The Best Of 2013 In Digital Signage

December 19, 2013 by Dave Haynes

It really is impossible to do a proper review and sort  of the great things across the whole spectrum of digital signage, from a full year. Undoubtedly, there are some remarkable projects done in parts of the world that I’ll never see … promoted and documented in languages I can’t read. There are products I’ve not seen and people I’ve not met.

But, it’s like that with anything. So here goes: My Best Of 2013 list involves stuff I’ve seen, or wish I’d have seen in the past year. There are projects, creative work, tech and people.

In no order …

Perch Interactive

Perch is a little NYC-based start-up operating on the fringes of the mainstream digital signage eco-system, doing things better than a lot of companies in the true eco-system. There is very little new about what Perch does. The guys just do what they do really well.

Briefly, they make pedestrian surfaces interactive, using projectors, cameras and software. Seen that before, you’re thinking, but not with this quality of creative design and careful focus on relevant retail applications. The projection unit is suspended above a table, and that surface can really be any table that’s white or light. The demo I saw at DSE 2013 was on an Ikea table.

Lift something, content changes. Touch a projected graphic, it responds.

The Perch guys say it is the future of retail. That’s a bit of a reach. But what they’re showing is definitely part of the future, and very cleverly done. The units, by nature, eat up too much merchandising space to make a lot of retailers and brands truly happy. And using product on a demo surface like this has to trust that the shopping public will put it back where it belongs. Nonetheless, there is much to learn from what Perch is doing.


LAX International Terminal

The revitalized Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX opened this summer with 19,000 square feet of screens, all aimed at filling the space with big, intriguing digital display arrangements and custom creative content.

The creative was all put together by Montreal’s Moment Factory – a very high-end agency that works on everything from temporary projection mapping projects to fixed display installations like this.

The company describes the project as ” the largest immersive multimedia system of any airport in the Americas. Moment Factory focused on the passenger experience, the iconography of Los Angeles, and the destinations served by the new terminal, creating four hours of original video content, as well as multiple interactive capsules, using the latest in high-resolution imaging, 3D effects and even technologies that react directly to people’s movements and real-time airport information.The overall objective of the media installation is to enhance the passenger experience and bring back the romance and magic of travel.”

I have no idea what the budget would be for this – think numbers that include a lot of zeroes – but the results look spectacular. Unfortunately, the area is all post-security, so you can’t just go to LAX or come over from another terminal to see (I tried).

There will be no end of CEOs and CMOs who pass through there, go back to the office, and tell their people, “I want that.”


Passenger Bar, Madrid

On pretty much the opposite side of the budget and scale spectrum, here’s a coffee shop/bar in Madrid, Spain that has taken on the look of a passenger rail cabin, all the way down to a set of digital cabin windows that show a virtual landscape rolling by.

The Passenger bar was put together by art designer Parolio, and is located in the trendy Malasaña/Triball neighborhood of Madrid. The new space, says Parolio’s website, occupies a long and narrow architectural structure which inspired Parolio to create the concept of: “A train constantly on the move, right in the center of the city.”

The main area is designed to look and feel like a train cabin. To create the illusion of movement, three huge solid screens play the role of windows. They are constantly projected with synchronized and programmed videos that flow, from one screen to the next, just like in real life. The images have been recorded from train windows all over the world, presenting urban and nature landscapes that transport the clients into the fantastic experience of travel and leisure, pulling them away from the reality of the city around them.

Simple. Relatively inexpensive. But sooo nicely done.


Palais des congrès de Montréal

Denys Lavigne of Arsenal Media is a good friend and client, and we talk a lot. It’s a testament to his considerable humility that he’s never even mentioned to me that his company did the work in his hometown’s convention center, the Palais des congrès.

I’ve been through there many times, and always thought some day the operators were going to pull down the old TV sets hanging from the ceilings and do something interesting with digital. Well, they did.

Arsenal is by any measure the top pure-play digital signage creative agency out there and their skills in conceiving and delivering on a project are all there in this video. They do visuals really like no one else specifically working in this space.

Brilliant stuff. An honorable mention to the creative Arsenal did for longtime client Christie Digital at its Cypress, CA main office. More than 100 Christie MicroTiles and graphics filling a full native resolution of 23,760 x 2,700 pixels.



Queen Mary

Another industry friend, Jim Nista of Insteo, has been very quietly telling me about work they have been doing on the old Queen Mary cruise liner, which is permanently docked a few blocks away from Insteo’s Long Beach, CA office.

Insteo “gets” content presentation and emerging tech more than most in this space, but what’s striking about this project is less about content and more about the work done to make digital fit in.

This ship is a living, working attraction, and no one was going to be allowed to come in and hang commercial panels off walls and the hallway ceilings. Insteo spent endless hours painstakingly working with trades to build enclosures that make the new digital pieces look like they were there the day some woman with a nice hat hit the ship with a champagne bottle.

Not enough of that attention to detail is done on projects. The best ones respect the architecture and design, and make the screens look like they belong.


Eindhoven Airport

I’m really not mentioning projects based on friendships or business ties, but here’s another one. I’ve done some marketing and message work with the  Belgian creative shop Seenspire, and have a lot of respect for their creative eye.

This is a project they did with Net Display for the busy regional airport at Eindhoven – in some respects the San Jose of the Benelux region. Very simply, what I like is that they took a big video wall project and really thought through what should be on the screen and how it should look. The colors are right. So are the font choices. It’s not flashy or experiential like LAX. It just works.

The Seenspire guys, along with ScreenFeed, do the best visual presentations of syndicated content for digital signage.


Aperture/Silver Curve

This is a small London-based start-up that has developed a graphics engine that turns a very low-end, low cost computing device into a viable digital signage player, and works with multiple content management systems.

Silver Curve’s Aperture turns the $45 Raspberry Pi – $200+ all kitted out – into a teeny player capable of performing as well as PCs that cost twice as much.

The idea is that Aperture sits between the CMS vendor software and the device hardware, drawing rich content and rendering it at full, broadcast-ready HDMI. Aperture becomes part of the operating system and drives the graphics processor to generate graphics, motion images, animation and effects. Working with the Raspberry Pi certainly lowers costs, but Aperture has the potential to work with other low-cost devices, as well. I understand the company is working on Android.

Which brings me to the Honorable Mention, to established companies like BroadSign,  Navori and Capital Networks and all kinds of start-ups, like TargetR, that are working with non-PC Android devices. Yes, there is absolute crap out there in terms of devices. But companies like VIA have very good, really well-built Android units. These low-cost offers are not going away, so anyone with a business built on $1,000 Windows PCs should be twitchy.


Stratacache CEO Chris Riegel in his Dayton office. Note the Gen. Patton photo and samurai swords.

Stratacache CEO Chris Riegel in his Dayton office. Note the Gen. Patton photo and samurai swords.

Chris Riegel/Stratacache

When you ask most people in this sector which companies are dominating market share, you get a long list back, most of it based on guesswork. The company that’s doing the most trade on the software and related product and services side is Dayton, Ohio-based Stratacache, which is solely owned by CEO Chris Riegel. Not a lot of people seem to realize that, though.

This is one very smart, incredibly busy guy. He is in the middle of just about any deal of substance his company is chasing, and he has quietly built up solid business with a diverse set of Fortune 100s. Stratacache does north of $100 million in sales revenues.

Riegel travels almost constantly, and can give you a lesson on anything from future LCD supply chains to retail merchandising trends. He did, to my mind, the best presentation at the digital signage investor summit this fall in New York.

That profoundly stupid list of the top execs in the digital signage space, released a few months ago, didn’t include Riegel. Enough said. A real list would have had him at the top.

Honorable Mention to Adrian Cotterill, aka Mr. DailyDOOH. He makes a lot of people absolutely crazy with his often cutting point of view and editorial  approach, but he has in the past couple of years established well-conceived and run conferences, award events and books all focused squarely on this sector. He has a lot of influence in general, and very quietly has a lot of clients he advises and even tweets for. Like Riegel, any industry influencer list that doesn’t have the man from Henley on Thames is goofy.


DOOHgood’s Creative Providers

When the typhoon flattened and washed away a big swath of the central Philippines, I ramped up the DOOHgood effort to get Red Cross messages on Digital OOH screens. It’s no big deal that an existing effort was turned back on by me. That’s not the “best” part, and I hope this doesn’t read as self-serving. What was significant was how content producers in multiple countries dropped what they were working on, and produced pro bono spots to help Filipinos.

We had spots produced in English, French, Spanish and even Finnish. And they were not after-thought pieces. Many of them were really, really high quality spots that could easily run on broadcast.

Companies like Arsenal Media, Freshwater Digital, BeatPixels, Amigo Digital, Screenfeed, InLoop and Cineplex all set aside resources and time to do work, and we know from feedback the spots made it on many, many screens – even all the way over to Manila. It was a real show of what’s best about this sector.


British Airways

A child on a digital billboard notices and points to a passenger jet flying away from London’s Heathrow Airport,the message dynamically noting the flight number and destination.

The creative for the British Airways spots that ran this fall on a set of London-area billboards was not all that compelling, but the data-driven content integration was striking – and indicative of what’s to come with highly contextual, in many ways real-time, advertising.

The system used departures and flight data and custom-code to sync the digital messaging with departing flights.


São Paulo Yellow Line

The Yellow Line in São Paulo, Brazil’s subway system now has 11 stations filled with digital screens, fixed at the entry areas, walkways, platforms and inside the rail cars.  It’s an ad-based network that reaches 750,000 people daily – repeat DAILY. Depending on what I read, there are as many as 2,000 screens in play – from single monitors in cars to big tiled video walls and very large Nanolumens 6 mm LEDs.

What appeals to me is the scale and the choreography evident through the video, put together by Digital OOH operator Terra Networks. This was carefully thought through and big money spent  to get the coverage right.



eBay is running a field experiment and demo at an urban San Francisco hall that takes three vacant storefronts and uses a combination of big vinyl graphics and rear projection touch films to make the windows into connected glass screens.

Shoppers can browse through items at three different, branded stations for Sony, Rebecca Minkoff, and Toms. If they like something and want to buy, the transactional process gets pushed to the relative safety and privacy of their smartphones, with eBay and PayPal as the commerce platforms.

As I wrote in the original post, “here we have a situation where online retailers have eroded bricks and mortar retailer sales, and in some categories – like books and music – clobbered them. Now the online retailers are taking up space inside the mall, in empty slots that in pre-digital times would have likely been filled by some bricks and mortar retailer.

The dynamic of a retailer having a touchscreen on a shop window, so people could shop there instead of walking, in largely mystified me for a long time. So did the idea that people would whip out credit cards and shop off a sidewalk after store hours. This is different, though. These are retailers who aren’t even that mall (except Sony) taking out virtual space and making it pretty easy to buy.”

Shopping off a window using projection and touch film is not even vaguely new. What’s different here is how it is done, where, why and most notably who is behind it. If the sales needle moves, this could become commonplace in malls with otherwise empty storefronts.

Honorable mention to The Integer Group and its interactive Window Shopping system for Adidas. It’s a test at an Adidas’ NEO store in Nürnberg, Germany that allows people to shop off a high street window. Again, not new, but in this case the creative, mobile and social integration all look well executed.


BBVA Bancomer, Mexico City

The ATM lobby of a BBVA Bancomer branch at a Mexico City shopping mall has a 27-meter wide curved sweep of digital wall that backs and surrounds the machines. The effect is dominating in a way not possible with screens just hanging from a ceiling or gracing the entry.

The 6 mm pixel pitch LED wall shows a blend of content – from branding to how-to’s on using the ATMs. It’s wow factor with a purpose. Here’s a case study on the project, which was done by a Mexican integrator, Kolo, using BroadSign.

Honorable mention goes to the ABSA branch of the future in a Johannesburg shopping mall, which has a long and wide video wall that runs to the back of the branch and around a corner. There are 33 55-inch displays running a full 23 meters, or roughly 70 feet. The wall does an animation of the city landscape and familiar visuals like the Nelson Mandela Bridge, Gold Reef City, Soweto’s Cooling Towers, and ABSA’s business campus.


Cleveland Museum Of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s $100 million renovation included a new set of interactive video walls that make really good use of touch, archives and dynamic screen layouts. The museum’s Gallery One has a 40-foot wide multi-touch screen made up of a pair of 15-units wide by 5-units tall Christie MicroTiles, fitted with Baanto’s ShadowSense multi-touch solution.

As many as 16 people can independently select and manipulate images of works of art shown in thumbnails on the wall. hen one is chosen, it blows up in size and dynamically reorganizes the surrounding thumbnails. People can find what interests them and load them on available iPads.


So there you have it. I largely excluded display, playback and software products because there are sooo many, and they differ very little from one another. I can’t think of any gear I saw at shows or online that was vastly different. There’s lots of great stuff, but it’s hard to get too wound up about things that are a little faster, brighter, easier, whatever. They’re advances, Not game-changers.

All told, a good year for the sector. An awful lot of people I know were very, very busy, and some big brands, retailers and institutions seem to be done tire-kicking and are cutting purchase orders. Hopefully 2014 is even better.

Coming in the next few days, a look ahead, with a focus on disruptive technology.


Leave a comment