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Digital Signage for Worship Facilities: Scaling to Multiple Sites — Part Two of a Three Part Series

Part Two of a Three Part Series

The first segment of this series was a primer on a digital signage system for users who operate within a single facility or site. The goal was to provide insight on the technology, entry costs, integration, staffing, operation and most importantly, the new opportunities that digital signage deliver to worship facilities.

It’s clear that digital signage provides worship facilities with an attractive yet easy way to communicate information to members and other audiences at a single location. The next logical question might be: How does one deliver digital signage to multiple sites/locations at the same time?

Multi-site churches are a growing trend in the worship community, with some five million people attending multi-site churches in the U.S. and Canada according to the Leadership Network, a group that identifies new areas of innovation in worship including multi-site churches. At its website http://www.multisitechurchrevolution.com, the group also reports a dramatic increase in multi-site worship by megachurches over the preceding three years.

The megachurch typically has a leg up when it comes to ownership of technology. Many already have infrastructure in place to broadcast or webcast their video content locally, nationally, internationally or even globally. Others have impressive AV systems and perform their own in-house productions. A megachurch with enough capital and staff can distribute their content in either way simply by adding high-end encoding and networking technologies to transmit digital video, audio and data, in real-time, to other locations.

When financial resources are more limited, digital signage provides the ideal solution for both megachurches and multi-site churches. Solutions that provide rich graphics, templated approaches, and robust scheduling coupled with the ability to dynamically pull signage content (data templates) across the network rather than encode and transport broadcast content will offer an attractive, affordable solution.

Scaling from a single-site to a multi-site digital signage system requires few technical changes at the main facility where the central creation and network management systems are housed. These systems at the main facility are easily capable of expanding outward to virtually any number of satellite locations, while offering control in a centrally managed location. Expanding signage technology in such a way has been implemented many times in the commercial world with retail, restaurant chains, and transit, and therefore could easily apply to worship facilities.

As technology can be quite extensible and adaptable, key questions become how will content be created and distributed to the sites, how many different or unique outputs and messages will exist and how many physical displays are required at each site.

Each unique output requires a computing platform, a media player license and a physical display, along with network connectivity to deliver the content over IP. For example, one church location may require a different sequence of content or even types of content than the main location for two signs, one inside the main sanctuary and the second at the building entrance. This scenario would require a unique computing platform and media player for each sign and a robust content tagging and scheduling platform inside the digital signage software.

If the content is the same in multiple locations across multiple screens, that will reduce the amount of computing platforms and media players required. A satellite location displaying the same content on three signs requires only a single computing platform and media player, plus a distribution amplifier or daisy-chained VGA extenders to clone the signal on all three displays.

VPN (virtual private network) software is recommended for both strategies. This allows each remote player to communicate with the central file server or an FTP site to pull content for local signs on a scheduled an ongoing basis. VPN is mainstream technology that places the computing devices onto a common block of IP addresses so the machines can communicate as if they were side by side, despite long distances and data traveling over other networks and the Internet to connect. The VPN software is easily downloaded and functional with high-speed internet connectivity. It also eliminates the need for an operator at each remote site.

What makes this signage network interesting and compelling, is the ability to localize the content for each specific audience. This targeted dissemination of content to specific audiences at specific locations is often called narrowcasting in the digital signage industry and offers a more engaging experience to worshippers.

A multi-site church delivering video during a sermon may find that the accompanying data and/or graphical information is less pertinent to one or more of the satellite locations. Using a multicast video stream, the main site operator can feed live or recorded video to the same region of every display in the network, while the accompanying data and graphics can be targeted or more relevant to the local audience.

This can be achieved by a single operator at the main site, using the creation station to produce content and deliver it to the appropriate remote media players. The network management element of the digital signage system empowers this remote distribution capability. Alternatively, remote operators at each site could add local content with the presence of local creation stations, although this is not a requirement.

The third and final segment of this series will dive deeper into the software aspect for localizing content across the digital signage network.

Denise MacDonell is Director and GM of Digital Signage for Harris Broadcast Communications.

Paul Schwantes, Business Manager, Channel Sales America for Harris Broadcast Communications, also contributed to this article.