Not that many years ago you might have come upon a large CRT monitor and a DVD player cobbled together in a retail location, running an endless loop of television ads. But today the adoption of touch screen and other emerging technologies have revolutionized the digital signage and interactive display industry.
Now, razor-thin high definition touch screens and tiny solid state media players use ubiquitous internet connectivity to monitor and update screens in stores, hospitals, transit systems and other public places. News, weather and public announcements are typical content streams, but a large and growing number of businesses are using digital signage for promotional and marketing reasons.
One example is to be found in London, Ontario, where a highly skilled team works around the clock to monitor the over 3,000 screens and menu boards that make up the Tim Horton’s screen network. From this centralized location, unique content can be programmed to one or many stores. Menu boards are updated and public service announcements are pushed to regional areas as desired. The network is monitored continually for performance and maintenance teams are sent to any location that is identified by the player hardware as troublesome.
For Tim Horton’s this large and diverse technical infrastructure is continually paying for itself by replacing a massive amount of printing and distribution of traditional signage. But also it enables new marketing and communication channels with customers and employees. New products can be promoted across the network easily. Public Service Announcements and other messaging is integrated into the content playlists. And very importantly, a consistent brand identity is displayed in the form of digital signage advertising in the thousands of retail locations both in the US and across Canada.
The wide adoption of smartphones and tablet computers is empowering a new generation of interactive displays. Syndicated data feeds of current news and weather information is at the touch of a finger on large displays in many hotel lobbies. And on some systems, visitors can browse local attractions and send items to their phones via email or over wifi.
Technologies such as Bluetooth and NFC are sparking new and exciting ways to integrate into digital displays. New methods of payment and way finding are making shopping and transportation easier and more effective. The ease and speed of using smartphone apps in conjunction with digital displays is another existing piece of this expanding ecosystem. Now phones can be used as game controllers with other players on a large central screen or as polling devices in an audience participation scenario.
Facial tracking and recognition software is currently being used in conjunction with digital signage in a number of ways. It provides data on how long users look at screen content, and with some systems, the gender and age of those watching. This allows content creators to optimize and develop more engaging messaging. And retailers can gain valuable insight into store traffic and customer behaviours using these tools.
Digital coupons can be promoted and disseminated by digital signage on a store by store basis. Combining this with POS data provides retailers with a powerful symbiotic set of promotional tools to increase sales.
Advanced modular displays, such as Christie’s Microtiles are being used in many eye catching ways. These configurable screens use “smart” software which allows content to stream and flow through the assembled screens in dramatic and appealing ways, engaging users even more than usual. And these units can be deployed in archways, hallways and other areas where more traditional screens would be problematic to install.
The days of a dusty DVD player grinding away in the back of a large retail store are long gone and the future of digital signage and interactive display is as rich and exciting as our imagination.