Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Do not underestimate the importance of fresh content

Anyone who has ever managed a digital signage system can relate with the following statement: "I feel like I'm on a hamster wheel".

Having to create fresh new content, day-in/day-out can be a pain regardless of the technology running the show. It's like publishing a successful blog or a popular social media feed.  You need to be disciplined and consistent otherwise your content quickly gets stale and viewers tune out.

You must come up with fresh ideas to keep your audience's interest.  Might sound easy but at first but you will soon discover that running a screen network requires a lot of work.  Many popular CMS systems offer content creation tools but it's not much help unless you have your own creative team on staff.

So here are a few suggestions to take some of the pain out of running your own network...

Online resources

It makes sense to spend a bit of money and sign up with a good royalty-free content source like fotolia or shutterstock.  Most of these stock media resources offer annual memberships or sell credits that you can redeem for content.  It's worth the time to look around and check out some of these sites even if only for inspiration.  There are also new free image sites that you should check out like Flicker and Unsplash.   Just be sure to respect all copyrights and usage agreements.

For those who require video content, there are web based services that will let you create your own clips for a small fee.  Most are aimed at the online advertising community but there there are a few that cater to digital signage.  One such service is called Spotomate.  These folks let you create full HD video ads for around $75. Best of all you get access to professional templates designed specifically for the digital signage market and you don't need any special video editing skills.  You just need a few good photos and a story to tell.  The site has many examples you can check out before you get started.  The content is very slick and the results are quite impressive.  Best of all it's affordable and easy to use.

Online News

RSS feeds can be a great source of dynamic content.  This can be really useful because the content is maintained and updated by someone else and your screens will receive regular updates which helps keep the content fresh and interesting.  However, make sure you read all licensing documentation and usage agreements.  Assume RSS feeds available to the general public are meant for personal use and are not intended for re-distribution.  If you run across one of these feeds and wish to use it on your screens, make sure you contact the rights holder first to find out if they offer an agreement for commercial use

Publicly available RSS feeds do not come with the same guarantees as commercial feeds and public servers may go offline at any time creating gaping holes in your carefully designed layouts. You might end up with empty news banners or weather widgets unless you use paid content that is meant for digital signal use. 

Fortunately, several creative studios have jumped into the commercial news and sport feeds business to help network operators get online content specifically designed for digital signage use.  BlueFox, Screenfeed and Seenspire all offer rich, professional looking content that is updated daily and they make sure news organizations behind each feed have been paid for this type of use.  Expect to pay a small monthly fee per screen per month.  Large screen networks can negotiate volume discounts and new topics are constantly being added.

It's important not to underestimate the importance of fresh content so feeding your digital signage network should be priority one.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

What's wrong with this picture?

I was visiting my local walk-in clinic the other day and noticed the news feed zone across the bottom of the screen was blanked out.  But that wasn't the worst of it.  There's a lot more going on here.

If I were the venue owner, I would be concerned about seeing a large portion of the screen  dedicated to promoting the screen network itself.  In fact this self-advertising graphic occupies more space than the venue's own branding. Then we have the main content area squeezed between a header at the top and the news and weather feed at the bottom.  This significantly reduces the impact of the main content zone in the middle of the screen.

It's unfortunate because a lot of the content shown on that screen was useful and informative but it was squished and stretched into an ugly layout.

If I were redesigning this layout, I would...
  1. Drop the venue operator/owner's logo from the screen.  If the person looking at this does not know where they are, they either need glasses or they have serious cognitive issues.  This particular venue is a walk-in medical clinic so you kind of expect the audience to be aware of their location.  This is something I would classify under... "Duh!"
  2. Take out the entire branded header area and resize the main content zone so it occupies at least 80% of the screen.  Better yet, I would also take out the scrolling banner (see point 4 below).  If the network operator wants to promote themselves, they should make their branding less conspicuous.  Speaking to network operators... Unless you have statistics to the contrary, you should assume folks looking at your screens are interested in the venue's content, not who is delivering it.
  3. If you need to display news and weather feeds, consider using a commercial provider like Screenfeed or Seenspire.  This will ensure a more reliable service and you won't breach any acceptable use policies with the content owner.  Redistributing a publicly available RSS feed is almost never permitted.  Read the fine print.
  4. Instead of filling screens with multiple channels of information, why not opt for full screen content with larger text and bold graphics.  Multi-channel/multi-zone content layouts are becoming a big issue for an aging population that cannot read the smaller fonts used in these layouts.  Legibility should be paramount.
Remember folks.  People don't have to look at your expensive TV unless they have a good reason to do so.  If they don't like what they see, they'll just grab their smartphones and ignore it all.  Give your audience a good reason to look at your content.