Tenants like new building's digital wall so much they're negotiating screen time

May 31, 2011 by Dave Haynes

Here’s an impressive multimedia video wall installation in the lobby of a Seattle building owned, but apparently not occupied, by Starbucks. The visual effort is great, but read on about the intriguing business impact.

“We had to get prospective tenants interested in the building and were looking for something that would grab peoples attention,” explains Jay Philips, Director of Corporate Facilities for Starbucks. “We wanted a signature piece for the building.”

“In Seattle, new buildings don’t have signature pieces outside of a fireplace or maybe a water feature. We wanted something interactive or media-related that could create a different look and feel in the lobby, without having to change lighting or decor. Some of my colleagues thought a videowall might be a bit too Vegas, but I persuaded them otherwise.”

The entrance lobby at 505 1st Avenue South has a 9-foot high by 52-foot wide rear-projection wall done using six DLP projectors and something called Dataton WATCHOUT that does all the edge-blending, overlapping, meshing and synchronizing to make it look cool. Seven PCs drive the thing.

“If the picture is static when you walk into the building for the first time, you might think it was a huge mural considering how well the rear-projection panels blend into the overall design of the lobby,” says Tami Zeidhack of the systems integrator CompView.

“Once the WATCHOUT servers start doing their stuff, however, the picture soon changes, quite literally. We started with stop-motion movies of the building being constructed, then onto pre-programmed material such as Seattle city scenes in different seasons of the year,” Zeidhack adds.

A Seattle creative agency, Mind Opera, does all the content. “The stop motion was shot by an outside company and assembled by my team along with all the graphics and video displayed on the wall,” says David Johnson, President and Founder at Mind Opera. “Since WATCHOUT was used in this installation, it allowed for more cost effective options in building content. With WATCHOUT we were able to create about thirty minutes of custom looping content at a fraction of the price of what producing a video of that length would cost. The ability for WATCHOUT to tween stills and mix other media formats is a powerful tool in the creative world, and it has been put through its paces with this most amazing project.”

The videowall is a hit, says a news release, with tenants, and Starbucks now considers it to be an asset of the facility in its own right, and not just a marketing tool.

“My original concept was that, once tenants began to occupy the building, the screen would do something like restart itself on the hour every hour, creating something new and cool to look at that employees would want to come down and check out,” says Philips. “We had not done much else but come up with some simple sights and sounds from around Washington State … things that people might remember the building by.

“We never thought that our tenants would get so excited about using it for their own marketing and communications purposes, to such an extent that they want to negotiate usage of the screen into their lease terms. We have one tenant that does voice-recognition software that is looking at how they might produce content, and another that wants to use the wall to mark their arrival in the building in October. Having made the original investment in the wall, we’re now seeing our tenants investing in it themselves.”

Nice. I was involved years ago in putting screens in commercial office properties and even back then, the digital element was regarded as a building enhancement and part of the job of retaining tenants by getting them to love their building.

When access to your screens are being negotiated, you are on to something.

Image: CompView and Gary Wilson Photography

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