Tickers and zoned screens need to be the exception, not the rule, in digital signage

I was struck at InfoComm by the way technology, good creative and actual thinking were resulting in some really strong content on big fella video walls and totems around the trade show.

It’s nice to see how far the industry has moved in really thinking through an idea and execution.

On the other hand, I was struck by how little has been accomplished in working with smaller, single screens. In conference presentations, and in way too many booths, there were screens showing text going this way and that, rain dribbling out of cloud icons and more text than anybody would ever stop and read.

I get, completely, that the purpose of a trade show is to demo the software pots and pans – and that means showing, among other things, that your software is slick enough to do all kinds of things at once on a screen.

But just about anyone worth getting into a conversation with at a booth already knows that sort of thing is a standard capability for just about any vendor out there. Anyone with software that can’t support multiple content elements on a screen, in 2011, might as well fold up the tents right now.

The problem is that showing all these carved up screens and news tickers and weather icons is instructing the AV and systems integrator crowd – which will tend to think what gear to use long before programming strategy gets raised – that all these examples are spot-on. They’ll reasonably conclude, “Well, that’s how it is done.”

That’s how it’s done, when it’s done badly.

The problem is compounded by the many, many companies that load up pre-baked template libraries with multi-zone layouts. This is again telling end users THAT’s the thing to do.

These layouts can be beautifully designed and look very pretty when all slapped together. But they force a set of eyes to look in three or four directions at once.

There’s a relevant correlation between digital signage layouts and PowerPoint/Keynote slides. We’ve all rolled our eyes and mentally tuned out when someone fires up a presentation jammed with words and images. And we’ve all been pointed to presentations that work – which are invariably minimalist pieces with one big image and very few words.

They work because the message is clear and not fighting with other things for attention.

There are, definitely, cases when a screen with multiple content zones makes some sense. But the digital signage industry exists and markets itself on the ability to communicate quickly and effectively with people.

If a flat panel display was put up on a wall to do that, the message being communicated will be hugely more effective if it commands the full screen – contains powerful imagery and very few words – and is competing with nothing else for those precious pixels.

We’re seeing national and regional Digital OOH networks struggling to sell ad time and stay in business, and one (certainly not the only) reason is these networks are hurting their own cause by loading up screens with junk content that serves no other purpose than to diminish advertising recall rates.

A few of us in the industry were nattering away a year ago about, basically, death to tickers. I’m not sure much progress has been made.

Another really well-worn phrase applies here: Keep it simple, stupid.

(Image was from a conference presentation on digital signage. Forget who.)

5 thoughts on “Tickers and zoned screens need to be the exception, not the rule, in digital signage”

  1. I am going to have to agree with you, however in ALL of the software presentations I have had, this question always comes up: Can you do ticker text?

    I tend to feel offended, as like you said, if you cannot do all the “nice stupid gizmos” you dont really have a place in the market. And this is the really sad part.

    Now, who is going to educate the client that “just because you can, does not mean that you should!!”

    Breaking the screen in 30 different players/sections, having multiple feeds… What the f…!! Have they ever even researched what should and should not be done? I doubt it. They want the pretty screen doing all kinds of stupid stuff that nobody will ever appreciate and that will not bring-in an extra dime to them. Moreover, project will probably die in a few years because it is just unmanagable and boring.

    How much money are DS Software companies spending on stupid software tricks so that they can add latest “gizmo” to their soft platform that nobody will ever use? to much if you ask me.

    Great man I know (and I always quote him) said about DS:
    “Pretty pictures on the wall”
    Could not be more right.



  2. Hear, hear! Well put Dave. We create content that works beautifully full-screen and will even look great on a larger portion of a screen, but I’ll often (every month) get a request by someone looking to put our News-in-Pictures feed into a small zone in the corner of their screen. The answer is that you CAN, but no one can read it unless they are 3 feet from the screen! So they have just spent money for our content only to render it useless.

    Concerning those tickers… God help us as an industry if we continue to promote them. Its true software companies get asked if they can do that – but here is the reason… the desire for the network operator is to get fresh content that updates everyday or multiple times a day to their screen remains relevant. That is a good goal and the tickers provide updated content, but its ugly and its not something that gets people to turn and look at a screen. They do it because its easy to implement by the software providers who think they can now say “check!” in regards to updated content and the network operators (often with the direction of the software company) believe its “FREE” to use CNN, Yahoo! or whomever’s RSS feeds even though it is not allowed in their terms of service.

    What the industry should be doing is adopting a method for delivering syndicated MEDIA (images, videos, animations) that update on a timely basis rather than text-based news and weather. We’ve been pushing for this for years and have been able to convince a growing number of software companies to add Media RSS integration (Signagelive, Dynasign, firmCHANNEL, Coolsign (already had it) and others). Its crazy how many software providers you can ask “I want to display a video news segment that changes every morning” and they have no solution other than manual upload.

    So tickers shouldn’t be the norm, nor should the many zones we see – I agree.

  3. I agree with all the above, exceopt for this: Digital Signage = “Pretty pictures on the wall”.

    Anybody who says that is blind to the more intelligent interactive and integrated uses of the medium.

  4. I agree with all the above, except for this: Digital Signage = “Pretty pictures on the wall”.

    Anybody who says that is blind to the more intelligent interactive and integrated uses of the medium.

  5. Hola Mark,

    “Pretty pictures on the wall” its a beautiful and thought phrase. It does not dismiss any of the “intelligent interactive and integrated uses of the medium”. You are just understanding the phrase literally, when it is really not meant like that.

    It just states the thought core of DS, the base on which all soft platforms were created. To display a message, in whatever form for people to view.

    Pictures stands for copy, message, whatever that is, in whichever format.
    Pretty stands for well done, well thought, well designed.
    On the wall, simply means a display medium, lcd, led, proyector… whatever it is available for people to view.

    The 3 metaphors in a 5 letter phrase (I believe) it is just brilliant.
    Maybe it was a “you had to be there” when I heard the phrase.



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