in November 2007
Sign of the Times
Digital signage enhances the stadium experience.
|When mounted in the right location, spectators can "have their cake and eat it, too."
Long before large-format LCD and plasma flat screens made their appearance in living rooms, they were being installed in commercial venues, including sports stadiums and arenas, transportation centers, large retail malls and stores, casinos and hotels. Some of the screens delivered entertainment, much as any television does, but especially more recently, many have been used as digital signs that deliver information such as menus, game scores, event information and transportation schedules.
Today, it almost seems odd to go to a public venue of any size and not see large, flat screens offering digital signage that delivers important information and advertising. Stadiums for teams such as the Chicago Bears, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Braves and others, and horseracing venues including the Hawthorne Racecourse in Illinois, sport multiple digital signs offering event coverage, scores, standings and information supporting concessionaire businesses.
The growth in these installations has been spurred by the advent of LCD and plasma panels that offer much greater installation choice and flexibility than older CRT technology. Most of the advertising and information these digital signs display is related to the venue and it is delivered in a way that is available only through a managed digital signage network. These managed networks are carefully crafted in a process that starts with the venue operator’s requirements, and ends with the deployment of monitor, control, network cabling, and equipment and software tailored to meet those needs by a team of hardware manufacturers, and systems and software integrators.
What constitutes a managed network ranges from one that simply provides a closed television network to one in which a centralized manager has complete control over the operation and performance of every screen in the network:
• Hardware environment always includes a centralized content control facility.
• A network control center to support the wired network installed throughout the facility.
• Basic operating software usually is provided by the hardware vendor, and the content control software is provided by a team of content integrators.
• The closed architecture creates a narrowcasting environment in which control of the programming is available at all times.
• Digital signage control deploys entertainment and information programming.
• Entertainment programming is not subject to broadcast or cable network rules.
Control over the narrowcast network allows hotels to control which broadcast and cable channels are made available to guests, and enables them to implement charges for premium channels. It allows a sports arena network to deliver a sportscast of the game in progress that is not available to network viewers who live in the home team city.
According to one manufacturer, which has installed thousands of flat-panel displays in sports venues, that’s critical for luxury seating applications where patrons in skyboxes like to be “at the stadium” but have all the comforts of home, including a high-definition television that shows the game. The managed digital signage network also can deliver various cable and satellite feeds that enable the sky booth patrons to see any game currently in progress, even though it is not available to the general television public in the area.
|Although patrons in skyboxes like to be “at the stadium,” they still want all the comforts of home. Managed digital signage networks can deliver not only the game, but additional information, as well.
Creative Information Content
The ability to control managed digital signage networks enables venue operators to create and deliver customized, dynamic information programs. They enable programming that interweaves advertisements with menu items, event schedules and transportation status reports. They also allow information, such as menu items and event information, to change during the course of the day as situations change, special deals are offered or items are sold out. These digital signage systems also offer opportunities for delivering animation to enhance menus and other information applications.
Managed networks at sports venues, such as stadiums for the Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins, often have multiple displays at high-traffic concourse locations where one screen displays the game in progress while others display menus or other information and advertising. The advertising can be related to concessionaire products and services, but is also sold to local or national merchants.
In addition, digital signage networks are important for providing high levels of service. For example, sports arena sky booth patrons expect their video images to be crisp and completely reliable, and concessionaires want their menus to be always available to attract customers. Other venues also have good reasons to require high reliability because the information promotes their businesses.
One characteristic of a digital signage network is its ability to control and monitor the operation of all the screens in the network. Not your grandfather’s TV, they include extra control features that enable a better network signage environment. For example, the system can make sure the screens are switched on (and can turn the sets off when the business of the day is completed), controls their volume and video settings, and corrects any other settings, such as incorrectly set channel or programming sources.
About the only down time the equipment might have in a managed digital signage network is the time it takes for a repair team to be dispatched to replace or repair the equipment.
Transition To Digital
Traditional digital signage networks have used an RF (radio-frequency) network that carries the analog signal that also carries the control signals for display management from the central computer to the terminal locations. Today, RF networks are going digital, and IP (internet-protocol) networks, of course, also are digital.
The advantages of going “all-digital” are the result of the PC revolution and the digital age that it has introduced. Digitization has many implications for moving forward with digital signage technology:
• Venue operators need to know about digital networks.
• Wiring usually is already installed in just about every commercial venue and is capable of supporting a digital signage network.
• Digital signage network is more likely to be under control of the venue operator’s information technology department than a general facilities manager.
Many new installations are built on IP-based networks, which are attractive because of lower training requirements and shared wiring. Another advantage of the TCP/IP architecture is that the range of equipment that can be attached to an IP-based digital signage network is expanding rapidly. That can open the digital signage network to a virtually unlimited array of content opportunities based on innovative technology. One content source that will surely make a difference is the flood of streaming video that is now becoming available, which can be captured readily and distributed across a managed digital signage network.
As with digital RF networks, IP networks also offer individual device control that will make it easier for digital signage network operators to control the individual programming of a wide variety of locations. That can make information applications such as direction signage and menus more flexible, and allow entertainment programming to be better controlled in locations such as sky booths.
Welcome To The Future
The future of dynamic digital signage networks based on IP networks is bright, and includes new capabilities and capacities for any venue that uses one. Equally bright are the present and future capabilities of digital RF-based networks. That’s because either choice can create an information and entertainment environment that enhances the business opportunities at any commercial installation.
As large, flat displays are installed throughout sports venues nationwide, stadium owners and their IT departments are expanding their horizons with next-generation technologies—screens and networks—as well as exciting future 3D displays and wireless networks.
Digital signage networks are likely to have a wireless future. Wireless networks will help reduce the costs of installing digital signage at locations where cabling is not available and would be expensive to install. What’s more, wireless technologies will allow skybox-type applications to be distributed to handheld video devices that can be rented to patrons in general admission seats, as well.
New technologies support streamlined operations and improved profitability for stadium operators. Most importantly, this means an enhanced customer experience, whether you’re keeping up with scores and stats on digital signage at the concession stand or enjoying the game in high-definition in the luxury skybox suite.
Ron Snaidauf is vice president, Commercial Products, LG Electronics USA, Inc. For additional information, go to www.lgcommercial.com.