Published in July 2004

Electronic Signage Networks
By Lyle Bunn

ESNs can play a role in homeland security in addition to traditional applications.

Seattle Seahawks Stadium. (Photo courtesy Lighthouse Technologies.)

Narrowcasting/ESN Growth Projections
2002: $338 million to $2 billion by 2006, a CAGR of 47.3% for control/management software to $250 million.

     An electronic signage network (ESN) provides the means for real-time environmental monitoring and information display that are critical elements of homeland security. With the growing commercial capacities of electronic displays, WiFi, narrowcasting, kiosks, satellite transmission and mobile display devices, ESNs that comprise these elements are key to public safety and community information infrastructure. We’ll describe here how Dynamic Image Provisioning Application (DIPA) software is enabling advertising/retail ESNs, and allows ESNs to serve public-safety needs.
     The public value in the ability of ESNs to provide real-time environmental monitoring and immediate alert, and instructions in busy or rural areas, indicates the value of defining policies and commercial practices that allow public-safety and commercial success to be achieved through electronic signage networks and kiosk systems.

Signage for Homeland Security
     As the need for better methods of providing public information for homeland security has been growing, the electronic signage industry has been improving. Capabilities in image provisioning that dramatically improve the value and impact of electronic displays are fueling the installations of signage and kiosk networks across the US as a platform for environmental monitoring and public-information display. Although some ESNs can be used for both commercial and homeland-security purposes, the advances and advantages of electronic signage networks suggest that their inherent functionality makes electronic signage a critical component in homeland-security requirements.
     Although the enabling effect of information and communications technology has served people by providing greater productivity, extending medical and scientific capacities and improving quality of life, the elements necessary for monitoring and display in the interest of public safety and security are available. Electronic signage networks, which are the integration of digital storage, communications and display technologies under the management of DIPA software, respond to a new and needed service to people: specifically, safety through environmental monitoring and information display.

Public Safety is Homeland Security
     The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declares it is “committed to using cutting-edge technologies and scientific talent in our quest to make America safer.” DHS’ Science & Technology directorate is tasked with researching and organizing the scientific, engineering and technological resources of the US and leveraging these existing resources into technological tools to help protect the homeland. Universities, the private sector and the federal laboratories are defined as important partners in this endeavor.
     In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the DHS assumes primary responsibility for ensuring that emergency-response professionals are prepared for any situation. This entails providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort. Fiscal year 2003 EMPG funding of $165 million to state and locals for all hazards preparedness represented a 40% increase over FY/02.
     Members of Congress and public-safety organizations launched the Congressional E911 Caucus to provide a consensus-building forum to elevate issues surrounding 911 services and implement an agenda that strengthens the US ability to “better respond and communicate in times of local and national emergencies.”
     The Caucus was formed to educate lawmakers, constituents and communities about the importance of citizen-activated emergency-response systems. The Caucus said it would support public policy forums; Congressional tours of Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs); technology demonstrations, roundtable discussions; briefings and tutorials; media events and education programs. Among the goals of the Caucus are promoting citizen-activated emergency-response systems and elevating emergency communications issues within all branches of government at the federal, state and local levels.

From Property to People
     The threat of environmental hazard through airborne substance represents a significant threat. The need to identify the threat and provide directions as rapidly as possible to those who could be affected directly is a matter of both public and commercial concern. This increasing emphasis on the protection of people calls on the need for better environmental monitoring and public information display.
     These needs apply to busy public locations such as transit systems, sports arenas, cultural venues, government offices, airports, train stations and others, as well as commercial locations such as stores, malls, office towers, theaters, casinos and convention centers.
These needs also apply in remote and rural areas. Although radio has a limited chance of providing public alert information and direction, electronic roadside billboard signage can reach virtually all motorists with urgent messages.
     Signage provides the location and technological opportunity for surveillance and monitoring. Electrical and communications connections that enable electronic signage can be used for monitoring devices including cameras, motion/proximity/heat/sound detectors, environmental “sniffers,” biometric scanners and more. Importantly, the signage itself can offer a housing for such monitoring devices as well as location-based (rather than centrally controlled) processing.
The inherent attraction of people to signage as an information source during a threat situation adds value to electronic signage devices.

Accelerating Public Information Display
     The need to provide information to the public in a civil-threat scenario introduces policy questions that must be addressed related to the private ownership or private property placement of electronic signage. Signage in such locations as train stations, subways, buses, airports, malls, retail stores and at sidewalk and highway levels provides a growing public information display capability. The ability to send messages to displays makes them a powerful tool in public safety and instruction.
     The policies and collaborations that enable emergency response organizations to provide public safety information on electronic signage is an advancement that could draw from such practices in the radio and TV broadcast environments to leverage narrowcasting capability. The E911 initiative appears to point in this direction and may offer a forum to establish commercial practices at this early stage in the projected high growth of narrowcasting and signage network deployment.
     Electronic display fueled by DIPA can become a vital element in the homeland-security infrastructure. As such, measures that can accelerate technological capability, improved price/performance ratios and installation are warranted. Means of support might include funding signage networks, removing regulations or adding new requirements that encourage the installation of electronic signage that support the threat-detection and information-display needs related to homeland security.
    Leveraging/augmenting commercial infrastructure for location monitoring and information display has many advantages, including minimizing outlay, maximizing value for money, reducing propensity for anxiety, making display always on (alert levels), local custom- ization, information to high traffic areas.

Electronic Signage Network
     Electronic signage networks are the natural evolution of image and information display. Enabled primarily by electronic display and communications advances, ESNs offer the powerful impact of motion imagery with the flexibility to present site-specific messaging. ESNs increasingly will challenge the merit of posting printed images because they provide more image display flexibility, the ability to change images (such as pricing information) faster and the flexibility to present more images in more formats at a particular location.
     ESNs can reach more people at a particular location to inform or encourage actions. As such, ESNs are emerging as the next generation of broadcasting, narrowcasting and standalone signage. The integration of ESNs into transaction kiosks and mobile devices suggests exponential ESN growth.

  The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's food court signage incorporates 54 video panels that could be incorporated into a network. ( Photo courtesy Magenta Research.)

Effectiveness
     Electronic signs with dynamic images get noticed. Retailers must convey their messages where end-users make their buying decision. Decision influence in-store at the point of the buying decision is enabled by dynamic images.
    Studies point to the effectiveness of electronic display as a communications medium. Measures such as attention capture, recall rates and decision influence have proven significantly better than static signage.
     In one study, two sets of signs advertising selected restaurants and stores were installed for a week each in the Forum Shops Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The first set consisted of traditional static ads; the second involved digital displays featuring motion and sound. Researchers stationed at mall exits surveyed 400 mall visitors each week.
     The research found 37% better recall from dynamic vs. static signs, caused 51% more respondents to say they might visit one of the advertised businesses, and resulted in 103% more people patronizing one or more of the stores or restaurants involved.
     Another study gauged the impact of digital displays on patrons at four Loews theater complexes. Running on digital screens in the lobbies were 11 modified TV commercials, ranging in length from 7.5 seconds to 30 seconds. A total of 874 people were surveyed as they entered the lobbies and again as they exited. A day later, 405 of the same respondents were interviewed. Finally, a month later, 323 of the respondents were again questioned.

Comparing Results
     Comparing the survey results with an entertainment-industry benchmark study by Nielsen Media Research about how prime time TV ads affect buying decisions, researchers found that 5% of those exposed to the digital ads recalled the products or services a day later, as compared with a 4% recall rate for those exposed to the same ads on prime time TV.
      In addition, based on responses from those surveyed 30 days after seeing the digital displays, 19.1% of those who said they had been persuaded by a message on the display ultimately bought an advertised product or service, as compared with a purchase rate of 12% by those who said they were not persuaded by the display.
     The “wow” factor of some electronic displays shows dramatic behavioral impact. A study of retail performance improvement using 3D aerial imaging, or holographic projection illustrates this: 90% of people in the area of 3D aerial display notice it; 90% stop to examine the images without prompting and 38% interact with the images. A whopping (in retail terms) 1.5 minutes was spent per person in this interaction.

This Fresh Direct billboard in NY is reportedly the largest LED billboard in the world. (Photo courtesy Lighthouse Technology.)  

     Tweenies, teens, adults and boomers enthusiastically embrace the “wow” of the images, with 30% being influenced by the display to purchase the product profiled. 69% said the display greatly enhanced the image of the store and 70% said it greatly enhanced the shopping experience.

ESN Growth
     Growth projections for narrowcasting are synonymous with ESNs. In 2002, VenCap Inc. identified that the narrowcasting industry was projected to grow from $338 million in 2002 to $2 billion by 2006. This includes a compound annual growth rate 2002-2006 (CAGR) of 47.3% for control/management software to $250 million. CAP Ventures projects that, by 2006, more than 26,000 firms will use narrowcasting systems with an installed base of 387,000 displays.
     Narrowcasting growth is being fueled by the price/performance of enabling technology elements, its growing installed base, the desire to better target advertising and the need to provide public safety information.
     Advertisers have seen a fragmentation of TV and radio audiences and difficulty in reaching targeted audiences through these traditional means. Meanwhile, narrowcasting can reach audiences at a point-of-purchase decision and can generate ad recall rates as much as 300% higher than TV and radio.
     In addition to better audience targeting, narrowcasting can offer ads at lower costs per impression and enable interactive messages.
Revenue growth projected is comprised as follows:
Currently, 900 firms in North America have 100 or more separate business locations for signage (i.e., retail and service outlets). These large chains will account for most of revenue growth in the next five years.
     By 2006, more than 26,000 firms will use narrowcast systems, with nearly 92,000 sites (i.e., locations or discreet premises) offering at least one networked display, and an installed base of more than 387,000 displays.
     This figure of 26,000 represents only 1.6% of the 1.6 million retail and service firms that have more than one business location that might implement nar- rowcast systems. This suggests a conservative projection and high growth potential for turnkey and all elements of narrowcast systems beyond the 2006 projection horizon.
     Isuppli/Stanford Resources reported that the worldwide retail signage market was $501 million in 2003 with a growth projection of 29% CAGR to $2.35 billion in 2009. 2003 display revenues were comprised of plasma at $310 million with LED video at $156 million, rear projection at $19 million and LCD at $16million.
     By 2009, plasma displays are expected to generate $1.14 billion in revenues, followed closely by LCDs at $996 million. LED and rear projection are expected to be $220 million and $30 million, respectively.

ESNs Displace Narrowcasting
     Narrowcasting is the term used to describe the provisioning of images or information to electronic display devices using communications, control software and media players. Typically, narrow- casting has been used for advertising or public information display in dedicated networks in high traffic retail and public waiting areas, such as retail, airports, sports centers and train stations.
     Narrowcasting is the forerunner of ESNs. The primary difference is in the flexibility to display content on different screens at different times. Nar- rowcasting began as broadcasting the same content to display devices in a closed network. An example of this is the display of CNN on monitors in airports. The limiting factor in nar- rowcasting is in display control. The element that defines the extent to which narrowcasting can be a display medium is the lack of display control over each screen in the closed network.
     The ESN is the displacement technology of narrowcasting because it allows greater levels of flexibility in data and image presentation on each display device in a network. This extends to the point of allowing each display device to respond to individual inputs such as RFID, biometric or other inputs in its proximity, an inherent incapability of narrowcasting.
     As with narrowcast networks, an ESN integrates hardware, software and content elements for the end purpose of data, information or image display.
Digital hardware is used to store, transport and display images. Software controls each hardware device and the overall management of the electronic display systems as content is created, stored, scheduled, transported and displayed.
     As in all multi-component systems, the strengthening of its weakest functional element defines its rate of growth. The weakest element has been the software that knits the role of each device together toward the display of content, in a way that allows screen splitting, the ability to have different images on different screens within a network, image schedules and playback in multiple, non-proprietary, native formats.

DIPA is Critical
     This control element, the Dynamic Image Provisioning Application (DIPA), is the critical element to enable ESN. Increased control and flexibility of image display allows for the fullest utilization and effectiveness of the hardware in the digital signage, narrowcasting or kiosk system. Although functional elements define the value of DIPA, the ease of its use plays a primary role in signage network effectiveness and success. Just as the emergence of DIPA is a key factor to accelerate ESN growth and applicability, other elements support this growth projection:
     • Connectivity using internet, virtual private networks, WiFi and laser transmission is easy to install and low cost. Satellite media transport can meet this need as well.
     • Image creation costs are decreasing as more robust creation tools and players are available.
     • Image cataloging and management tools allow maximum exploitation of image assets.
     • The basic needs for marketing productivity and information provision for homeland security are fueling the demand for DIPA.
     • The importance of providing alert and safety information when and where it is needed for personal safety is increasing.

Technology Advancements
     Technology advances in image display, mobility, communications and DIPA will fuel ESN, kiosk and electronic display while increasing the effectiveness of the next generation of public monitoring and information networks. Key areas include:
     • Dynamic Image Provisioning Applications (DIPA), which fuels ESN, is the “Rosetta stone,” the essential breakthrough element to fuel explosive growth in electronic display installations. Automated Digital Signage Network Inc. (www.adsn.ca) offers a robust complete back-office solution demonstrating a leadership role in DIPA for ESN.
     • Holographic projection or “3D aerial imaging” devices are being integrated in retail, gaming, promotion and exhibition devices such as kiosks and ATMs, and as freestanding image projection. These images can be seen without the need for special glasses. Images of actual, computer-created or moving objects can be created inexpensively and displayed in stand-alone units or through a network of units (i.e., narrowcasting).
      This new, technology-based, display product dramatically affects consumer-spending behavior: 30% of people seeing an aerial image are influenced to purchase the product profiled. Holography is moving toward large-volume adoption in retail, point-of-purchase, kiosk, game and signage applications in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.
       Commercial-grade 3D aerial imaging technology available from American firms has been integrated with entertainment gaming in Japan and in commercial kiosks in Australia. The integration of holographic projection as signage (stand-alone and kiosk) is being tested and considered by organizations including advertisers, retailers, museums, governments and service providers. See www.provisionentertainment. com.
      •High Definition image projection has evolved dramatically and is poised to change the image-creation and viewing experiences at the targeted advertising level. HD projectors for smaller environments (i.e., smaller than 30-foot screen), that are lighter, don’t require air conditioning, have built-in storage and presentation functions, longer lamp life and lower cost are being advanced.
      • Transparent/translucent electronically activated panels offer high visual impact while offering 360° visibility and consuming only 10% of energy required by an LCD display. The Transparent Imaging Matrix (TIM) offers an alternative to how buildings are “windowed” while offering a new signage and display opportunity. Activated 4mm pixels can present streaming video in full color on a see-through panel.
      • Circular LED is being introduced to North America as a high-impact electronic display for high traffic areas (sports arenas, baggage carousels, etc.). This new signage offers potential for high image volume and therefore the need for image provisioning. DynaScan Technology Inc. is the only manufacturer of 360° true color LED display. See www.dynascanusa. com.
     • WiFi (Wide area Fidelity), which allows wireless communications, is expanding rapidly in data/message/image communications, mobility, surveillance, device control and connectivity. WiFi “hot zones” are growing in numbers, range and signal assurance.
     On February 16th, WiFi suppliers to the desert city of Lancaster CA (population 125,000) announced it would become the first city in the US to install a community-wide WiFi capability using advanced 2-10GHz antennas. WiFi-plus Inc. of Illinois (www.wifi-plus.com) is providing obstruction penetrating, multi-frequency, multi-polarized antennas while Los Angeles-based XRF Technologies will provide WiFi. With per-unit range of up to 15 miles and data transmission speeds of up to 500 megabytes per second, the “last mile” can be connected using WiFi at speeds 300 times faster than T1.

WiFi Continues to Expand
     The installation of community-based WiFi has grown quickly since January 2003, when Long Beach CA became the largest community “hot zone” west of Denver. Others are expected to follow, as are many other private organizations.
     The base of private premises with public access includes restaurants, retailers, universities, convention locations, office complexes, etc. Campus and community-wide WiFi are extending as antenna capabilities expand.
     Business models that include aggregation and loyalty programs are maturing, in anticipation of the build-out of WiFi-enabled products including handheld devices, modems, etc. Security is being pursued with the same vigor that has allowed interoperability of other devices to have been achieved. And WiFi will accelerate the concept of “information fueling” (as an alternative to real-time, or online), whereby geographically or time-relevant information is downloaded through WiFi. DIPA is central to device image fueling.
     The availability of WiFi has significant implications related to how rapid the evolution of “signage” might be toward personal and mobile display devices such as laptops, handheld PDAs, in vehicle displays, cellular phones, etc. Just as the electronic sign fixed in a location is “fueled” using WiFi with images scheduled for display or invoked by some means, the mobile or personal display device could be similarly “fueled” using DIPA. This display approach offers the potential to significantly enhance homeland security and 911-related public alert and direction, as well as response command and control tools.
     The work of the E911 caucus must include an assessment of the implications of using WiFi and DIPA to extend the reach and service of security-related information provisioning. All organizations charged with public safety, security and protection must understand the potential of DIPA, which is an “eclipsing” technology to broadcast and narrowcast in image and information provisioning.

DIPA
    The ability to fully control image presentation in an ESN is provided by the DIPA. Image presentation control and flexibility provides advertisers and public-information providers with a powerful tool for branding, advertising, promotion, public information and safety.
Provisioning images from a central server allows advertisers to highly target their messages and be more responsive to market opportunities due to competitor and business partner behavior, breaking news and current events.
     DIPA provides immeasurable advantage for homeland security, mass- and area-targeted alerts, warnings and instructions. When linked to sensors, proximity indicators, atmosphere sniffers, etc., DIPA can enable the earliest warning and impact intervention.
     DIPA’s value is entirely dependent on its Reliability, Availability and Scalabil- ity—the “RAS-ables” that are the backbone of every information system. Reliability reflects predictability in performance. Availability reflects operational features, ease of use and operational efficiencies while the system as a whole is meeting the business or mission needs. Scalability reflects the capabilities (sometimes thought of as “elasticity”) of the available system to maintain acceptable performance levels while increasing transaction volumes and adding system devices. These RAS-ables, which are inherently defined by DIPA, determine the ESN’s limitations and service capabilities.
     Display space splitting allows advertisers and information providers to reduce or spread their message display investment. While large display providers wish to sustain a “one area-one image” approach, branding and advertising practice is expected to evolve quickly to split screen capability.

Monitoring and Alerts
     As noted earlier, electronic signage offers a location to house monitoring equipment that can trigger a human decision or automatic response. Surveillance devices such as cameras, audio or infrared can feed directly into a staffed security or response center as already exists in many transit systems, retail locations, secure areas, etc. Warning and alert messages based on detection of a threat situation can be conveyed as a normal part of a security system.
     Using the features in DIPA, threat signals could trigger an image display to provide information or instructions automatically, in the same way that traffic counters and motion detectors could trigger traffic routing, arrival and departure information.
     The public threat posed by hazardous materials merits information signage systems that can provide the earliest possible warning and instructions, in order to minimize negative impact.
Many systems are mounted with audio-sensing devices that will tag Security if the unit senses a slamming car door or, worse, “hears” a gunshot. Software controls that can close gates and doors, as well as turn alarms on and off, can also be included.
     Depending on a system’s bandwidth, security systems can include up to 16 real-time DVR units. The systems can also feed their captured images into multiple web-browser systems so security personnel can share the images with law-enforcement agencies. This same video-data can be sent to a web server and multicast for universal distribution. It can even go to an individual on foot, such as police and security staff, via system-linked, handheld palmtops.
     Using DIPA, the systems may eventually not only notify security, but e-mail real-time video images to concerned law-enforcement agencies. Via WiFi, the images could also be picked up in police cars. Sign-mounted surveillance systems, with remote swivel/zoom DVRs (digital video recorders) could track a suspect in real time as he/she moves through a building until apprehended.
Providing images and messages to an “audience of one” grows in viability as electronic information is carried, emitted and permissioned for use by individuals carrying smart cards, magnetic strips, radio frequency (RF), Electronic Product Codes (ePC) and other electronic identifiers.

DIPA Elements
     DIPA allows images or information to be displayed on electronic devices in total flexibility. To be viable, the DIPA application must be operable across a wide range of image and information file formats, database formats and tools, file transport approaches (internet, WiFi, satellite), media players, display products (as noted earlier), interactivity formats and products (ePC, RFID).
     Surveillance and Life Safety Tools are required within the application that enable a) the arrangement and segmentation of display area for simultaneous presentation of multiple images, in b) multiple electronic file formats and c) schedule these accounting for split screen, picture-in-picture and multi media layout.
     The DIPA must be scalable to manage and provide audit trail of screen numbers ranging from 1 to several hundred (a small installation) to several thousand (a typical installation) to large global installations.
     In conclusion, while technology relat ed to each of the elements of an electronic signage network (i.e., display, communications, environmental monitoring, message triggering, image storage, etc.) adds high value to the ESN or kiosk system, the key ingredient is the DIPA that controls image presentation.

Lyle Bunn, a senior partner of Apogee Partners, has held senior positions in national technology associations, and assisted in development of technology industry policy with the White House and the four levels of government. He produced the first satellite-based educational telecast in Canada, and created the business plan for a transnational telecom equipment provider to advise the board of director level of the largest 100 organizations in the world. Currently he is assisting in the advanced application of satellite, display and homeland security technologies.

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