In Digital Signage, Everyone’s A Content Producer

August 27, 2014 by Dave Haynes

tourist holds up camera phone at the grand canal

In the talks I have been doing lately, one of the points I’ve been raising consistently is that everyone is now a potential content producer for digital signs.

We’re all walking around with smartphones that are as good or better than many point and shoots. Most phones and tablets also tend to have pretty good and easy edit tools. And most will shoot decent HD video.

Combine that with an acceptability bar that is either a lot lower than it used to be, or just flat gone – with the masses willing to watch pretty much anything, production values be damned, if the content interests them.

pdpI’ve been making the point that there is a Swedish guy named PewDiePie who has more than 30 million YouTube followers – the 5th most popular YouTube channel, of ALL channels – based on his producing videos that show him playing video games, screaming like an 11-year-old girl when he’s scared or shot, and generally being a moron.

Most people would look at that and say, “Really?” But you have to respect that scale of audience, and accept that people want to be entertained by what interests them,  not what someone else decides they’re interested in based on broad demographics or, more often, readily available material.

Even five years ago, it was rare to see a Skype video interview on broadcast TV, because it was too grainy and the sound patchy. They were only used as a last resort. Now Skype interviews are common (and branded), and the viewing public now appears willing to accept crappy lighting and audio quality if the subject matter is relevant, important or just plain entertaining.

Which brings me back to digital signage content, and the idea that everyone and anyone is a potential content producer.

Feeds Are One Source, Not THE Source

For years, the digital signage industry has ticked along on the premise that the stuff between the money messages would be populated mostly by content subscriptions from third party services. That’s stuff that keeps at least elements of the programming schedule fresh and interesting, and in the right circumstances, feeds from companies like Screenfeed, Digichief and Datacall (yes, they’re all 16:9 advertisers) make good sense. And the presentation quality, pushed by guys like Screenfeed founder Jeremy Gavin, have improved immensely.

But I’d argue there are now many new, non-subscription content sources that could and should be mined.

The obvious resource – which has been tried and applied with varying success – is social media. The trick is to have the resources and framework to make the most of selected and approved tweets, posts, pins and pix, as opposed to configuring on the cheap what becomes a messy, dingy stream of unfiltered stuff. The former costs a lot more, but can be great. The latter is a swamp.

Many of us in this space have had to talk end-users off the ledge when they wanted to just run a playlist of cool videos they cobbled together off YouTube or Vimeo. That’s not a great idea either, never mind there are probably lots of copyright issues to overcome. Online is a different medium just like TV is a different medium.

However, social video channels are a potentially great resource for content producers … if the end user puts genuine work into finding content partners who fit and want to work with them. Do a YouTube channel search on a common topic – like health or fitness – and you will see countless channels developed by companies and by individuals looking to build personal brands.

live strong health

A LOT of it is terrible. But there’s also a lot of pretty good stuff in there. It took me a couple of minutes to poke around and find stuff from Livestrong, the cancer-fighting, wellness foundation that operates in spite of the whole Lance Armstrong/cheating thing. There’s some nice content on the LiveStrong channel, on a range of subjects, that just needs an edit to better fit dwell times and particularly address the many networks that don’t have audio.

So that’s a proper organization that’s producing content anyway, which could pretty readily extend its work on to to digital sign networks, if the effort was worth it for them (in terms of broadening the audience). There are endless fitness and training people who would likely LOVE to build their personal brand in ways beyond online. Same goes in food, travel, business and on and on.

The gas  pump guys were the first network operators to go off the playbook and find alternative content, and I’d suggest more and more operators should be thinking about that – whether they are ad-based or private.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is content being produced that isn’t going to come all packaged up, and isn’t being driven by brands and entrepreneurs, but could be great.

Think, for example, about departure lounges in airports and the screens at gates, particularly those controlled by the airlines and not the airport authority. You’ve got 180 people sitting in a lounge waiting to fly to Aruba, or wherever. Wouldn’t it be great to have edited vignettes on gate screens, running material from couples and families that went to Aruba, and showing what they did?

An airline could run a reward program saying send us your five photos, or best video footage, and tell us what you did. If we use it, we’ll give you a flight credit (or something).

Because we’re conditioned to YouTube and watching stuff on the phones of friends and co-workers, I’d argue people are more than willing to watch video vignettes shot off a phone and packaged up and polished by a proper video edit and window dressing. It just has to be interesting and relevant, like showing people what they might do when they get to Aruba.

I will take that everyday over recycled news and lifestyle broadcasts packaged up as airport channels.

Tech Is Bringing Bar Back Up

Some things happening in tech are also making content production by the masses interesting.

You have GoPros and quadcopters with gimbals to stabilize images and fly via GPS. You have cinema cameras that cost less than $1,000.


And now Instagram has announced a new platform, running parallel to its flagship photo platform, called Hyperlapse. that allows smartphone users to shoot image-stabilized videos and time-lapse sequences that look like they were done using real cameras (and people who know how to use real cameras). The tech takes advantage of the gyroscopes built into most phones these days, notably iPhones.

Look at those videos and you can see software and clever uses of hardware are bringing the quality bar back up. Phones already have filters and tools to correct colors, crop, adjust the horizon, add punch or apply filters. Think of what’s possible when anybody with a little patience can start shooting time lapses and smooth motion shots.

Does this kind of material supplant subscription feeds and other traditional content sources? Not at all.

Instead, it expands the possibilities, and with a little work, allows network operators to develop programming based very little on what’s available and much more on what’s relevant and interesting to their viewers.

Great content isn’t about affordable subscriptions. Or automation. It’s not about contingent just on production values. Great content’s only true yardstick is whether the material attracts and holds viewers.



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