Several of the big display manufacturers – starting with Samsung – have adapted their consumer smart TV platforms to create commercial-focused “smart signs” that have media players included with screens, but a London, UK-based digital agency is now offering a cloud-based signage platform that works on the sort of smart TVs people pick up at local big box retailers.
ScreenCloud is a new business unit that grows out of Codegent, which does software and web design work, everything from apps to more involved websites. A couple of guys from Codegent came from London to Toronto in 2014, and another guy came for the 2015 – telling me the product that had been in the works for a long time was launching this fall.
I caught up with Haje Van Kamps, who filled me by email about ScreenCloud.
Q – Can you give me the rundown on what Screencloud is all about?
ScreenCloud’s ultimate mission is to make digital signage affordable and accessible to small businesses. There’s a few parts to this: for one thing, we see too often that in small businesses, the current solutions are too complicated, which means that the signage lives with IT (where it’s a burden) rather than with the Marketing departments (where it’s a tool and an asset).
We remove hardware from the digital signage equation: you still need a screen, of course, but instead of relying on external players, we’ve built apps for smart TVs: you buy the TV, install the app, and are good to go with your signage. If the customers’ current screens aren’t smart, we are supporting a variety of players (the $35 Amazon Fire TV stick and the $30 Google Chromecast, among others).
In addition to the infrastructure piece, we’ve built a powerful multi-screen CMS system that is ludicrously easy to use: basically, if you can use Mailchimp, you can use ScreenCloud Signage.
Q – So that means you are calling a Web server, I assume, from the smart TV’s browser, correct? Does the TV have to use a certain browser, or any will do? How do you handle things if connectivity drops? Do you get an error message?
Yes, that’s correct – although our app also helps process the content to ensure it’s displayable. For video, for example, we can transcode the content depending on the target screen’s capabilities and supported codecs. We aren’t aware of any smart TVs that don’t support our platform.
Q – Cloud-based digital signage platforms are not exactly rare. What is it about ScreenCloud that sets it apart from the mob?
There aren’t a lot of performs out there that are taking the Mailchimp approach: self-service set-up, ease of use, no need to get the IT department involved.
We also have a completely transparent payment model, which appears to be pretty rare. In our experience, small businesses don’t want to need to do the ‘call us for a quote’ or ‘put in your contact details and our sales team will call you’ thing. That does still work in some industries (and some of our peers are doing that), but given our target markets, we are choosing to take a more scaleable self-service approach.
Q – Cloud suggests pretty strongly that this is a SaaS model. can you lay out how things work, what people pay, etc?
Correct – ScreenCloud Signage is a SaaS service. The price is $20 per screen per month, but we’ve had a lot of interest from non-profits, so we’re looking at having a non-profit pricing tier as well.
Q – One of the arguments I hear, sometimes, about browser-based models on consumer devices is that there is limited or no real capabilities to know what’s going on with the device remotely, or remote tools to troubleshoot problems. How do you handle that?
Q – What is the company’s background?
We started about 18 months ago with a hackathon inside a digital agency. At the end of the hackathon, we had an early prototype of a signage solution, and we decided to find a commercial solution for us to use. We couldn’t find one that was perfect for our use, and decided to continue exploring the market and product. 18 months later, and the rest is history!
Q – You just formally launched. What will the company be doing in the next few months to build up business?
A lot of our business is coming from existing contacts in the industry, but we’re specifically targeting small businesses that haven’t traditionally been particularly well served by the industry. I mentioned non-profits already, but we also have a huge amount of interest from startups to help distribute internally built dashboards, and from small restaurant and retail chains.
Given that a lot of our customers will be new to signage, we’re also spending a fair amount of time on ensuring we have a good knowledge-base and educational content for potential customers. Basically: we are delighted to hear from our customers, of course, but if they *have* to contact us to figure something out, we count it as something we can improve to make the customers’ lives easier.
Interesting approach. I know and completely get the arguments around commercial displays and commercial-grade media players. But I also know there is a massive constituency out there looking for something dead-simple and cheap – with use cases that are never going to be much more than running a handful of videos and images over and over in a local business waiting room or lobby.
Samsung also goes after this constituency with its Smart Signage TV offer, which is not to be confused with (somehow) with its commercial Smart Signage, system on chip display product.
Then there are low to no cost products like what Show + Tell announced last week, and others I’m aware of that are coming soon.
None of these are genuine foils to the industrial-grade, high sophisticated platforms that many companies in signage are marketing. But as noted, lotsa people don’t need all that, and things like ScreenCloud would probably be more than enough.
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for some 14 years. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He’s based near Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast.