What If Managing Digital Signage Content Boiled Down To Sending An Email?

May 9, 2017 by Dave Haynes


Anyone involved in delivering a digital signage solution that’s going to be used, at least a little, by minimally trained and barely engaged local managers and workers knows the “big ask” is to dumb the user experience down as much as possible.

If it’s complicated, people won’t use it, they say. And if it’s complicated, the central administrator is going to be terrified the local folks will mess something up by touching the software.

So what if all the local people had to do was send an email to directly update content?

That’s the operating premise of a little company in Missouri that has developed the software and protected the intellectual property, as best as they can, on a method of updating digital signage playlists by sending emails to a Gmail address with specific words, what they call “trigger” words, in the email subject line.

Those emails can trigger:
  • Updates to scrolling text RSS feeds;
  • Adding images and video clips to a repetitive slideshows;
  • Changing full screen background images;
  • Sending marketing content to our other displays in a network, for cross promotion and community support;
  • Sending messages to the help desk.

Local Business Patriots, based in Augusta, Missouri, has been at it for about six years and had some 500 clients in Missouri and Illinois. It now wants to build out from there by licensing the capability to other CMS providers – which likely makes more sense in a hyper-crowded CMS software market.

The nuts and bolts of it is a service built around Gmail and Google Drive, which is cloud storage. The service, called
Email2myTV, works with any commercial signage software that uses Google Drive. The trigger or keyword in the email subject header directs attachments in the email, like a video, to the correct cloud drive folder. It also manages the desired item count in that folder (if the playlist has a finite number of media pieces in a loop). It also handles some other data management duties.

“My business model was not to become another digital signage provider,” founder Paul Wheeler told me in an email exchange, “but more to create a basic infrastructure tool that most, if not all, DS providers could use, in order to remain competitive. I think I have done this.”

Wheeler started the company after two decades of what he calls “people, process, and technology consulting” to the automotive industry.

What he saw in the signage market when he got in was a race to zero on pricing and, and how the money in software was going to be pegged to  ease of use and content creation.

“There are now nearly 50 digital signage providers that use Google Drive and whose sales model is ‘Simple Digital Signage.’ They all,  however, seem to be somewhat the same – one must learn the software and use a web-based portal to manage the content,” reasons Wheeler. “The 22 million small business owners in the United States simply do not have time to learn new software or have time to stop what they are doing to change the content displaying on their DOOH display. If it is not instant and easy, it will not happen.”

“With diminishing margins it is also becoming difficult for a digital signage provider to actively manage even a moderate number of clients and remain profitable. For the customers that I actively manage content for, this Gmail solution has reduced my workload by 95%. This allows me to manage many more customers without having to increase my staffing levels.”

“For our clients that manage their own content, I rarely have to become involved or provide any tech support. It is just an email account linked to established and stable commercial signage software. In the past year, 100% of my new clients have chosen to manage their own content.”

“Our service can be as basic or as complex as the customer desires,” says Wheeler. “We can control any number of Google Drive folders. Any digital signage provider that uses Google Drive can benefit from what we have created.”

“My marketing is based around small business referrals from current clients paired with contract sales persons,” he adds. “The only technical skill needed is just simple ‘get it connected to the internet and launch the application’ abilities. We have reps in 11 cities across two states.”

The email to Google Drive solution has some interesting applications outside of digital signage, such as using trigger words to send around media materials. “I have a key word for contracts, client business card, installation photos and the like – I can email them as an attachment from anywhere and from any device and they go to the correct drive folder and then sync with my desktop. My sub-contractors can send items to Drive without having access to my Drive account. All that is needed is the email address and the tag word.”

I have not tested this and am definitely no authority on the architecture and content flow of cloud-based CMS platforms, but it at least seems to make sense.

For their own clients (almost all small businesses), the company provides low-cost Android-based media players and charges a $360  per year membership, that includes everything but the display. using my impressively advanced mathematics, that’s $30/month.

Wheeler sent me to the website for demos, and they frankly don’t look great. There are tickers and multi-zones and bad artwork and on and on. Wheeler knows that, and has tried to coach end-users to invest more time and money in creative and layout, but …

If you have been around this business for a while you’ll know there’s still a yawning gap between best practises for content and layout, and what a lot of small businesses do.

Wheeler’s perspective is that what the company does, and its prospects, are in the email to cloud drive functionality, not in layout and design.

I asked if he has taken steps to protect the intellectual property, given that this kinda sorta looks like a “method” other companies could just appropriate. “I purposely incorporated in Missouri, as this state has unique intellectual property laws and is home to jury’s that are known for making huge judgment awards in cases involving the unauthorized use of intellectual property and/or its associated concepts.”

It’s tough with software to be fully protected, he says, but based on a pile of legislation he cited – like the Defend Trade Secrets Act – he’s aware and ready.

From what I have seen of CMS platforms, local manager input can be pretty simple and dummy-proof. They log in, they work with a basic web form, submit that work and they’re done. But there are still log-ins to remember, etc, etc. The CMS guys and solutions providers will know better than I if something that reduced the process to sending an email would be a Hallelujah moment, or a shrug.

It’s interesting, nonetheless.

  1. Tony Downey says:

    In my experience, digital signage is managed through emails, until the emails wind up in the inbox of the one person who knows what they’re doing. Replacing that “one person” with a bot is pretty clever.

    But I’d have an easier time an identical company with a human on the receiving end of the emails (even if that human just forwards it to a bot without the client knowing).

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