Joe Occhipinti On How ANC Uses Data To Program The Visual Experience In Built Environments

March 20, 2024 by Dave Haynes

The people behind college and pro sports have increasingly focused on making events multimedia experiences that start well before fans put their bums in seats, and we’re now starting to see hints of that in the way public spaces are programmed.

Screens are sync’d, and content is carefully timed and triggered based on data and all kinds of variables.

While most integrators and solutions providers are focused on executing on ideas and needs, the New York company ANC has for years being delivering services and software for what it calls branded entertainment.

The work started with collegiate and professional sports, but more recently the company has branched into areas like retail and mass transportation – including the multi-venue, many screens experience that stretches between the Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan and underground to the World Trade Center complex.

I had a great chat with Joe Occhipinti, ANC’s Chief Operating Officer.

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David: Hey Joe, thank you for joining me. I’ve chatted with ANC in the past with Mark Stross but that’s going back like six years or something like that. I’m curious, first of all, what your company does and maybe we could get into a little bit about the background of basically buying the company back from prior owners that started as a family company and now it’s going back as a family-driven company, right?

Joe Occhipinti: Yes. So, Mark Stross, yeah, he’s obviously still our CTO. So I’m sure you two had a fun-filled conversation. But yeah, a lot has changed in those five or six years that was probably just after, just before, Learfield had purchased ANC from our initial founder, Jerry Cifarelli Sr. who was kind of a pioneer in the signage and TV visible advertisement world. When he started ANC in the late nineties, it evolved the business into a large format, technology integrator for sports and other venues. So when Learfield took over, they obviously wanted to start integrating some of our technologies into all of their properties and universities which was great. 

It was a good five or six year run we had with them. And I was with the ANC for a lot of those years. I started back in 2012. So I saw the end of Jerry’s initial ownership and then into the Learfield, and then I kind of parted ways with ANC in early 2022 and found my way into a company called C10 with Jerry’s son, Jerry Cifarelli Jr. and shortly into 2022, Learfield reached out to us and was interested about looking into a potential acquisition and I think Learfield’s business has changed a lot, right?

They were in multimedia rights and they’ve kind of shifted into a data-driven company with all their fans and engagement and I don’t think it was core to them any longer and obviously with Jerry’s father, having started the business, it was very near and dear to our hearts. We felt that ANC had all the right foundation but due to its success over 25 years, we can kind of take it back and change a few things, get the parts back together, streamline things, and get after it once again to bring the band back together.

And that all happened in early 2023. We couldn’t be happier to kind of be driving the boat again. 

David: So, anybody if you meet at a cocktail party or a neighborhood party or whatever, says, what do you do? And more to the point, what does your company do? What do you tell them? Because it’s quite involved.

Joe Occhipinti: The loaded question. Hopefully they have like two drinks like one in each hand or something. But basically, the ANC consists of four business lines, we like to call it. So, the kind of the moneymaker, the thing that gets the most press is LED Technology installations and that could be the things that catch everyone’s attention is obviously the large format LED displays but we’re really a technology integrator, throughout the entire venue.

So we have installed IPTV, we’ve installed TVs, we’ve installed full control rooms, things of that nature. And those are the apps which have a large format. I keep going back to that but the main video center hungs and arenas, center field boards and baseball. We have a 280 foot display at Westfield world trade center.

Some of those marquee kinds of displays that you guys have heard and seen. Then we also have a services department or venue solutions we like to call it. After which all the pretty lights go up, we have to then maintain it and make sure it works for the life of that display or until the next renovation happens.

So we actually have a fleet of operators out in the field who are going on pregame off days and making sure that modules are fixed and things are corrected. The proper content’s loaded into the software and they’re ready for the game presentation or for the next event or for the next change in scheduled content that’s going to happen in an out of home venue.

So we do a ton of that as well and then we also have our ad agency business. So that goes back to when Jerry started the whole business of TV visible signage, where we are acquiring inventory from teams that we work with or we go out and purchase it and then we also represent brands.

So we’ll place a discount tire behind home plate at a specific market that they would like to see or a number of different advertisers that we’ve been working with for years that really want to have that TV visible signage in sports our ad agency is mostly on the sports side we do some and out of home but obviously those are kind of owned by the properties and things like that so it’s a little bit different and then what ties it all together is our software business. So It’s called LiveSync now. It started as FasciaSoft, VisionSoft, VSoft and now it’s LiveSync and it’s all in the name. We specialize in syncing all your displays throughout the venue. So, somewhere like Westfield World Trade and Fulton Center, they’re kind of one venue to put together.

I think they have upwards of 75 or 80 displays between LCDs and LEDs and we have a constant stream of scheduled content. That’s looping every 10 or 20 seconds 24*7 and you can sit there and watch in one area 5 to 10 displays all changing at the same exact time, frame to frame, everything running pixel to pixel.

But the beautiful thing about live sync is what it does is we’re wide open, open API, open source. If you want to play ball with everybody else that might be in the control room and we want to be able to trigger whatever else you might want to trigger with that piece of content.

So if you wanted to run a home run graphic at Fenway park and you want to get your LED lights for a night game to flicker, you know when the guys around the bases. ANC Live Sync can trigger that software and it can all run synced and simultaneously. So, we really like to say that we can be the quarterback of the venue like somewhere like Wells Fargo Center. We trigger an IPTV program to have a goal animation run in the suites over whatever TV broadcast is being shown. 

So, we’ve really come a long way in that regard. The software has come. Leaps and bounds, probably even from six years ago when you talk to Mark and we’re really proud of the software that he’s developed with his team.

David: And this is your own software. It’s not something you sell, right? It’s software that you use when you’re working with various customer venues. 

Joe Occhipinti: Yeah. A lot of times our software is installed when we are doing the full install. Right. We don’t really sell it out of cart. We have started to look into that, right?

Like we think the software is at a point where it can do that and can be that. We did a deployment this year at I think it’s PPG paints arena at Pittsburgh Penguins where another LED manufacturer got the LED job but they came to us for the software. So that was just a software standalone installation where we went in there into the control room and installed the servers and had it integrate with everything else they had there and it runs their live game presentation now.

David: Right and when you’re talking about being known for LED or being known for LED display control and so on but you’re not a manufacturer or reseller of somebody else’s product, right? 

Joe Occhipinti: Yeah, we’re not a manufacturer at all. So we do have competitors in this space, right? You know, big name, LED installers but they’re all manufacturers.

So, even though we were competitors, we’re kind of not, you know what I mean? Like you can see a world where we can come together with some of these and enhance their business. Right. We feel that we can do a good job on the installation side and on the service side. But we really talk to the clients and figure out what they need from the LED signage perspective and we go out and find the best possible product to deliver that. 

And then we’d like to use our four business lines to create a cohesive partnership with that client. So, once we’re in a venue and they want to add a display here and there. It’s very easy to add it into our existing licensing software or to add it to our services.

Right? So, we like to use or give the partner back ad dollars by finding somebody to buy advertisements on their home plate or elsewhere in the venue. So, we really can use our different lines to be a full service partner for all of our clients. 

David: It’s interesting. Years ago, I remember talking to somebody about shopping malls and how shopping malls, particularly in Asia, were no longer just seen as warehouses or Harmonized venues for retail.

They were experiential places that were programmed and that had like programming calendars and special events and everything else related to it and it kind of sounds like what you’re doing and what you can deliver is you’re really programming a venue or in the case of down by the World Trade Center, multiple venues so that content cascades across them things happen and so on, but it’s all kind of cohesive as opposed to maybe more traditional digital signage and just display work where there’s something driving this, there’s something else driving that maybe they once in a while sync up but they’re not really working together. 

Joe Occhipinti: Yeah, I agree. I think these are all becoming everyone’s fighting to get the people to their venue, right? I mean they want to drive sales or drive concessions or whatever it might be. And the malls are becoming more of let’s go spend a few hours at the mall.

I mean let’s not just go pick up something I need, right? It’s like, let’s do this with the kids or see this special event or whatever it might be. And being able to create an atmosphere that’s inviting and appealing to people’s eyes kind of goes hand in hand with that.

And then obviously you can promote the upcoming events and whatnot too. Right. So there’s just more and more digital installations happening and the interesting thing that we’re seeing in the business and it’s happening in sports as well. 

I mentioned Jerry Cifarelli Sr started with rotational signs like static banners behind home plate and on ribbons and that grew into LED behind home plate and then LEDs on Ravenstein, these massive center hongs. But now these at home venues and these sport venues are now expanding, right? You have these big conglomerates businesses that are doing stuff outside beyond just the stadium, right?

Trying to get people there before the games and to the restaurants and to the bars and you’re seeing digital marquee that you would typically see on the highway, kind of up on the back of a stadium or down the street at the bar that they just built, that’s owned by the same kind of marketing company that owns the business or has similar interests.

So, if they are kind of meshing a lot and they’re all trying to fight for those eyeballs and fight for those people to bring the dollars and revenue in their way. 

David: Yeah, it kind of seems like the worlds are converging, when I was reviewing your company website and seeing how deep a background you have in sports, both college and pro. And expanding into retail and in public spaces like mass transport and so on and thinking at first that well these are very different worlds but when you really think about it they’re very similar worlds in a lot of ways these days because like airports are shopping malls and sports venues are no longer just the arena, 

It’s the multi purpose sort of event area with retail and residential and hotel and everything else and it’s all being driven by the same developer or developer group. So they are harmonizing all this stuff. 

Joe Occhipinti: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And we’re here to help. Whatever those entities are to create a cohesive appeal to the entire look. And then what’s happening too is a lot of our venues are old, right?

Our malls are a little older, our stadiums are getting older. So you’re going to see more of these stadiums, new builds will happen but you’re going to see a lot of renovations where there’s going to be seating upgrades and there’s going to be changes to potential sight lines and things of that nature and make egress and easier and more exits whatever it might be.

But the technology is really what’s going to put the renovations over the edge and it used to be that once you walked through that little tunnel and saw the baseball diamond, the first LED you saw that day was then. Now it’s like when you’re a couple of miles away on the highway, you see a billboard that’s on the stadium.

So right away, you’re triggering people’s eyeballs before they even get to the park. Then you’re tailgating and you’re seeing advertisements run in your face and then you scan your ticket and you see an LED when you go through the lobby and the concessions and things like that, those can be obviously monetizable and you can have advertisements there.

And the same things happening in malls and in transit hubs and in other places where they’re trying to grab your attention before you even think about heading into that wherever you’re at, wherever you’re going. 

David: Do you have to sell this whole notion into these kinds of venues or do they just inherently get it now because they’ve seen it in action elsewhere and it’s no longer just this sort of exotic concept?

Joe Occhipinti: They definitely have seen it and they want to do it. I think where we come in is kind of helping them bring that to life. So we actually have like an architectural designer that will go and meet with teams and say, Hey, we have this area of our club or of our mall or transit hub that we’d really love to be able to monetize and put some LED signage here but we don’t really know how to do it.

So that’s where we come in, I would say we consult them but we’re really just trying to provide another service to an existing partner or potential partner to say, Hey, we’ll take some pictures, we’ll create a virtual world and we’ll throw some LEDs on there and you guys can kind of see and understand what it might look like.

And how do we angle it right to catch the attention of people coming up the stairs so that whatever it might be. So you can maximize the eyeballs and the dollars that you would get from that, right? Or the feel or the presentation that you want there. So we’re doing that constantly.

We have done that at a lot of our marquee venues where we start with one install and the next thing you know is there’s three or four or five installs over the next five or six years where they’re adding a screen here or there because they realize it’s a high traffic area or during walkthroughs or tours. It’s a good place to promote their upcoming events or whatever it might be, you know what I mean?

So we kind of do that a lot for our places just to allow them to continue to add to the technology and to provide a better presentation to their constituents that are at the venue. 

David: Is it just the highly visible stuff? In the case of, let’s say, a sports and events center, are you also driving the menu boards, menu displays in concession and the ticket windows and things like that?

Joe Occhipinti: Yeah, we’ve done some of that. As I mentioned, Wells Fargo is like our, I don’t want to say crown jewel but it’s been a really great partner for us for I believe over a decade. And we literally do everything there from, they have a sports book lounge on their top level to where they were ingesting staff feeds and scores and betting lines, their main video screen is kind of kinetic.

It comes down at one size and opens another and we just have to hit one button in our software which allows it to do that and then their IPTV system. I think it’s upwards of 700 LCD or TV displays that they have across the venue and we don’t have our own IPTV software but we built a bridge between us and their IPTV providers so that when they do score a goal or there is a win, we can send graphics out there.

Or if something they want to promote to their suites or to certain areas of the business of the venue, I should say, we can do that. Or even emergent emergency messaging or something like that. We have the ability to go full blast on every display that we touch that’s in there.

And then even still, they’re even adding more, we have billboards out on 95 there in Philly. They added some more displays on their outside, where if you go to a flyers game tomorrow, you’ll see us up there kind of installing it. So, like I said, they’re trying to get you from when you’re a few miles away to get you thinking, you know, I’m excited for this game and I’m excited to participate in this event but also what goes out on there, you alluded to that.

I kind of said the betting lines and things like that. But one of our venues we have in the city, we have two JP Morgan Chase banks and you think that’s kind of like a sleepy thing like who’s going there to see the LED. But what Chase does for their customers is while you’re sitting there, you might see If there are any subway delays, we work with the MTA to ensure that you’ll see any traffic it might be if you’re heading to Queens and say, it’ll say take the tunnel not the bridge or whatever it is. Right.

And whether we’ll pop up. So yeah, we’re not creating this data but we’re ingesting it from different feeds and from different sources and we’re making it pretty, we’re creating the graphical ways that it might show up and kind of add to the person’s experience being at whatever venue they’re at. 

David: Right. Now if I talk to virtually any CMS software company out there these days  and I asked them about data integration, they’ll say, of course, yeah we do all kinds of  data handling.

We’ve got APIs and this and that where we’re all over that stuff but I get the impression that there are very much different kind of tiers of this that you can have kind of basic data integration that yes, you could query, let’s say some transit data if it’s publicly available as an XML feed or something. From what you’re telling me, this is quite a bit more exotic than that.

Joe Occhipinti: Yeah, I believe it is. I mean, I think what we can do is if the weather variable says it’s going to be cloudy, we create a graphical thing that shows what you would think would be cloudy and that shows up there, right? Or if when it’s time for the weather to come through and it’s sunny, the background will say 65 and it’ll be sunny but if it’s 65 and rainy, the background will have rain on it.

So we’re even going to that level where what the trigger is we’re not just spitting out what the variable is but we’re trying to create a cohesive content experience too, that kind of shows what’s happening and then it allows us to trigger different items in our software too that if we can automatically change when the variable goes from top one to bottom one, it automatically changes the advertisements that would run in that happening.

So it even comes with efficiencies on our end of what we’re able to and how we’re able to gain presentation and things of that nature. But yeah, I mean these are little subtle things that the customer or the fan really appreciates and it’s just great for us that we have an in-house design team.

We recreate these things, we’re then our statistical engineers and our developers are then creating ways for it all to work together. So yeah, you do have your base level where we just want to see the scores on a ticker which we’re happy to do but if they want to get more involved and do some more graphical things to enhance the experience, we’re obviously able to do that as well.

David: When it comes to things like game day experiences for big sports venues and multi purpose venues like that, do these organizations have their own teams that handle all that and they just kind of work with you or are you actually doing the game day experience for these companies?

Joe Occhipinti: It’s different at every venue. We’re happy to be part of the team. However they would like us to be. It goes anywhere from a place like the game bridge field house, right? They just hosted the all star game and we live sync touches every LED display that’s permanently installed there.

And our operators heavily involved in production meetings need to understand what the run of the show is to load the content prior to the game. He’s been there so long. I’m sure maybe he will make some say, Hey, maybe try this or that. I don’t know but he’s been there for a while.

He’s great at what he does and they fully trust us to carry out the run of shows that they have created but what might be in that run of show or graphics that the in-house design team also creates. So that’s kind of part of the services department that I mentioned before, we also have graphic designers in house that if they want a special intro or some graphical element for a camera like a kiss cam or something. These keys and things that you see that help with game press, we kind of create those things for them.

And our guys are downloading it, testing it, making sure that it works for the game when it inevitably runs in the game. So it is varying levels somewhere passive, right? We’re like, Hey, we’re here, let us know what you need us to do. Let us know what content needs to be run.

And then in others where we’re heavily involved where we’re talking to them twice a week on content and churning out thousands of hours of graphical design and in their production meetings and we’re upgrading their stat layers every season and creating a new look that might go with their season tickets or whatever it might be.

Right. So they would kind of like to have that whole cohesive kind of brand. Brand look that they go for. So it does vary per client just based on your level with them and what they want to get out of the relationship. 

David: Your company background is much more in sports but as we mentioned earlier, you kind of branched into retail and mass transport and other kinds of things like that.

How does the business break down now? Is it still predominantly sports or are you seeing quite a bit of traction in these newer areas? 

Joe Occhipinti: Yeah. I mean, obviously the legacy business, it used to be ANC sports and we dropped the sports when we started to foray into other things, the at home kind of markets.

I would say we do more volume and on the support side but there’s obviously a lot of growth and a lot of greenfield on the place we call it places are out of the home side. And we’ve been lucky enough to do some impressive installations where the clients have trusted us to perform those, even though we had a lack of experience in it.

I’ve mentioned Fulton and Westfield, that was our first foray into it and was a hit and it looks great and still looks great, seven eight nine years later. We did a really good install down in South street seaport which we believe is really impressive.

We did some stuff at Moynihan train hall. So we’ve been lucky to have some big marquee type installations. We are trying to build our relationships with a lot of the out of home players without naming any names. Like we were trying to build those relationships and just kind of see what the partnerships look like there and be an installer and integrator for them as well, just like we’ve been able to do in the sports. 

So, I think the numbers will probably say that we’re still more of a sports type business. But I don’t think it’s that far off from being even one day and I think we are going to put some resources behind it and we’re going to do some stuff with the software that will help us change. We are in the process  of changing our user interface to be a little bit easier to use.

We’re doing some cloud type and quick play type stuff at NBC Universal right now, where they can walk around with their phones when they’re doing tours and they can just change what’s being displayed on the screens from their phone. So we are putting some resources behind it because we believe in it that we could help a lot of different partners achieve their goals there.

David: I would imagine the typical media companies, even very large ones, would be pretty happy if somebody handled these more involved installations like Times Square or an entertainment district where there’s a lot of screens because they’re primarily in the business of selling media time and display faces and so on.

I don’t know that they really want to get all that dirty in terms of running these kinds of networks, particularly when they start to get quite complicated. 

Joe Occhipinti: Literally and figuratively dirty like we’re also installing the displays. It’s a heavy construction type thing too.

Right. So we’re installing the display, we’re doing the steel work and then we’re plugging everything in and running the show as well. So yeah, I think we have a lot to offer. And obviously, we need to make some enhancements and it’s almost like the out of home stuff isn’t easier.

It’s different from in-game live presentations. And like you said, the legacy business was built that way. So when we got into the out of home market, it worked for out of home but we had some of these features like scheduling and overtakes and some of these things but they weren’t maybe as robust as they are today cause we started doing more in it. 

So, we’ve really focused in and debugged them and made them stronger and better so that we can run an out of home type market but it’s almost too robust for the simple kind of one display on the side of a building like I’m talking about where we specialize is game presentation where you see five or six or seven different screens. They all have to be synced to kind of make the game presentation feel cohesive or in certain venues like Westfield, where you see many screens at once, you don’t want it to be choppy and look off but we’re maybe a little bit too robust when it comes to a single display, right? And because we’re too robust, our features, maybe a little bit heavy in terms of costs.

So we’re going to try to address some of those things and really create something that would get all the features that we have but can also be used in an easier type setting as well and not be so cost effective and then like I said, we want to start getting our cloud infrastructure stronger and things like that, so that people can go by and change it with a phone.

Right now we have people on staff that are scheduling these places for us in our lives.

They’re voting in and scheduling all these things. It would be easy if you work for Westfield World Trade and you’re trying to court a client. You don’t have to coordinate with ANC and the scheduler to, Hey, between 11 and 12, I want to show Sixteen Nine podcasts on all displays. 

You could just walk around and you could press a button on your phone and right when you’re showing up and you can just launch it.

Right. So we’re trying to do things like that. 

David: The Fulton Center thing is interesting in how it crosses into a world trade in the Oculus retail area and so on. What did you learn out of that in terms of putting together a visual network that was going to run across multiple venues that aren’t necessarily visible to one another.

They’re connected by tunnels or concourses but they’re different things in certain respects and also, instead of a game where people are sitting for 40 minutes, almost all of them are constantly on the move. 

Joe Occhipinti: Yeah. So obviously they placed the screens in places where they felt there was going to be higher traffic, right?

Like an entrance to a subway tunnel or you come out of the path from Jersey and you’re trying to get up into street level Manhattan and you walk that past, what amounts to almost four or five hundred feet of screens and it was definitely a little difficult to envision what they were trying to do but as it started to come together, it made a lot of sense to us and they kind of made it a little easier on us than had they treated the different areas of the facility to want to run different things, right?

They want the whole facility to run everything all at the same time. So we’re able to create the software, create batches that have all the displays and throw all the content in there and then schedule them appropriately rather than this side underneath by the path station needs to run this at this time and then over by tower two, we want to run that. And then in Fulton, we want to run this other thing. 

They are two separate venues so we have two different schedules going at each one because they’re different trains that run at each station, right? So in Fulton, you have four or five. And in Westfield, you have the AC and the two-three or whatever it is.

So you have to decipher what goes where but the way they wanted to run it allowed things to be a little bit easier on the back end but we had to deal with network infrastructure and everything else like that which was new to us in this type of a venue. But they’re really there to obviously be advertisements.

Also, they need to make the place feel beautiful. Have you ever been down there? It’s like all marble, it’s a really beautiful facility. So they had to fit and they wanted to be in your face cause they were driving advertisements. They want to be appealing but they still need it to be beautiful and look good as well.

So there was a lot of pressure on us too. The 24/7 nature of it is a little different than sports where you have a game and if something goes wrong, you generally have till the next day or two days later to fix it. That doesn’t happen outside of home. Things gotta be working 23 and a half hours a day with not a lot of downtime and not a lot of issues happening because advertisers are walking through it and potential advertisers and the customers.

So it was a lot of pressure on us. We literally have people walking the facilities downtown, New York, for 18 hours a day reporting issues and fixing issues. We don’t want to have any downtime on these displays because the stakes are that high. 

David: Yeah, really.

How many people do you have working in the company? Roughly? 

Joe Occhipinti: We have about just under a hundred full timers and depending on the seasonality of it, we have around 200 part timers that work for us all across the country. 

David: And of the full timers are most of them kind of in the greater New York area.

Joe Occhipinti: There’s probably like 30 percent in this area, just cause like I said, we have a lot downtown and kind of work at our headquarters in Westchester but we’re pretty spread out. We have upwards of almost a hundred venues across the country where we have something. 

So, in those markets, like in LA or Washington DC or Baltimore, where we have a lot of different things going on. We have full timers that are in those markets actually running a stable of part timers as well. 

David: Yeah, because they need to be there. They can’t just say, well I can get there next Thursday or something.

Joe Occhipinti: Yeah, they gotta be there at a moment’s notice most of the time. . 

David: Alright. This is great. If people wanna know more about ANC, they just go to 

Joe Occhipinti: Yeah. 

David: Nice and simple. 

Joe Occhipinti: We do some stuff on social media but LinkedIn is really probably the one that makes the most sense if you want to check out some of our posts and what we’ve been up to lately.

But we just did a full rebrand. We changed our logo. We kind of changed our colors after we bought the company back. I think the website looks great. So yeah, will take you straight there and you guys can learn everything there is to know about us. 

David: Powered by C10, I see.

Joe Occhipinti: Powered by C10. C10’s still around. Obviously, Jerry Cifrelli Jr. founded that company and that was the vehicle from which we acquired ANC but obviously with the legacy he had with his father and the name brand that ANC had, we decided we wanted to keep it. And just give it a refresh and push it forward.

David: All right. Joe, Thank you very much for your time. 

Joe Occhipinti: Thank you, Dave. This has been great. I appreciate it.

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