Many signage software companies have for years offered up design templates and modest app stores to make content creation cheaper and easier for customers, but a new content store being marketed by Long Beach, CA-based content/creative shop Insteo is taking a different approach that says more about where the industry is going, as opposed to where it’s been.
The company has an a la carte menu of ready to use content templates that are built around HTML5 – meaning they can cross many CMS platforms, media players and devices without customization to each. The templates include lobby directories, chalkboard menus, real estate listings and employee schedules.
The approach is a bit like that of companies like Screenfeed, except these are functionality applications instead of news headlines, sports scores and weather reports.
I asked Insteo founder Jim Nista what the Insteo Content Store was all about, and how it works.
Q: Several software companies have “app” stores integrated into their platforms and customer-facing websites. What’s the distinction with what you are doing here?
We’re only doing vertical specific Apps like Lobby Directories, Donor Walls, and Beer Menus – no news, weather and sports. Also, the goal is quality design and optimized playback over quantity of templates. We are focused on content for small and medium sized businesses that requires frequent updates by the end-client. Someone who typically doesn’t have the time to learn a complex CMS and graphics publishing suite to keep their screens up-to-date.
Every App offers access to our cloud portal for “line-item” editing in a web browser, so the end-client can quickly update or schedule text or images that change regularly without using a CMS. Our Integration partners are quickly finding that these Apps give end-clients the editing capability they crave without introducing them into the full CMS where things can get easily broken.
All of these Apps are vertical specific markets – for example look for our Digital Flower Shop Menu coming soon!
Q: Are all the content apps built by Insteo or are some of these coming through partners?
At launch everything is built by Insteo, but that will change. We will publish the specification for connecting into our API so developers can create new Apps. Our publishing guidelines will continue to focus on vertical specific solutions where end-customers require frequent content updates.
Q: If I am a third-party developer, who is not involved in digital signage, could I sell off this store? If so, what’s the incentive?
As volume continues to grow for solutions like these, savvy HTML5 developers who can understand the nuances of digital signage will find this marketplace as the best place to target Digital Signage customers. There are other marketplaces for code-samples and motion graphics, but the Digital Signage industry doesn’t seem to hang out there. We will bring the audience through our partnerships with Distributors and Integrators.
Q: I gather that while HTML5 is broadly supported, it doesn’t work the same across all the different browsers and players. How have you addressed that (if it is an issue)?
It’s a huge issue in one sense. Every CMS and Media Player is different and content renders differently or not at all on these platforms. We’re focused on testing and delivering Apps on the leading platforms and have code variances in place as needed. This will be part of our spec and testing of content from third parties.
That said, we’re not focused on companies that don’t truly support HTML5. I know it seems strange to still be saying this in 2016, but some CMS companies don’t understand the power and opportunity of HTML5 and offer very poor implementations. They will either upgrade or die – just like what’s happened with the broader web. Browsers like Internet Explorer died a relatively quick death.
Q: You promote things like easy editing and customization of things like colors. How would an end-user do that?
The App monthly fee covers access to our cloud portal to edit content and some design elements like colors and background graphics. We keep it simple though – these Apps don’t target graphic designers. We find most end-clients are focused on making line-item edits quickly and moving on with their day.
Q. The fee structure is monthly. What does that monthly get me?
We provide hosting, support and access to the editing/design tool, which works on PCs, Macs and Tablets. Apps are in constant communication with our APIs and line-item changes update within 60 seconds. We provide support for every App – as we certify third party developer Apps in our store, Insteo will continue to provide front-line support for these Apps since they are so tied to our portal for editing.
Q. How does pricing work?
Everything is priced per media player per month. List price is on the store with two price tiers – $18/month for one player for non-interactive and $28/month for one player for interactive Apps – with volume discounts available.
Q. What happens if the cloud server that’s hosting this content goes offline?
We take this very seriously and over the past several years we’ve been working on improving all aspects of offline playback. While we’re of course concerned with our own servers and their access, the typical point of failure for Apps is the client’s internet connection. Our Apps use HTML5 caching and local storage. Also, they are in communication with the server and if it ever loses that connection it won’t try content refreshes or schedule changes while the internet is offline. It’s a graceful degradation model.
One nice thing about the better CMS solutions we’ve found is additional layers of API caching and connection verification prior to bringing HTML5 content to the playlist. There’s some very smart companies out there who we prefer working with who help protect HTML5 content in their playlist from ever faulting.
Clients do deploy some of our Apps direct to media players with a “launcher” option, especially SoC based screens with built-in media players. In these cases, a few additional layers of content protection kick in, including email alerts should any connection issues come up.
Insteo is working with vendors and distributors on larger deals that reflect things like volume pricing.
It’s an interesting take on things, and reflects the reality that part of that long tail of signage projects that are yet to happen – replacing more traditional messaging – really doesn’t need full content management systems.
A real estate agency may be very happy just running a set of editable listings, and at that point all that agency realistically needs is a template like this, and (if they’ve done their research or got some useful advice) some sort of device management capability to monitor and manage the players remotely.