Thursday, August 22, 2013

Is anyone watching?

I tend to do a lot of driving on Highway 401 between Toronto and Kingston (Ontario) during the summer months and I often stop at the new OnRoute rest areas that are scattered along 400 series highways across the province.  Each location features video walls, pylon signage and an interactive kiosk with travel information.

Since I am in the digital signage business, I make it a point to look at what's playing and I have always enjoyed the content shown on the OnRoute signage network.  The loops are made up of weather information, news feeds, entertainment trivia and a few ads.  The content is professional and the design really fits the venue.

However, I recently noticed some content misbehaving on the OnRoute screens which really got me intrigued.  The issue affected all of the pylon mounted screens across the facility. It looked like much of the video content was stuttering and at some point the screens went dark for a several seconds.  The issue was only affecting some of the content and the worse clip was an ad for a Lady Antebellum album that skipped most of its frames and blacked out the rest of the time.  There was another video that was affected with the stuttering issue but to a lesser extent.  The result was very noticeable, especially when repeated across all of the pylon mounted screens.

To be fair, it's difficult to know when content misbehaves like this.  It's not like when the player hardware is down, which most digital signage platform will detect.  My guess is this was caused by a video encoding issue which is hard to catch unless you test your content prior to distribution.

So you'll say, "stuff happens"... Right?  Well I stopped in another OnRoute location 10 days later and saw the same Lady Antebellum video stuttering across the screens.  It's 10 days later and no one caught this glitch and I'm seeing it in a different location.  Who knows if this is still going on and how many locations are affected. 

Perhaps it's time network operators start publishing a slide that reads... 
"Seen anything wrong with this screen?  Call 1-800-FIX-SCRN"!

I don't know about you but nothing burns me more than seeing content misbehave and not being able to do anything about it.

We should do a better job of catching these problems before they affect entire networks.  By then it's too late unless someone actually goes on site and looks at the screens.

Is anyone watching?