Interview: Screenfeed’s CEO On Adding Video To Service

February 17, 2012 by Dave Haynes

Jeremy Gavin is the CEO/Founder of Minneapolis-based Screenfeed, which provides licensed content feeds to digital signage and digital OOH networks. The four-year-old company started with still images and headlines, but has recently added full screen video clips.

I asked Jeremy to field a set of questions about the service:

So you’ve added video feeds to the image feeds you’ve been doing since you launched. What drove that move?

We made the decision to begin producing Video News Bites really for the same reason we created our News-in-Pictures channels. Which is that there simply was not a current offering we felt met the needs of the industry in a high-quality manner.

We launched Screenfeed over four years ago with our News-in-Pictures. At the time, and even since, you can easily get text headlines for a ticker or news feeds with small images that vary in size – we felt the medium deserved better – so we began delivering news with full HD images that fill the screen along with a headline.

The same is true with Video News Bites. We’ve had success licensing news videos from other news sources, but they are built for the web and digital-out-of-home just has more unique challenges and opportunities. Our customers were not happy with the type of stories coming through (sex abuse, murders, bad economy). They loved most, but some simply were producing the opposite communication when you are trying to get someone in the mood to buy.

Another driver was the need for short durations – our clips are 30 seconds so they fit into playlist well in areas with short dwell times, and they are built modularly to play back-to-back if you want to play three in a row.  We’ve found that some signage software has trouble with dynamic feeds of media that change in duration, this consistency eliminates that issue.

The biggest value in Video News Bites may be that every story is delivered with voice narration and captions. More than half of our customers have screens without no-sound or have environments where the sound must be quite low. This provides them a way to deliver the news with video.

Lastly, its full HD. Other news video options out there are standard def, or below. We’ve got these beautiful high-res screens all over the place, let’s make them look good!

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Is there a pricing difference from the stills?

The News-in-Pictures are available for as low as $10/mo. Video News Bites start at $15/mo – so we’ve been able to create a way to offer this at extremely low pricing.  Its important to note that the per-player pricing scales down dramatically (lower than $5) the more players you have and we also offer package discounts when you purchase more than one content channel from us.

Do subscribers pick it up by Media RSS like your image feeds?

Customers can easily add our content to their playlists using Media RSS. In many digital signage software systems that support Media RSS, you can simply schedule the feed and forget it, it will automatically update to ensure your screens are displaying the latest news throughout the day, everyday.

We’ve been pushing Media RSS as a standard for years and we’ve been happy to see many software companies adding support. You can see our known list of software compatibility here

That said, far too many software companies in the digital signage space still don’t have support for Media RSS or they may have it for images but not video.  We have a number of different ways to deliver including Direct URL where the same URL can be used, but a different video can be delivered each time to keep it updating. FTP is a good option, too.

We’ve also developed our own App that can be installed as a Windows service called the Screenfeed FeedFetcher. This app can be configured to download our feeds to any directory on a player or server for playback locally, you can have it just update in off hours or a certain number of times during the day to manage bandwidth. That has been a priceless tool to make a lot of deals happen, that wouldn’t have otherwise.

What topics do you cover by video?

We cover tech, sports, entertainment, some politics and general society news.  These are all covered in the same feed.  Our editorial team selects the most interesting and timely stories that will play well for a digital signage audience. This medium is different than TV or the Web where you watch mostly as an individual, digital signage speaks to crowds. At home on the web  or TV you are able to select and choose what you want to watch.  The latest gossip about celebrity rehab or who-slept-with-who may work well there – but when you are delivering a message to customers, employees or guests, there are many other engaging stories to choose from – it’s great to be able to offer this to our customers who share that concern.

Are the videos all your own voiced-over material or are you now re-selling other licensed content producers?

Video News Bites is an original production by Screenfeed. We license the editorial footage from several sources, we define the topics, write the stories and produce the content all in-house. It allows us to produce the best content for our customers and react to their needs.  For many of them, it’s important to have someone to call who can listen and react and knows the digital signage industry and challenges with managing playlists.

That said, we continue to offer syndicated content from other providers. We have great partners in the Associated Press, AOL, Eventful and 2hemispheres among others. You’ll see a lot more coming from us throughout this year, where we’re providing distribution for others creating great content.

Roughly how many networks are you working with now, and are they all in the US? Or do you have international business now?

We serve over 300 networks. These range from companies with one player in their lobby to digital-out-of-home networks with 1,000s of screens.  Screenfeed content is running on over 30,000 screens today across the US, Canada and internationally.

We do have international business and its a key focus for us this year.  We have customers in the UK, Ireland, India, Australia, South Africa, Bahamas, Brazil and more.  We serve weather around the world, local events, World News and a new channel focused on Soccer (Football News-in-Pictures) that plays well.

At DSE this year we’ll be launching new channels in Spanish and French.  We’ll be heading over to the Screenmedia event in London for the first time in May and will be promoting our upcoming Olympics Package, which will feature Medal count graphics, athlete profiles, photo gallery and of course video news stories – we think that will help us grow more internationally.

Do you see a lot of clients shifting from stills to video?

To be honest, No.  I have not seen customers shifting as they have typically fallen into a “video” category if they have sound available and view themselves more as a media channel — where others have no sound, have bandwidth concerns or simply view themselves more as a traditional “digital signage” type media replacing posters, etc.  We see them both working very successfully.

Personally, I love the power of a photo, it captures a moment of time you can analyze for 10 seconds and along with a headline or caption I think it communicates powerfully.

Our move to create Video News Bites is simply to serve customers who are looking for daily video news, but have not had an acceptable high-quality option. Our Video News Bites complement our daily video weather forecasts, Healthy Bites and Lifestyle videos to offer someone who views themselves more like a broadcast channel tools to build a great playlist.  Along this line, we’ll be announcing at DSE a new Hosting Service where we’ll deliver “on-air” talent to brand your network and provide transitions between spots with personality.

You know what I think of tickers. Do you think the marketplace is starting to understand the importance of going full-screen with content?

We’ve got a fun ad-campaign coming up called “Kill the Ticker” and you’ll see a clip of it at our booth at DSE. It shows the ticker being squashed, shot with lasers and other terrible things.

No love lost here on the ticker OR the variety of ways networks find to split of the screen to provide the customer a dozen different things to focus on. Gosh, great content looks so good full-screen, I wish I could say the marketplace is shifting dramatically.  Our next new content offering coming out really comes from our love for full-screen video. Its a channel based on infographics that take a look at the stories behind today’s top trends with illustrated 3D graphics – it plays so much better full screen.

When are we going to celebrate Ticker Free Day 2012?

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