that is deployed through the network and the security of their information. In many cases the software provider retains ownership of all content and leads to discussions about security and accessibility," explains Scala’s Trask.

Despite these challenges, SaaS looks to be the model of the future for the digital out of home industry. "As digital signage evolves, network operators are gravitating towards becoming media companies that will increasingly outsource technology issues. Therefore, SaaS is going to be a predominant model of software ownership," shares Nurlan Urazbaev, director of marketing, BroadSign International.

Helius’ Curtis sees SaaS and digital signage bridging the generation gap. "Companies are looking for ways to both communicate with their customers and employees alike. The digital medium is a natural fit for the newer generation of consumers and employees as they have grown up in the digital era. The interactive nature of digital signage lends itself to this generation."

With the crossover to digital imminent, print service providers should not be concerned. As discussed here, software is available for the inexperienced. If considering implementing digital signage into your current print offerings know you don’t have to go at it alone. The software discussed here is user friendly and waiting to usher you into a new era.  

Aug2008, Digital Output

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