Digital Signage, News

Feeding Screens

Accustomed to seeing breaking news and emergency alerts scrolling across their home TVs, people now expect to see this information on public displays, as well. Real-time information is increasingly easier to serve up on signage screens through RSS feeds and other sources. Cable television is one source for a variety of content and often features distinctly local fare.

In entertainment and hospitality environments, signage content is expected to enhance the viewer experience and in doing so, expand the property’s business. When displaying TV programs, it is important to be aware of HDCP and legality of use of proprietary content.

Whether or not a signage network is advertising driven, it is important to check the legal restrictions and licensing or subscription fees for use of specific cable, satellite or RSS feeds. Timely news, scores and other attention getters can be added easily to signage playlists from Screenfeed, FeedSyndicate or any of hundreds of media providers. These feeds typically do not require the use of proprietary hardware or software platforms, but it is prudent to check before you sign up.

Business or commercial TV packages are available from cable and satellite providers. Subscriptions usually include a receiver device at no additional cost, but there might be a nominal charge for installation. DirecTV for Business offers a variety of packages aimed at specific signage environments, including bars, restaurants, hotels, gyms, hospitals and even student dorms. The company’s sports programming for signage networks features access to exclusive packages, such as NFL Sunday Ticket, NBA League Pass and MLB Extra Innings.

For workplace signage, a company or institution may be able to leverage its relationship with its existing phone and internet provider to add a TV package for sign- age screens at a discounted price. For example, Comcast Business offers a variety of communications packages, including TV for the workplace.

When comparing real-time information feeds, take a look at the geographic area the provider serves. Transit DOOH network operators, such as Canada’s PATTISON Onestop, recognize the importance of geographic coverage and types of content in digital signage packages. “We have a partnership with QMI Agency as our primary content provider for our national Digital Out-of-Home network,” said David Cann, Manager of Hardware Operations at PATTISON Onestop.

“When displaying actual broadcast transmissions, HDCP plays a big role. Splitting a single feed into multiple receivers or spanning multiple screens breaks rights agreements, which we don’t believe we need to do. Instead, we’ve created our own software infrastructure that allows us to serve up the content from our own servers. Everything is set up as an ecosystem; we create ads (as needed), design layouts that incorporate the feeds, and create the playlogs that corresponds to all our Digital Network portfolio. This allows us to add each advertising asset on our ad server and is flighted according to each campaign’s needs,” Cann explained.

Signage networks at educational institutions have similar concerns, as well as budget to consider. “We don’t subscribe to paid content,” noted Spencer Graham, MBA, DSCE, who is Manager of Operations at West Virginia University’s information stations, interactive video network and web services. “We use small pieces of an RSS feed for our local weather. We do not usually pull from broadcast or cable, which require permissions and fees.”

Unlike colleges and universities serving a variety of viewer groups on campus, K-12 schools usually have a more uniform audience and a limited number of content sources. Typically, K-12 schools display emergency alerts and other real-time info from their local cable station.

Healthcare facilities need to provide information and entertainment, without interfering with critical activities or compromising network throughput. John Maass, MS, CTS, Manager, Conferencing Technology, Moffitt Cancer Center reported, “At Moffitt, we will show broadcast content in certain areas, but all the digital signage, regardless of location, will have real-time widgets showing weather, date and time.” These widgets from Moffitt’s provider Nexus On-Demand are part of its digital signage package, which includes the application toolset AppSpace.

“For broadcast content, we use IPTV streams through a product by Exterity that takes our local digital cable feed and converts it to IPTV. Additionally, we will also use the IPTV stream for internal broadcasts of events, lectures and town hall meetings. The only major technical consideration was regarding the network and if it could handle the load of multiple HD IPTV traffic. From an internal perspective, much discussion focused on what could or would be broadcast because there was concern over this hampering employee productivity,” Maass explained.

Digital media providers, such as BlueFox, Saddle Ranch Digital and Signagelive offer ready-made content. When comparing vendors, check if their real-time data feeds are auto-updated and if they provide support and maintenance. Moffitt, for example, pays an annual fee for support and maintenance based on the number of connected screens. Content licenses or subscription fees are based on the number of content feeds to each connected media player or display in the network. The higher the number of connected devices in the network, the lower the monthly subscription fee.

Sorting out all of these issues for customers provides a variety of opportunities to add value to a signage sale. If you have strong internal engineering and software development teams, you might want to try developing unique signage content and turn it into widgets for customer use. Ticker plugins and SDKs from DigitalSign, Rise Vision, Wayfinding Pro and others can also provide a doorway to customized feeds, increased profits and client satisfaction.

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