Justin Lachovsky Details Telecine’s Expansion Into Subscription Digital Signage Content, And How It Differs From What’s Already Out There
May 4, 2022 by Dave Haynes
When I first heard the longtime digital signage solutions company Telecine was getting into subscription content for screens, my first reaction was “Hmmm … pretty crowded and established market to shoehorn into …”
Then I got the details, and the logic and applicability were a lot more apparent.
The Montreal company has set up three very customizable sets of pre-packaged feeds that would run in parallel with the products already out there, as opposed to being alternatives.
There’s a weather feed that’s all about context, like one letting runners know if this a good day to put in some mileage.
There’s a banking industry feed that solves a big pain point of developing messaging that is fully compliant with finance regulations.
And there’s an interesting air quality feed that marries on-screen content with a small, included device that does real-time air monitoring in buildings.
I spoke with Justin Lachovsky, Telecine’s Director of Sales & Marketing, about the new services. We also talk at the start about how the company has adjusted to the sudden loss last year of its much-loved and respected founder, James Fine.
Justin, thank you for joining me. Let’s get something out of the way right away, because you guys, and the digital signage world in general, had a big shock last year when your founder, James Fine unexpectedly passed away. How have you guys adjusted to that? What have you done and how are things?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah. Definitely a huge shock and something that we’re still battling through, of course, something that shocking doesn’t go away easily. But we’ve luckily had the opportunity to really just continue focusing on what we do best and that’s helping our clients with producing excellent digital signage content for their networks, and frankly, that’s I think something that James really would’ve wanted us to do.
So we’re all really holding onto his memory in that regard of just doing everything that we can to continue pushing forward his vision, obviously, it was a shock. It’s a tough loss, but he’s really laid the groundwork for our management team to step up now and help just continue pushing forward all the great stuff that we do here at Telecine.
Yeah. One of the new things I learned is that he set you guys up with a succession plan so the shift wasn’t that difficult.
Justin Lachovsky: No, and you know that’s something that some folks might not know, but for the last, I’d say six plus years just before I joined Telecine, James had been doing about six months sailing sabbaticals across the world and some management oversight in that regard, but most of the day-to-day operations and client management stuff was handled by our management team so while it’s a deep loss and obviously we’re still deeply upset by the loss of James, he put this company in a perfect position for us to continue going forward, and I’m very grateful for that.
Yeah. It was fun to hear how he would be in the south Pacific with Chantal sailing and he would get on a sat phone and call in.
Justin Lachovsky: Yes. I can’t tell you how many conference calls I’ve had with James, where he’s like, “I’m in the middle of the water. There’s no land in sight, but somehow I’m able to jump on a phone and talk to you all the way back in Montreal.” It’s very cool to see how far technology has come.
So we’ve done a podcast in the past, it was with James, miss him a lot, but for those people who don’t know what Telecine is about, could you just give a kind of a quick rundown of what you guys do? What’s your focus on?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah, for sure. So yeah, Telecine is a 35 year old media and software company. We’ve been doing digital signage, I think since before digital signage was even really an industry and really our main focus is to help our clients solve their communications challenges and using digital signages, that medium, to help deliver effective communications to their audience, and we do this by leveraging all sorts of cool content pieces, dynamic data sources, and then just internal databases of information that these corporations have that they don’t leverage enough to create that all encompassing communications platform. It’s not just email, it’s not just social. It uses your screens to effectively communicate that message, and we do that with them by helping produce really nice digital signage content.
You being services based through the years, you don’t sell specific pieces of software, you don’t manufacture displays or anything else. So services are in your DNA, but I found it interesting that you guys have added on subscription content capabilities.
I think of a handful of companies like ScreenFeed who sponsors this podcast that do that sort of thing, but you’ve got into it, but it’s not the same sort of thing, right?
Justin Lachovsky: No, and that’s right. We work with the ScreenFeed guys all the time and all of the other providers within the digital signage space. We couldn’t do what we do without their support and the things that they provide to the industry. But we did notice an opportunity for us to help end users with providing our services from the high end production of digital signage content and finding a way to offer them ready-to-go content without the high production costs that sometimes involve these larger projects. So it’s something that actually James coined as “prêt à partir” content, which in English just means ready-to-go content.
So what have you done? What are you offering?
Justin Lachovsky: We’ve launched three new product lines in the last quarter. The three products are Fin Facts, AQ (Air Quality) and Lifestyle. All three of these products are HTML5 based so totally software agnostic, they’ll work with any digital signage system, which is really what our main focus was in developing these, and the other thing that’s interesting too, is they all have specific use cases, but it’s a friendly piece of content. You don’t have to worry about anything negative popping up there. They’re friendly, that’s the term I’ll use for them.
Yeah I found it interesting for the financial one that you guys are providing, that could be quite complicated and labor intensive to figure out what are those messages that are relevant to banks and what are those messages that can be used and your work around was just using the content from the FDIC so that it’s already vetted and approved and not going to get anyone into trouble by using it.
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah, that’s exactly it. As you’re aware, we do offer our services quite a bit in the financial space, retail banks, insurance brokerage firms, stuff like that. So I actually had this idea while talking to a client about three years ago. Every time we had to produce a piece of content for them, it had to get run through their compliance department, and had to have some FDIC disclosure on it, and I said, why can’t we just take information that the FDIC already puts out there. We know that it’s a trusted source and find a way to create a compelling database of banking facts. S
o that’s exactly what we did. We went right to FDIC, started sourcing facts right off their website, and we came up with Fin Facts, which is this fun, engaging and informative database of digital signage content which, like I said, works great for banking environments, behind the teller desk, all that area is FDIC approved and not only does it, I think, works just for the banking space, but any sort of corporate office as well.
By providing these factoids to their staff, the message that they’re conveying is, we don’t just care about, offering you corporate information and telling you about what the company is doing, but we care about your financial wellbeing. So we’ve taken this information from the FDIC and said, look, this is topical. It applies to everybody, everybody’s got to do banking. So for me, it was just a cool way of saying to, end users in the audience that we don’t just care about delivering messages for messaging sake, we care about your financial wellbeing as well.
I’m going to assume the FDIC was quite happy that they have a new distribution channel for this information.
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah, absolutely, and that’s the really cool thing about the program is, there’s three steps to the way that the content is shown. There is the fact page, so we’ll tell you the topic of what we’re talking about. So for example, like mortgage planning tips. One page with a nice little factoid. The second page gives you a use case, and then the final page actually gives you a QR code where it’ll link you back directly to the FDIC website where this information was sourced from, and actually what we’re doing with one of our banking clients is we’re using that QR code to actually measure audience attention. So it gives us that additional layer aside from just providing information.
We’re giving the banks and other clients the opportunity to capture information and say, okay, you know how many people are actually looking at this stuff.
The capability is there so if somebody snaps the QR code with their phone, it hits a specific target URL, and you get the analytics off that to say that in the past month, X number of people hit this target URL?
Justin Lachovsky: That is exactly correct.
So if I’m a financial institution in the United States and I want to use this and I’m using Brand X CMS, it’s just a matter of scheduling a URL into a playlist and off you go?
Justin Lachovsky: That’s exactly it.
And you subscribe to it, right?
Justin Lachovsky: Exactly. So we’re in the process of figuring out the best way to deliver that to clients but right now, if you subscribe to the product, you’ll be able to select from a list of topics ranging from youth savings to mortgage tips and general savings, credit cards. You’ll be able to select those topics. We’ll provide you with a URL that will deliver all that content directly into your CMS.
Is it tailorable, customizable? So in other words, you’ve got regional savings and loans in Oklahoma, and they want to use Oklahoma state orange because that’s their corporate colors. Can you change the background of that?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah, of course, that was really what our intentions were with building it. The way that we’ve done it is, well, we love to do custom content. So even with our product offering, it was important for us to offer that customizability and flexibility for clients, as opposed to just saying, this is what you get. You have the full capability to changing the colors, fonts as well as any integrations or logos or other branding elements that are needed.
You and I are both in Canada. So, if you had a Canadian bank that you’re working with FDIC stuff stuff, there’s probably lots of elements of that crosses borders quite nicely, but you can’t brand it as FDIC. So what happens if I’m the Royal Bank and I come to you and say, we want to use this too, but we need Canadian stuff?
Justin Lachovsky: I’m glad you asked that question because we’re actually in the process right now of doing a Canadian version. In Canada, we have the CDIC, which is a governing body similar to the FDIC. So we’re in the process of doing a similar approach with CDIC information to offer that to Canadian clients as well, and as part of that roll out, we’re also looking to provide some interesting quizzes using both the FDIC and CDIC information, so you’ll have a database of FDIC facts, a database of CDIC facts, and then coming soon, we’ll also have a database of quizzes from both databases.
So that’s now available? Have you onboarded some customers already or you’re just starting to spread the word?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah. So it was launched a week ago, but we’ve already had a client who was beta testing this for us for about six months now and we’ve just gotten the go ahead to roll this out to all of their branches.
I’m going to assume that the people who work at banks of varying sizes in the United States, who are charged with feeding the content beast all week and all month long are probably pretty happy that this sort of stuff will become available to them.
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah, they are. They’re actually quite thrilled. One of the things that we encounter often, especially with financial clients, is they’re hyper concerned about safe content, and that was really our approach to this is that FDIC is a safe, trusted resource and it delivers that way for digital signage content. So it’s exactly what you said. These bankers are quite happy that they now have a safe resource that they can display in their bank branches without any hesitation.
Yeah, because if you’re running news feeds and those are pretty carefully curated anyways, but I suspect if I asked the ScreenFeed folks or some of the other companies, they would say, you wouldn’t believe what upsets people, and I could imagine, like the Oscars thing, where Will Smith alpped Chris Rock, that’s a story that got a lot of attention, but there’s probably some bank and some customers that say, “I don’t like that there. I’m offended by that. Take it off!”
Justin Lachovsky: Absolutely. I’ve lived through that experience a couple of times. So I’m happy now that we can offer something where I can deliver it to a client with peace of mind, that that kind of scenario won’t occur.
How does it work in terms of scale? Do you just subscribe to the service or do you subscribe per media player?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah. So the way that it runs, it’s a similar model to the way the other folks have run it. It’s a per player subscription, obviously, depending on the size of the network and the amount of facts that people are looking for, there is some flexibility there, but it is a typical per player pricing model at the moment.
And because it’s HTML, this stuff you’re harvesting from FDIC, so I guess in most respects you would say it’s canned, it’s already done, but because it’s HTML, can you update on the fly if things do change?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah, we do have a process in place to continually monitor the FDIC website so that if things change, we’re able to make those changes to our content, but also, they add more and more articles over time so we’re looking to continue growing the database, but also make those amendments if they are needed.
Okay, so that’s the financial one. You said there’s a lifestyle one and an air quality one as well, am I right?
Justin Lachovsky: That’s right. So obviously folks have become hyper aware about health and wellness over the last couple of years. I know that I have that for sure. So one of the cool things that we did was develop this set of lifestyle content that really speaks to activities. At this point, seeing the weather forecast in digital signage is fairly common to put it mildly, and everybody’s got weather in their pocket these days.
So what I wanted to do, and the rest of the team wanted to do is find a way that we can contextualize that a little bit more. Like you said, it’s so easy to get a three-day forecast, but let’s say you’re going into a bank one day, or you’re going into the office one day, and you know you’ve got something going on this afternoon. You’re supposed to go golfing with a couple of teams. What we’ve done is using the backend for weather information, we’ve developed a set of indexes that will tell you about activity-based information, whether it’s appropriate to do that or not on a given day. As an example, I was talking about golf. So we have a golf index that’ll tell you, based on relative humidity, the weather outside. It’ll provide you with an index saying, is it a good day to go golfing? Yes/No, and then there’s a forecast that’s associated with that, but that also comes with a handful of other data points, things about driving difficulty, pollen in the air. You have dry skin today. This one was my favorite, hair frizz. Fairly straight hair, but you never know what humidity can do that kind of thing. So really what our goal there was just to add that additional context to the weather by saying, “It is probably a good day for you to stay inside. Don’t go outside” or “Don’t go golfing today. Maybe pick tomorrow”
So it was really important to just help boost people’s awareness for those activities as we’re going in and out of places more. For the longest time, these outdoor activities were our saving grace and he was the thing we were only able to do for close to two years. So I thought it was a great way to just have a set and forget the piece of content in your signage system that goes with the weather, but also works in just a variety of places. From banking to retail, to corporate, everybody’s out and about doing activities to that these days. That was our goal.
I’m assuming apart from the financial facts one, which was pretty straight forward, that this would be much more of a challenge to visualize and for people to look at and immediately get it because you can’t just write out, “This isn’t the best day to go golf”?
Justin Lachovsky: That’s exactly correct.
So what we did is we used the same approach that most people do for weather. Most people can quickly look at a digital signage screen and get a quick understanding of, okay, this is the location I’m at, this is the high and low for the day, and this is what the forecast looks like for the rest of the week. So we use that same visual approach for this, where you’ll have, again, I’ll use the golf index. It’ll tell you the golf index for Los Angeles, California. It’ll tell you what the current weather is, but also on a scale from 1-10 what the quality of golfing would be that day.
So if you look at the screen, you get the current weather forecast, you’ll get a three to five day forecast that’ll tell you from 1-10 what the next few days of golfing quality looks like.
So your suggestion would be that this can run in tandem with the more “conventional” weather stuff that might be on a digital signage network?
Justin Lachovsky: Exactly. One thing I’ve noticed is a lot of these digital signage screens where the use cases effective for this piece of content is, retail banks, stores, those are places where people are either in the process of doing an activity or going between activities. So for me, it felt like the best possible place to put this information because people are, like I said, either going to do something or on their way back from doing something. So that seems to be the best place to deliver this information to them.
So could you also handle customer requests? I was just talking to a guy a couple of days ago, who lives in Syracuse, New York, and that’s on the wrong side of lake Ontario, so lake effect country, and he was saying they had a pretty good winter for snow. They had four feet less than normal. So I’m wondering in terms of a lake effect or tune up your snowblower warning or something.
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah. I think we have 10 indices right now, if I’m correct, but it is something that’s continuing to grow as customer requests come up and they’re like, I’d to know if it’s a good day to mow my lawn. These sorts of things come up all the time, so we’ll continue growing that library for sure.
And then the other one that I believe you’re working on or have released, has to do with air quality and is very much sensors-driven?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah, air quality is another interesting one. Again, folks have become hyper aware of their health and wellness and that obviously speaks to air quality. So what we’ve done is we’ve got an air quality sensor, which is a very small, low profile, little sensor. It looks like one of those air diffusers that you would just buy and have your oils diffusing on your desk, and what it does is it measures a handful of different parameters, things like the indoor temperature, humidity, air pressure, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, ozone, and what it does is it sucks in all this information, and we deliver a dashboard of varying levels of what these parameters are at, and then we’ve come up with our own measure of taking it all in and delivering an air quality index.
So it’ll tell you, based on the information that I just mentioned, what the level of air quality is in a given space.
So there’s hardware associated with it?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah, that’s correct, but it’s all done through subscription. So you subscribe to the product, you get the air sensor with it and we deliver the dashboard at the same time. So there’s no need to purchase any large hardware, it’s just the sensor that comes with the subscription of the content.
And is it a smart setup? Let’s say the sensor reads that carbon monoxide levels are higher than what is safe, would it trigger something on the screen?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah. So that’s a custom piece that we work on with clients, obviously on a case to cases basis, but yes, we’ve done things like when you’ve got certain levels of high carbon monoxide, we can have a different kind of graphic trigger on screen, just letting people know this. It really came down to wanting to show more transparency on the health of our clients’ spaces. We work with a lot of folks in the corporate environment. We’ve got clients that are corporate real estate landlords. So it spawned out of a request that we got early on in the pandemic. Somebody said, I’d love to know what our air quality is like so our staff feels comfortable working in space during the pandemic, but also in the future.
When the return to office stuff comes into play, we’d love to continue reporting that, and in fact, we did a project with a client out in California, they’re a large real estate client. They were actively going after a well building certification and what that is, it’s similar to a lead building certification, but it’s focused more around the health of the building itself. One of the very pertinent aspects of that certification was providing information on air quality. So we were able to integrate these air sensors into, I think they’ve got six floors in their space, and we reported that on the digital signage screens, which allowed them to go and get a platinum well building certification, which is quite unique because there are only one of three buildings in all of California that have this certification right now.
So it becomes almost a leaseholder retention sort of thing, saying, “Hey, here’s in visual terms how “well” a building we are”?
Justin Lachovsky: That’s exactly it.
With those displays, is it the sort of thing that runs in a content schedule or do they tend to allocate one or multiple displays or screens that are just showing that?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah, we’ve seen both use cases. We’ve got some customers that just want it mixed in with their regularly scheduled content. But we’ve got other clients that actually just have a straight reporting dashboard. You walk into their lobby and right on the lobby desk where you would typically go to sign in if you were a guest visitor, it would just tell you right off the bat, this is what the air quality is like, and I think that it gives, like I mentioned, the staff a peace of mind, but also visitors coming to this space because that’s certainly coming back. It gives those visitors peace of mind that they’re in a healthy space.
So for larger buildings and particularly newer ones, I suspect that they’re using Honeywell, or some big giant company that has HVAC systems and monitoring and everything else, and probably has APIs that you could tap into to also get that kind of information. Do you do that or is it just simpler to use this little device?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah, and that’s actually something we’ve been doing long before the pandemic happened and these air sensors came into play. That’s our bread and butter. Telecine, loves to get their hands on APIs and data and figure out a cool creative way to display that. So yes, we definitely integrate with those types of sources for customers.
Okay. So the device that you guys make available is the little hurdle for those companies to say we don’t actually have those APIs, or that would be a son of a gun to pull all that together, so just use this?
Justin Lachovsky: Exactly. It depends on the customer space, obviously new buildings, it’s a lot easier to get that stuff available to us than it is abuilding that’s been around for 15+ years. Sometimes to avoid the hurdle of waiting six months for a customer to figure out who their HPAC provider is, who owns the contract, where can I get the data from? We wanted to offer this cost-effective sensor and display package that is very easy to just get in front of a customer in a variety of spaces.
So you’ve done these three services, is that it? Or is there other stuff on the horizon that you don’t have to give me the details, but are you done?
Justin Lachovsky: We’re never done. There’s always something on the horizon. We’ve got a couple of really interesting projects coming up. I can’t share those with you yet but as we continue to firm up those details, I look forward to jumping back on a podcast with you and sharing them.
So we’re all hopefully coming out of a crazy two and a quarter year, how have things gone now, setting aside the shock of losing James?
Justin Lachovsky: Yeah. Things have gone really well. One thing that Telecine does really great is client retention. A lot of our clients are getting close to a decade of working with us. It’s really important for us to just focus on the customer experience and that’s what I think we’ve done really well in the last couple of years, as we’ve all experienced challenges with the pandemics our clients have as well. So our focus really has just been helping them in any way possible, and focusing on that communications message through digital.
All right. So if people who are listening to this want to find out more, how do they find you and how do they find this particular set of products?
Justin Lachovsky: We’ve got a product website for all of them. You can find them under our main website, telecine.com. If you have any questions I’m always available, you can just reach me at email@example.com and we’ve got those product websites just listed on our main website. You’ll be able to find all the information.
All right, Justin. Great to catch up with you.
Justin Lachovsky: You as well, Dave, thanks so much.