Jeremy Gavin Explains How Screenfeed Has Gone No Code With New Connect Toolset

June 8, 2022 by Dave Haynes

Screenfeed has, for many years, been one of the primary players in subscription content for digital signage – offering great-looking, fully-automated infotainment feeds that help populate the schedules of screens and get viewers looking again and again.

Now the Minneapolis company is introducing a new service that’s a direct play on the no code software movement. Screenfeed Connect is an online toolset that allows users – whether they have developer chops or not – to easily and quickly integrate data sources into fully customizable HTML5 designs and layouts.

The product of two years and 30,000 developer hours, Connect grew out of the frustration of custom content project pitches going nowhere because the clients didn’t have the budget. Screenfeed, for example, might need to charge $7,000 to reflect the time needed to develop a finished, automated template, but the client might have a budget for $700.

By putting Connect together, Screenfeed now has a platform that plays to the whole notion of economies of scale. So maybe that $7,000 job could be done for around $700.

I spoke with Screenfeed founder Jeremy Gavin about the roots of Connect, and how it will be available to see and try out this week on the show floor at InfoComm.

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Jeremy, thank you for joining me for those who don’t know what Screenfeed is all about, and I can’t imagine there’s a lot of those, but nonetheless give me the skinny on what your company does and how long you’ve been around?

Jeremy Gavin: Yeah. Thanks for having me, and happy to share what Screenfeed is up to.

We started as a service. I started the company in 1999, I believe. We really didn’t transition to what is now Screenfeed until 2008. So we’ve been doing this for Screenfeed, which typically has been known as the provider of infotainment content or data feeds. Like we call it dynamic rich content, that’s ready-made. It’s been a lot of fun building that. We serve content to over 175,000 screens around the globe, and all types of CMS and on many different types of digital signage networks. So it’s been fun to see the industry grow over the last 14 years because we’ve been involved in a lot of people’s networks, making sure everything under the network is running and that the screens are working. We just get to provide them great content that feeds their screens, keeps them fresh, and the purpose to use our content is really, in most cases, it is to get people to watch the screen longer or get them to turn their head and look at it in the first place.

You may have some messages, it could be employee messages, it could be advertisements that you want people to see on the screen, that’s maybe the purpose of the screen. But in an exchange you might want to provide them something like news or weather or sports scores to gain their attention, and in some cases, it is to inform them whether it’s alerts, weather alerts or traffic. There is some utility to the content that we provide, as well.

And you guys have done some research that kind of validates the whole idea of injecting things like infotainment into schedules that would otherwise just be a series of promotional messages or workplace messages or whatever it may be, that actually does have a positive impact that it does get people to keep looking and remember the next thing that comes up on the screen, right?

Jeremy Gavin: Yeah, absolutely. Certainly when we started we were going off of a gut feeling that, Hey, we should put something on the screens. And truth be told, a lot of our customers probably have said that we need to check a content box. So what can we get that is easy and updates to my screens.

So it’s not the same all the time. So you’ll get some use from that, just to say, let’s just keep our screen updated with something new. But fortunately, we’ve had opportunities to work with customers who wanted to think smarter about it and say, Hey, is this actually helping? And we worked with a large national bank, for example, did a number of studies on a lot of our products to see what would help them  deliver the message that they want to deliver.

And I can’t give the exact details from which company and that type of thing, but generally the assumption was if we play weather, will the marketing piece that we run after the weather be seen more? And so when they did in-person testing a large thing over three months, they came back to say what was the highest recall piece. And it happened to be weather, but of their marketing pieces. The marketing piece that ran after the weather was recalled at a 40% higher rate than all the other messages. So they’ve said the same thing with our traffic and our sports scores, and it’s been fun to see that have an impact for them.

And certainly that could be the case for all of our customers. 

At InfoComm this week, you are launching something called Connect, which is a pretty big leap forward for you guys. 

Jeremy Gavin: It is.

It’s been something we’ve been working on for about two years and and actually came out of some frustration that I had at a couple of levels. I was at a speed dating show in London, maybe I don’t know, three, four years ago and actually canceled. So I’m not going to go. I don’t think they need the infotainment for the people I was going to meet with, but I said, I’m going to go anyway and I’m going to see if they don’t need what I have to offer.

We’re content people, what can we offer them? And so I flew over there and it was a miserable two days, not really selling anything, and I was just devastated. I’m like, wow, what’s going on here? But we have always known that, we sell infotainment, we’re a slice of the content pie, and I, so I came back home thinking we just need to be a bigger part of the content by the way.

We’ve been doing this for 10 years or eight years. We’re experts in this. We know how to deliver dynamic data, how to make it look great on a screen, and so I decided we just wanted to say yes to more projects. So really and this is where Screenfeed is at, not only outside of the connection are we’re just wanting to say yes to mark on projects.

We want to be the content people that people think of when they need dynamic content because we’re good at it. So we decided, Hey, we need to put out a lot more products that use people’s own data. They’ve been coming to us to license data. But we had a lot of requests during our time saying, Hey, can you offer this look community events feature?

Can you allow us to put our events there? Or we’ve got company news. In addition to the news that we’re subscribing you, can we do that? And we’ve got involved in a lot of custom projects and there was one particular project where I felt like there was this great opportunity, this really cool shaped screen in Vegas for this bar.

And they wanted some sports scores as well as their own news and some other things, and what they want to do is really cool. And so we gave him a quote because we’ve got lots of great front end HTML developers, and it was going to be like $7,500, and that was us trying to keep it small because there’s this one bar, what are they going to spend for that?

And, they said, no, and I was frustrated and I thought we need a better answer for that. So we built a tool that allows us to do a project like that, for hundreds, projects that used to take a developer and a designer three weeks now can take a day. It’s built too. Basically it’s a no code use trendy term solution that builds HTML content apps that integrate with your data.

So that could be the case of a weekly sales leader board. It could be a menu board. It could be a progress bar. I don’t like to give out all the samples because. The cool thing about it is it’s not just a bunch of templates. It’s literally a tool that allows you to create an app. So that’s connected and we’ve been working on it for two years and I’m happy to tell you more about it.

How does it work in terms of if I am an end-user or a reseller, am I subscribing to something? Am I paying for the functionality one? 

Jeremy Gavin: Yeah, that’s great. So connect, initially we’re going to be offering it for free throughout the whole summer. Yeah. We want people to see, that’s true. That’s obviously valuable for us to see what apps people would use.

It’s what the use-cases are, and in the end it’s a tool to get a project from A to Z, and that’s what it is. We don’t want people to see it as a design tool. It’s not another Canva that has data integration. It really does cut down projects time from A to Z. But when we do offer it, certainly it will be licensed similar to how we license our Screenfeed content, which is a license per player, a small monthly cost per player.

And then for Screenfeed, actually, we’re launching a new pricing model to simplify things for us next week as well. So essentially you’ll be able to purchase a license for all of our infotainment apps. So you don’t have to decide what you want. You can change any time. Or if you really want to, you can just purchase one one app like a local community or calendar feed. And the same thing with connect apps, I get a license per player and with one license you can create as many apps as you want on your screen. So you could have 10 of our apps running in your playlist, or if you really only have a need for one app such as a welcome screen, you can just pay for one license.

So the pricing I’ll be setting over the summer, but it will be very similar to our Screenfeed pricing now, which scales down the more licenses you have. So we have networks with one screen, and we have networks with 30,000 screens, and we make it affordable for them. 

And I think you said you put in 30,000 hours of developer time into this?

Jeremy Gavin: We did. Yeah, pretty much our COVID was spent building this. We did start beforehand. I got back from that show, I think in 2019, and we started saying, Hey, we got that. What else are we going to do? What’s next for Screenfeed? And so we spent a few months trying to determine what that was, and when COVID hit, we just said, “Hey, yeah, let’s do it.” At that time, honestly I thought we’d build this thing in six months, and I thought the pandemic would be over in six months. So it really wasn’t related to the pandemic. It’s just, at that time we just started it, and said,” Hey, let’s get this done.” And so from a team perspective, we expected to launch a minimally viable product early on.

But there’s just so much this can do, and we just kept wanting to add more. So we had a little scope-creep. But honestly, I’m really proud of what we have and it’s a very usable tool right now. In fact, we are already using it for customers now.

It’s nice that I’m coming to InfoComm, which will be the first trade show with it.  

So the premise here is no code software. If I am the digital signage person in charge of, let’s say, a regional savings and loan with, 20 branches or something like that, and I want to put financial data  that’s not just market data, I could go into your tool set, and do this myself, regardless of whether I have any skill sets around database tables or HTML5 coding or anything like that. Right?

Jeremy Gavin: So in that use case, they might want to be showing their own rates. They might want to didn’t be showing the bankers that you’re working with and rotate that.

I’ll give you a little story. So I’m involved in a girls’ fastpitch club, and we have our own training facility … and this is just my own use case for this. We had four different teams of girls that didn’t really know each other a whole lot. They played on different teams, but during the winter, they’re working out together at this training facility, and so we wanted them to learn about each other, very similar to what you might do with employees. And we had schedules, we had a number of things we wanted to push out. Of course, I wanted to put a bunch of screens in there. So I did that, and to get done what I wanted to do on the screens I had access to developers and designers on my team, but it would have taken a lot of their time.

And I can’t say, Hey, let’s take a bunch of time on my developers on Screenfeed for this use. So I delayed and delayed it, it would have taken probably four to six weeks, but once I had the first version of Connect built, I sent out a form just using JotForm to all the players and said, “Hey, fill out this form. What your goals are this summer? Who is a teammate you appreciate and why? what’s your favorite ice cream? That kind of stuff. And with that data, I was able to make four apps within two hours … one that showed, “Hey here’s my pet, and here’s a picture of me.” “Here’s me and here’s my teammate that I appreciate, and why.” “Here is our calendar, and our training calendar schedule countdown to the state tournament.”

So I made a playlist there one morning, and I was able to do that. The key was I was able to do that myself, and I made it look the way I wanted.

There’s a lot of template tools out there. But with Connect, you can start with a blank canvas. You can just start adding things onto the canvas and design it. You can connect to any data source currently that delivers XML, JSON, either Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, and the CSV files. We’ll be adding a lot more connections to Salesforce and Shopify and everything else you can think of.

So those data connections are already pre-built. It’s just easy to use the data that you already have. So as long as you have data, this is a tool for people who want to display that data. If you don’t have a data source, you can also just add your data and then connect. And so there’s a great data management tool there.

Some other use cases, for example, would be that we have worked with a mall in New York and they want to display a featured offering for their tenants. This happened during COVID. They wanted to do some things to help them, and it was a lot of work. We were doing this manually for them, where they’d say they’d contact these stores, try to find out what they wanted to emphasize, and by the time they get the information, their deals are almost over. So now they just send out an email link to a form that’s secure. They log in, they just tell them what their offer is. They upload an image. It goes to the mall manager,  who then has an approval process within Connect to approve, and then that gets rotated into the template that was built in Connect, and automatically delivers it. So now the managers of that mall, the only requirement they’ve got after sending that link out is just to approve messages. And they’re done. They don’t have to manage anything else. Our system takes care of the rest. So it’s really a workflow tool, in addition to a design tool.

Is there some sort of fault tolerance in place? I know I can remember back to the early days when companies were introducing Twitter visualization. So you can take the Twitter feed and show it on the screen. But Twitter kept changing its API and it didn’t work, and I guess the same thing happened with some other social media channels. Do you have something that’s doing data checking or whatever, to make sure that these data sources are still structured properly? Or do you have somebody who has to stay on top of it? 

Jeremy Gavin: Yes, absolutely. So when a new data connection is created first we have to ask, in a lot of cases, say for a Google Sheet, we have to have authenticated access to get that, unless they’ve made it public. We also asked for permission to cache that data securely on our servers.

We’ll be able to opt out of that if they don’t want to. But that allows us, if a connection breaks – Twitter and Instagram are pretty famous for that, where they just asked you to re-authenticate and they won’t read your data. Or if someone’s got a Google Sheet and someone in the office, that’s the data source for the screen, but all of a sudden they make some changes that break it.

We have a stored last created version of that, and then we send an email notification saying, “Hey, we’ve got a problem. You might want to fix it. In the meantime, we’ll use the last data that we have.” Then there’s another control that allows you to decide how long that bad data can be used. 

So that’s a way for us to manage that and make sure that the screen is not impacted and then there’s also some fallback messages you could apply in the template so that, “Hey, if the data’s not there, display this message instead.”

I spoke with Intuiface two or three weeks ago. They do interactive software and have been doing no code before people were using that phrase. And Geoff Bessin talked about how part of the rationale was this would enable developers to do things much more quickly. So something that might’ve taken two weeks to put together, they could maybe do in a morning or something more like that. Is that kind of the same case here? And is that your target end user – more the solutions providers than actual end-users?

Jeremy Gavin: Yeah, I think there’ll be a solution for both, but we see a lot of opportunity with solution providers because it allows them to say yes to more things. You mentioned earlier, we put 30,000 man hours into this, over those couple of years, and we did that, and most of those hours mean we’ve done work that now you don’t have to do.

So an integrator who we work with a lot in a lot, we have a reseller program for Screenfeed. So we work with a lot of integrators to resell infotainment content, and they would bring us a lot of these custom projects, where “Hey, we need this to be customized. Maybe the content that we’re offering needs to be customized to the brand of the user, or a new custom HTML project.

And they would generally have to have us bid it, and then they would resell our services. But in this case and most of the cases, honestly, they don’t want to get into content. They want to provide a total solution, but they don’t want to deal with content, and with Connect, now they really don’t have to have the web development skills to be able to do HTML5. It’s hard for them to hire that type of work. But with this they could sell that as a service that’s valuable to the customer and then use Connect to be able to quickly create an app … and the customer doesn’t necessarily need to know that they used Connect.

They’re just delivering a beautiful HTML5 content solution that taps into their data, and they can do that within a few hours. We do have a number of templates that people can start with. Again they’re not just templates that are stuck the way they are there. We call them examples. You can really use them to plug in some data, and if you like the way they look, great. But you can completely customize it by taking the things out, and adding things in. And that will empower those solutions providers who want to say yes to their customers. “Yes, I can take care of your issue.” And have an easy way to do it.

And the other benefit is we’re here to help when they have troubles, and if they want to hire us to just implement it, we’re saying yes to that. So we’re going to be here to help them deliver whatever it is they need to deliver to their customer, as it relates to content. 

You mentioned the bar in Las Vegas and how there was a custom job opportunity there, and they said no, because of the cost. Was that happening a lot where you could do custom work, but the price point just didn’t work for these guys and with Connect, now you’ve got something that’s scalable, that you built an infrastructure and platform around it and therefore you can dramatically lower the costs, right?

Jeremy Gavin: Yeah, absolutely. Just yesterday, I had a call with a customer we used to do a lot of custom work for, and it was pretty typical that when they needed something, and they had a bigger budget, they could do $5000-$8,000 on a typical job. For example, in this case, they needed four different views of data, and it was a data source, we hadn’t worked with yet. So I would have charged, I think it’s still a good rate at 8,000 bucks for four different uses of data. We usually say it would have taken four to six weeks. But I’d let them know, Hey, we’ve got this tool now called Connect, and I’d like to try it out for this. It’ll take us about a week and I’ll quote it at $1600. So that’s just a real life situation, where I’m going to be able to deliver for this customer now, I might have a reseller that maybe is using Connect, might say I know that customer has got an $8,000 budget. Maybe they could sell it for $6,000 and they just make more profit. It does allow us and our partners to say Yes to more people who just want to put their calendar on the screen, or they just have some data source, their weekly rates or their featured products that they want to have on their screen, and our tool makes that easy. 

Does this allow you to do some things  … like you’ve always had standard things like sports news and sports scores and that sort of thing, and they’ve been built around the Associated Press or  other news data feeds … could you conceivably have a junior hockey league (as you’re in Minnesota) that could do sports scores and visualizations, just using scores from the league that would never be on the AP feed or something like that. But you could make it look like that?

Jeremy Gavin: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. That’s a great point, and that kind of goes back to people in the past that asked us, “Hey, how can we get our content on there. A lot of reasons for people to come to Screenfeed are because It looks good and they know it works. We’ve been in this business for a long time. So we know what it takes, like “Hey, this particular piece of software, you want to do something in a different way. Here are just best practices and how to get HTML animation to work well to tap into data.”

The beauty of this is you are not limited to the data sources we provided. As long as they have a source for data, or they’re willing to create one, let’s say it’s easy to use Google Sheets or come right into Connect, and you can create your own columns and everything, and put your data right in there.

And you could assign a user permission for one person, whose job is to update that content, and then it pops up on all your screens. So yeah, the junior hockey clubs in Minnesota certainly could use this to populate from their schedules or their stats, that type of thing. As long as they’ve got a data source or we’ll put it in … this will work well for them.

So I’m using any number of different CMS software platforms out there. Let’s say using. I don’t know, Stratacache, or Scala or Spectrio … what’s involved, how do you integrate this? Is it just an HTML5 file that goes into a schedule?

Jeremy Gavin: Our Screenfeed content can be delivered either via HTML and just as a web page, we can deliver it as images as well, over a Media RSS, or just a direct URL. So depending on your software, there is some people want to make sure they can download in cache, at the player level, and so they prefer images. We’re also working with other software providers to say, “Hey, how can we manage the  ability for it to run offline as well,” and so that is another angle from a screen play perspective that we are already speaking with other software providers about. So how do we integrate this into what they’re doing?

Now some software providers have some design tools or some templates that this maybe does overlap a little bit with. But we think we’ve taken a completely different approach, and certainly for software companies that do not have a design tool in their software, this will have the ability for them to white label the Connect solution, so they could integrate Connect right into their software. The end result is we want to enable the customers who use the software to be able to just say, “Hey, this is what I want to do and have a way to be able to execute.”

Is it fair to say that if you are an end-user or a CMS software provider, that’s already been working with Screenfeed using its infotainment feeds, that there’s nothing technically different about integrating this?

Jeremy Gavin: With Screenfeed, we’ve been adding a lot more of the ability to customize our feed. So you can change colors and fonts, and we call our feed configuration pages. So a lot of people who are used to using Screenfeed, they’re gone in and they’ve made a bunch of choices and picked some styles. And then they end up with a URL, and with that URL, they go in and they schedule it in their software and it just handles automatic updates. So they can set it and forget it.

Same experience here with Connect. They just can start with one of our templates and modify it, or they can create an app from scratch, and in the end, they’re going to end up with a URL that they’ll be able to schedule in their software.

And then some of the settings, for example, within Connect, can be things like “How often should this data update?” That may be, “Hey, it only updates every day or maybe it’s every hour, maybe it’s every two minutes.” There’s other controls in Connect too, such as triggers. “If this number is lower than this, then show this other product.”

Or “If This Then That” opportunities that you can take care of with HTML5, and take advantage of the data that’s in that. In the end, we’re focused on data-driven content. So there’s a lot of tools within Connect that you can configure with triggers or moderation. Bbut at the end of the day, you’re going to get a URL that you can schedule in your playlist, and it’ll run with all the smarts that you assigned.

Yeah, so you can, depending on what you do, whatever the case may be, you can maximize the relevance of what you’re putting up on the screen. 

Jeremy Gavin: That’s the power of data-driven content, and that’s what we’ve been working on for over a decade, and is how to use that content. So to us, as you can imagine, this opens up a lot of different possibilities for us to provide some more interesting solutions than maybe just this straightforward work. 

We’re not doing a lot of triggering, and although we have had people trigger ads and different things with weather or traffic conditions with their own data, there’s a lot that goes they’re going to want to go into that. It’s going to be fun. That’s one of the reasons over the summer that we’re not introducing a cost because we want to see how people can use this solution to create various apps that maybe we haven’t even thought of.

You’ve been doing this as you’ve mentioned for a decade or more, and I would say a decade ago, people like you and me and some others have been yelling from the rooftops, “It’s the content stupid,” and it’s been very difficult to get people to respect that what’s on the screen is more important than what’s driving the screen? What’s your sense of the state of the industry right now in terms of the understanding of the importance of content and creativity? 

Jeremy Gavin: Yeah, definitely. When I got into the industry I came from a company that was in website design and content development. And I saw this, at the time, just being run by a lot of AV guys, I would say. There weren’t even a lot of web technologies, and I thought, “Hey, yeah, people are gonna spend a lot of money on screens, that cost a lot more then, media players also cost a lot more, and I knew people were spending a lot of money … and I thought, but once all these screens got in and the’ve spent all that money, they’re probably going to want to leverage it, and then start spending money on content. Some people got that right away, but honestly, it took awhile. But this year, and I’m telling this to my team, I’ve had so many more conversations, particularly with software providers who want to partner … where they’re finding that when they’re selling their service against other CMS companies, they have similar features. So they’re now saying, some have invested more in content and that’s a differentiator, and so they’re asking, “Hey, how can we use content to provide more of a total solution or to have that advantage. But yeah, the number of people early on, like the early DSE days, we’d see people who would say “Hey, I’ve got my media player picked, I’ve got my streams, I got a rollout partner. I got everything ready. I got it. We’re launching this thing two weeks ago, but we don’t know what we’re going to put on it for content.” And that was just a theme that a lot of us, I’m sure you heard a lot of it back then. Certainly people have gotten a lot smarter, and so that’s a benefit for Screenfeed.

And part of the reason why I invested two years of time for our company to double down and provide more content is that I just think people are smarter. They want smarter content. The way I look at what we’re offering is this is not a solution if you just need to create a graphic. You can use Canva or Adobe Photoshop, or a lot of other tools. This is a tool for smarter content. Projects that maybe people said no to just because of the time or costs, not because of the idea. It was a great idea. We want those ideas to be able to be executed. 

So if someone is at InfoComm and they want to know more, where will they find you on the trade show floor? And will they be able to get demos? 

Jeremy Gavin: Yeah, we’ll be in the digital signage pavilion at booth N1167, and we’ll have the ability to give you either a quick summary of what Connect is. And, we’ll also have screens and laptops there just to show you actual demos. It’s very easy to use, and by the time people are listening to this, you’ll be able to go to our website, and you’ll just be able to create an account and start using Connect right away. You won’t need a credit card or anything, just start using it and start trying to tap into different data sources.

And even though we are offering it for free, it still comes with full support. So it’s not a situation where you’re just kind of on your own. Come see us at booth N1167, and you can get a demo there at InfoComm. And if you’re not at InfoComm, just so you can pop to our website and request a demo.

I think it does help to get at least a 15-20 minute rundown on what it is, just to level-set someone, and they’ll have a better chance of figuring out how it can help them. 

Alright. It was great to catch up with you. It’ll be great to get a demo at InfoComm of this, and I just wanted to personally thank you for all the support through the years of Sixteen:Nine. You proactively came to me when I said I was going to start a podcast, and said, “I want to sponsor it” … and you’ve been a sponsor of the publication for a very long time, and it’s much appreciated. 

Jeremy Gavin: That’s been great for me. I know when I got into the industry, this was a great source and that was the case for a lot of people. It’s almost like a little, it’s a source that everybody goes to. Anytime I hire someone, that’s part of our onboarding process, to subscribe to your blog. It’s fantastic, and the industry has benefited from your previous life as a reporter … and so thanks for all that you’ve done to kinda help each other share our stories with each other.

All right, hopefully we will see each other in Las Vegas. If they let me across the border. I have to remember how to do things like wear adult clothes. 

Jeremy Gavin: Look forward to that. 

Alright. Take care. 

Jeremy Gavin: Thanks, Dave.


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