TFWM’s DIGITAL SIGNAGE ROUND TABLE DISCUSSION

In Uncategorized by tfwm

We’re all hearing about Digital Signage. It was all over the recent NAB2007 Conference, and it seems like every day we’re hearing about another installation of Digital Signage in Houses of Worship. As consistent as the news is about new churches using this technology, there also seems to be a pretty consistent misinterpretation of what it is, and how it is being used. To clear things up, TFWM asked questions of some key manufacturers and a forward thinking church about Digital Signage, and how it is changing the face of modern worship.

MEET THE PANEL…

Jeff Blankensop
Director of Business Development
NEC Display Solutions
Jeff Blankensop is responsible for development, implementation and maintenance of the company’s complex display solutions and dynamic digital signage strategy throughout the Americas.

Hagai Gefen
President and CEO,
Gefen Inc.
From his beginnings in post-production studio automation, Hagai Gefen went on to excel in engineering professional-quality products that maximize audio/video systems with add-on integration, extension, conversion and distribution solutions.

Matt Nelson
Director of Marketing,
Avocent
Since joining Avocent, Nelson has introduced the world’s first wireless VGA extension product and is responsible for marketing, strategic planning, and strategic partnerships in the AV market segment. Nelson also chairs the POPAI Digital Signage Standards Committee.

Maria Porco
VP Business Development,
X2O Media
Prior to X2O, Maria helped found VertigoXmedia which developed a software platform for data-driven graphics used by top-tier broadcasters in the US and abroad, including NBC, CNBC, CNN, Time Warner Cable and others.

Marcus Singleton
Digital Media Coordinator
Breath of Life Christian Center
Marcus Singleton spreads the gospel via technology. Through his passion and proficiency, Singleton has broken through Christian media boundaries, to launch a 24 hour Global Network, providing a variety of streaming and downloading possibilities for ministry.

TFWM: We are hearing more and more about digital signage in the House of Worship market, but there seems to be a lack of clarity as to what it is. Can you give us a clear definition- What is Digital Signage?

Hagai Gefen (Gefen): Digital signage is an overall term referring to the distribution of electronic content to multiple displays at one or more locations. In a house of worship, this could mean distributing the audio and video from a worship service to the masses to be seen by far more people than are originally present. It could also refer to the distribution of key information to several locations at once.

Jeff Blankensop (NEC): Digital signage is a system that can display messages and/or content on an electronic screen or display with the capability of having the content changed on a pre-determined schedule. A digital signage system is typically made up of a display, a PC, media engine or controller, content management software, content, display mounting, and cabling. Digital signage can include scrolling message boards, LCD or plasma displays, projection devices, LED boards, etc.

Maria Porco (X20 Media): The Digital Signage market can be confusing as it has been referred to by many names including “narrowcasting,” “out-of-home networks” and “electronic billboards.” We define it as one or more electronic displays – such as plasmas, LCD screens, projectors or monitor walls – that display dynamic digital content. The displays can be placed anywhere. In very basic terms, “digital signage” refers to displays that change dynamically.

Marcus Singleton (Breath of Life CC): Digital signage is a broad term encompassing a variety of different applications and technologies. In a general sense, digital signage, also called dynamic signage is a specialized form of narrowcasting in which the electronic data is handled and controlled from one administrative console running the digital signage software on a computer or playback device connected to a large panel display such as a LCD, Plasma, Projection screens and LED’s.

Matt Nelson (Avocent): As defined by the Digital Signage Industry group, Digital Signage is a network of digital displays that are centrally managed and addressable for targeted information, entertainment, merchandising, and advertising. In the House of Worship market digital signage can be defined in the same way. The best way to explain digital signage is to relate it to other means of communication like a church bulletin or a church website.

TFWM: How is digital signage currently being used in the House of Worship market?

Gefen: There’s been a huge trend in the market these past few years as more and more Houses of Worship tap into the benefits of digital connectivity. Most often we’re seeing digital signage applications being used to strengthen communities through simultaneous live feeds of ceremonies in large venues, the ongoing display of daily announcements and reminders–all the key methods Houses of Worship have always used are now digitized and delivered real-time to select audiences.

Blankensop: Digital signage is being used in the House of Worship market to communicate worship schedules, activities, fund raisers, new membership profiles, video messages from the church leadership, prayer lists, service information, lyrics, passages, and more.

Porco: Digital signage can be used in many different ways; the technology can support everything from displaying hymn lyrics during a sermon, to providing real-time alerts to worshipers, to providing a schedule of upcoming events. The potential uses are really only limited by the imagination of the implementers, and by budgets. The technology behind digital signage has evolved to enable things like real-time updates and broadcast-quality graphics – essentially anything you’d see on TV can be now easily be created on digital signs.

Singleton: I have found that churches are using this technology to share upcoming events, spotlighting various ministries in the church, different missionary highlights each month – and then displaying a “LIVE” view of what’s going on inside the sanctuary during service. Before service, most information is directional. The target for this message is visitors. After service, the information is promotional.

Nelson: Digital Signage has become an excellent way to communicate information with a church community. Communicating everything from events to important worship messages of the day, digital signage serves as a media distribution channel that reaches a small or large audience. While not being used as a static informational system, often times the system can also be used to broadcast live events.

TFWM: Can Houses of Worship take examples from how digital signage is being used in other markets (club, theater, corporate, etc.)?

Gefen: Absolutely. In addition to live feeds, Houses of Worship can set up multiple displays in other spaces, like child care facilities and school lobbies, to constantly reinforce key messaging. Options include simple text and graphic information to full high definition video with or without audio.

Blankensop: Yes they can. The commercial market segments offer many examples on how to best implement a system. Aside from the content requirements, installation, management and design are very similar to many commercial installations.

Porco: Absolutely. Houses of Worship can do a lot more with digital signage than the typical “one-way” communication. For example, they can add interactivity to their displays with either a touch screen or an RFID tag.

Worshipers could interact with a screen to look up relevant information without having to sit through an entire content loop. They could also add “live” elements to their displays such as traffic information, weather information, local events, and more.

Singleton: One of the best ways to exemplify digital signage is to look at existing products to find what works best for you. The secular markets have created a model for using digital signage; we as churches can adapt some of these models to reach the lost and to grow our ministries. By all means let’s not re-invent the wheel; learn from those who have proven the usability of digital signage.

The closest digital signage segment model to Houses of Worship would be from corporate digital signage. The primary application tends to be relative and timely information distribution. There are other models that can be used in the House of Worship market including advertising for services by church members. Digital Signage is very effective whenever you have a group of people in an area for a period of time.

TFWM: What size of budget and what basic technologies are required to get started with digital signage?

Gefen: It depends on your goals, but if you want to design a system that’s going to last, with the best quality available today, we suggest complete, all-digital connectivity. That means the sources, computers, displays and screens are digital, and everything is connected by digital interfaces. Not only is the quality considerably finer, especially in high definition, but this system will have an easier time integrating components in years to come.

Blankensop: A basic digital signage system includes a display, a PC, media engine or controller, content management software, content, display mounting, and cabling. A system can range anywhere from $4k all the way up to approx. $100k depending on the quantity of displays included in the system.

Porco: It really depends on what the operator of the digital signage network wants to accomplish. Typically, buyers will go for the lowest cost solution, but then they find the system isn’t very flexible or can’t easily scale. Buyers will need to purchase the appropriate type of display and a system to create, update and monitor content on the screens. If live information is required, buyers also will need Internet access. Multiple screens would typically have to be networked. Budgets could range from over a thousand dollars for simple one-screen solutions to over $20K for more advanced systems.

Singleton: A digital signage budget must be considered by one of many factors; the environments (indoor or outdoor). Average range for outdoor signage will be $60,000 – $80,000 with about eighteen hours of direct marketing. Indoor signage cost considerably far less; $999 and up. Some of the basic technologies to get started are a computer or playback device connected to a network, digital signage management software, LCD, Plasma or LED panel displays.

Nelson: A basic to a complex digital signage system can be implemented, depending on budget and requirements. A digital signage system can scale from a simple single display running Microsoft PowerPoint to a very large system that has multiple locations and multiple forms of content. A good way to start a House of Worship digital signage system is to first define the type of content you intend to use. The content in a digital signage system is the most important component, and should be considered before and after a digital signage system is installed.

TFWM: What should Houses of Worship know about developing content for digital signage-are there specific formats, file types, resolution considerations, etc.?

Gefen: Our biggest concerns are with AV quality on the receiving end. If you’re displaying content in full HD resolutions, you’ll want your content recorded and distributed using the best formats for the display. You’re not going to want to distribute low-res video on a screen equipped to handle 1080p, unless you have a high quality scaler. The better the original quality, the better the image looks to the viewer.

Blankensop: The first step in creating content is to develop a content strategy that will support the type of media to be displayed both today and three to five years down the road. This may include text, digital photography with text, sophisticated graphics, flash animation segments, full motion video, and/or all of the above. Next, it is important to know the screen resolution of the displays being implemented so the content can be developed for the resolution in use. For instance, a 40” LCD display would require content to be developed at 1366×768 in a landscape position, or 768×1366 in a portrait position.

Porco: The good news is there are lots of options; the bad news is there are lots of options! Houses of Worship need to select the format that best suits their displays. At X2O, we decided to make content creation as easy as possible by using Microsoft® PowerPoint®, one of the easiest and most widely used creation tools around. You can build your content using simple PowerPoint elements, and enhance it with video, images, animations, crawling tickers and more. They can be created for any screen type or resolution.

Singleton: Because digital signs are typically placed in high-traffic areas, it’s important to choose a robust and stable sign software package to ensure that the right message appears at the right time. Digital Signage Management software allows total creative flexibility with a variety of full-motion playback formats such as Flash, AVI, JPEG, BMP, MPEG, URL, including TV and Satellite feeds. Software is THE KEY element to a digital signage network development.

Nelson: There are many different content and media options. I recommend starting with forms of communication being used in the church today. Take the weekly bulletin or the church website and extract dynamic content from those sources to use in the digital signage system. File format and resolutions should be driven by the content and not by the digital signage system.

TFWM: What developments can we expect in the digital signage industry in the next five to ten years?

Gefen: In the short term, I think we’ll see a huge push towards high definition video with stereo audio to provide a more engaging experience. In the long term, I think wireless connectivity is going to hit the scene big time with more and more sophisticated technologies emerging that are capable of delivering HD AV with really stunning results. This will likely alter every industry in pretty significant ways.

Blankensop: Digital signage systems are primarily made up of IT devices and components and these devices have relatively short product life cycles. Additionally, pricing usually declines over time based on the age of the product in its life cycle. From a technology perspective, display technology will get bigger and possibly thinner over time. From a content perspective, HD formats will be supported more frequently with screen resolutions of 1366×768 and 1920X1080.

Porco: This is a relatively new industry that is growing and changing very rapidly. Display screens will get bigger, better and cheaper. Content will become even more dynamic, and will be more and more customized for the viewer. Out-of-home networks are going to become more pervasive and will challenge traditional networks in terms of viewership. And of course, houses of worship will find more and more creative ways to utilize digital signage to enrich the experience of their congregation.

Singleton: In 5-10 years from now digital signage will be seen as a mainstream approach to information display in public spaces. LED’s will be the display of choice for outdoor environments. Smaller displays for indoors will be LCD and Plasma while larger indoor environments will continue to be LED. We can expect in the digital signage industry that NEW developments in interactive displays with consumers will be key factors in having traditional sign companies provide motional sign products.

Nelson: Over the next few years one can expect digital signage to become more commonplace in many aspects of our lives. Today the technologies of mobile phones, mobile email, the internet, and other mediums have made our society into one that wants relative information instantly. Digital signage technology plays into this same theme of communicating relative and timely information to people.