Jay Leedy Assessed Scores Of Digital Signage Platforms … Here’s His Impressions

May 22, 2024 by Dave Haynes

Jay Leedy probably had a bunch of options open to him when he decided he’d done his job with Sony’s pro display team, and it might have surprised some of his industry friends when he signed on with a much smaller company, New York-based Videri, as its Senior VP for Strategic Alliances.

It didn’t surprise me, because Videri has been on a bit of a tear in the last few months, hiring well-connected and respected senior people away from other companies active in digital signage. That came out of a $20 million fundraising round announced late last year.

I did a podcast about a year ago with Videri CEO Wes Nicol, so I didn’t want to spend too much time talking again about Videri’s product and services. We get into that and what attracted Leedy, but what I was really interested in hearing about was his point of view on the CMS software market. His prior role with Sony was building up the digital signage software ecosystem, which involved talking to and looking at scores of different companies. He eventually onboarded some 90 in his three-plus years there, about 70 of them CMS software firms.

So Leedy has a pretty unique perspective on what’s out there, and how companies differentiate themselves in what remains a very crowded CMS software market.

Subscribe from wherever you pick up new podcasts.


Jay Leedy, thank you for joining me. You’ve had some big changes in the last few weeks. 

Jay Leedy: Thank you. I have. Thanks for having me, Dave. It’s great to hear your voice. 

Yeah, you don’t want to see me. 

Jay Leedy: It’s been a couple of months since I saw you last at ISE, but yeah, some changes that were on the horizon at ISE kind of came to fruition over the last several months, and I’m happy to say I’m in my fourth week, almost complete with my fourth week here at Videri.

Wow, you’re almost past probation. Are you going to make it? 

Jay Leedy: They haven’t kicked me out yet. My wife told me that the paycheck showed up in our bank account yesterday. Yay! 

Things are rocking. I knew you when you were with Convergent and Diversified then you went over to Sony. Am I missing anything there?

Jay Leedy: I think that’s the extent of my career in this space. I got introduced to integrations prior to moving to Convergent through a company that had point-of-purchase display manufacturing as their core and had a division that focused on, what we called Intelligent Loss Prevention. We were basically importing a lot of technology solutions to solve theft prevention in retail and that’s how I got exposed to systems integration, and when I saw digital signage as a part of that, I naturally gravitated toward that. I saw there was going to be a big growth arc and fortunately, I’ve been right so far. 

We can get into what you were doing with Sony because I’m intrigued by the role you had and the unique perspective that was offered, but I’m curious because when you started thinking, okay, I’ve done my job here with Sony and what’s my next thing?

What compelled you to go to Videri, I suspect you had a number of options. 

Jay Leedy: Yeah, it’s a good question. The little background that I just gave you is in part why Videri was really appealing to me. You’re right. I had really broad exposure to the market across a number of technologies, not just digital signage, and was considering options outside of digital signage, to be perfectly honest, but the reason that Videri was compelling for me was a couple of reasons. 

One is the, very strong push they were making into the market with some clear funding and a product offering that was differentiated in displays that were very thin and lightweight looking and appealed to the sensibilities of retailers and designers and the folks that I really like engaging with on the creative side of our business, combined with software that really makes it easy to make these things pop and, deliver what we call orchestration of content across multiple canvases of displays to unify those. 

But there were some other things that went into that as well. I met Rob Avery, who had recently joined the company from Scala, at your event at ISE. I’d already met Wes Nicol, the CEO, about a year prior, and then Steven Jenkins, who I’d worked with at Diversified, had recently joined as the CRO along with Nathan Jones, who I’d also worked with as a Managing Director for North America. So there are already some pieces in place, and when I met Rob and we chatted briefly about his point of view on where we are versus where he wanted to take the software on the roadmap, that really clicked with me. Then we announced Jeff Griffin coming in as a retail technology guru and a guy who was at the genesis of what we called Walmart TV. So it wasn’t even digital signage when he was involved with that deployment. So he’s had a long history of selling into that market, and really the last piece to fall into place for me was, we secured, Tom Ross from NowSignage and I think he must eat energy bars constantly. He has the most energy and passion for the channel of any guy that I’ve met in this industry, and I’ve met a lot. All of those things coming together was really a big part of making that decision for me.

Yeah, it’s interesting. I’ve told the story a few times of couple of years ago at DSC in Vegas, some company called Videri had reached out to me and said, could you come to our suite at ARIA and have a look at our pots and pans? And I said, I’m super busy, and so on, and they bugged me and on the last day in the afternoon, I was dead tired, but I said, okay, fine, because I was staying next door and I didn’t know a damn thing about them and met them, walked this endless hallway to get to their suite and they showed me these flat panel displays. 

I thought, oh, dear God, I’ve walked all this way to see some skinny displays, but then they started to explain what they’re up to, the business model and how they were working with a very large Austrian energy drink brand that they’re not allowed to officially talk about, and I thought, now I get it, and over those, intervening two years, the company has really grown in terms of marketplace visibility and everything else and they have a somewhat unique, not entirely unique, but somewhat unique product. 

Jay Leedy: Yeah, I agree. In fact, I was registered to go to that same event but couldn’t get there because I was super busy that week. I also didn’t have a relationship with them yet. So I didn’t yet feel obligated, but I didn’t see their product until Digital Signage Week, or maybe it was NRF, one of the two where they had a hospitality event at their offices in New York and I made my way there and I was as compelled as you were because of what they were doing but also where they were saying they were going.

And you’re right. The visibility for Videri has been exponential. I think as contemporaries in our sphere of the industry have gotten more visibility to their hardware and a better understanding of whether software can cause the entire industry to really lean in and that’s been the case. I think when I announced that I was leaving Sony combined with two days later announcing that I was joining Videri, I never had as much web traffic on my LinkedIn as those two days. I think it was something on the order of 15,000 impressions between the two posts and that tells me that there’s a lot of people who were really intrigued about what this new company is and as I’ve gotten deeper into the organization and started to really look around at the core architecture of our software, which is an Android-based SoC. So all of our displays run Android 12, which offers a lot of opportunity for third-party solutions to run alongside ours, or in some cases, in place of our software with our firmware being the glue that binds the delivery of that software, and I think there’s a lot of opportunities in that regard as well, right? 

My goal will really be to build out an ecosystem and a partner strategy very similar to what I was doing at Sony and fortunately, I have a lot of existing relationships that I was already working with that can parlay right into that, that are all dialed into that Android approach, but I think Android, in particular, was compelling for me because it has become a de facto standard in many respects and in a lot of cases with retailers, because of the security components to it, and our particular flavor of Android is locked down, which is really appealing. all the stars really aligned there. 

It’s interesting because Android, if you asked people out five years ago, they would probably say no, not going anywhere near that.

Jay Leedy: I know when I was Diversified, it was an absolute non-starter, but the market’s changed, and fortunately the strength of Android and the security protocols have changed, and I think it’s you and I’ve talked about a little bit, right? The impression and kind of point of view on Android Deployed in enterprise environments has changed as well.

I think largely because of the broad use of MDMs or device management solutions and familiarity with those tools, with IT admins having a level of comfort with those. At the end of the day, displays for digital signage are IOT devices that have to be managed and locked down in a similar fashion. So something that’s familiar just resonates with those decision makers. 

You mentioned a couple of minutes ago third party suppliers or providers. 

Are you saying, and you can correct me if I’m getting this wrong, that if I’m another CMS software company, I could, in theory, drive Videri displays?

Jay Leedy: Absolutely, and we’ve already tested a handful of them. I think we’ve got about five so far. We’ve also tested some lift-and-learn solutions that are quasi-CMS but would also be able to run in concert with our CMS. 

That’d be like Glass Media stuff?

Jay Leedy: It’s more like Sign Metrics. We’re on ARC over at Pick‘n’Watch. He’s got a really interesting solution that’s all Bluetooth and UDP-based. We’re also looking at wireless solutions for audience measurement, the likes of Blue Zoo or Movia Media. 

Some of the CMS platforms that we’ve tested, run the gamut of the kind of those that are known more heavily in the space, like Spp Space and Corbett, and then others that are maybe lesser known like Play Signage or one of the newer ones that, as you mentioned earlier, the idea of a hobby business that’s not yet full bore or fully funded or has a sales and marketing team behind it, what have you… There’s a company called AbleSign that’s got some pretty capable products.

Largely a lot of these are available as progressive web app options where the device management capabilities of their full-featured apps are stripped out and therefore don’t present a conflict with some of the remote capabilities that are the device management capabilities that we bring to bear. But, in the longer term, we’ll also test scenarios where maybe a full-featured solution could be used or what we see more as a trend; why I was looking maybe outside of digital signage, in other technology providers, is that, especially in North America, and I think that this will cascade to other markets is that enterprise clients, in particular, have a point of view on device management.

So, it was really important when I was at Sony to be compatible with whatever infrastructure decisions had been made upstream so that we could just say yes to projects and be specified regardless of what the requirements were. To some extent, that’s a consideration with Videri’s approach as well.

It’s interesting, with this idea that you can work with other CMS software companies. I’m trying to envision that phone call or that meeting on their end, wouldn’t they be saying that you have a software that competes with our software? 

Jay Leedy: Yeah, but I think we also have a really attractive line of hardware, right?

The kind of customer that will gravitate towards our hardware may, in some cases, already have an investment and an existing state of software that they don’t want to deviate from. So it may make sense for us to offer our hardware with some recurring fees for the support and device management components while also being able to enable content management on a familiar platform that is more broadly used across their estate. Those are scenarios that we’re gaming out. 

What drew my attention in the tippet area is how the square displays in particular were something that could replace old beverage brands’ neon or plastic backlit signs in bars and restaurants. It was something that was dynamic, the quick ROI that would come out of that, but I’ve seen Videri in particular marketing, multi-screen video cone matrix. I think there’s another word you guys use. 

Jay Leedy: We call it an orchestration, but yeah, it’d be a mosaic or a configuration of multi-canvas screens that, in some cases, we’re seeing incorporated with other visual merchandising elements or other artwork elements in hospitality applications, for example.

You might like static, traditional artwork and imagery interspersed with dynamic elements that are part of Videri. The entire wall can very easily be mapped, and content pushed and split across the displays so that it makes sense visually without a lot of hardware to deliver that, and I think that’s really a unique element of our software. 

Yeah, and I like the ability to mix and match squares and rectangles display canvases and I know Samsung had a square product years ago, and it came and went because they like to sell hundreds of thousands, not thousands of units, but it came back with this and because manufacturers in Asia are now able to natively manufacture square things instead of cutting a rectangle and turning it into a square, redoing the electronics and costing a lot of money. 

Jay Leedy: Yeah, the run rate on our square product versus the other ones is probably not as high, to be fair, but those unique shapes and, I think, more specifically, smaller form factors, the lighter weight, the bezels are only probably about three quarters of an inch thick. The fact that they’re low-voltage offers a lot of flexibility. We’ve got a shop fitter or a point-of-purchase display manufacturer in Germany that’s developed a unique bracket that allows these displays to be moved around in their modular system. The entire system is powered with low voltage. 

It’s a company called Visplay, and they’ve done some really interesting stuff. These powered, essentially track systems or grids have ports, and the brackets are designed to automatically pick up power as soon as they do. Once they hit the Wi-Fi, they just start playing content again. So it gives the retailer or the shop fitter a lot of modularity, and they don’t have to get a technician on-site to make these changes. It’s something that they can do with store staff and that’s really appealing as well. 

That’s interesting. I’ve been doing a lot of reading and paying a lot of attention to the whole retail media networks landscape of late because it’s obviously got a lot of traction, even though much of the spending now is not in the store but billboards and online, but it’s going that way and I’ve said and heard from people that it’s not going to be a second wave of stores, putting big ass LCD displays on every available surface like it maybe was in the 2010s when athletic wear retailers, in particular, were doing that. 

It’s going to have to be smaller displays and interesting displays that fit into the design and are designed from the start or ones that don’t get in the way of merchandising.

Jay Leedy: Yeah, exactly. I think we’ve seen that in various gestations over the last several years, especially in consumer packaged goods, brands will incorporate digital elements as part of a turnkey fixture package. It’s one of the things I was working on with Diversified prior to the pandemic, and unfortunately, the pandemic killed the momentum on a project that was really promising for us.

But it was in partnership with Westrock, and the idea was that, as Diversified, we would be the integrator and managed service provider to support design, build, and ultimately manage and service these things once deployed. Westrock designed the fixture and also what they called kit packing. So they brought in inventory from their partner at the time, GlaxoSmithKline. They fully merchandised a display fitted with graphics and then added our digital elements with an LTE modem cradle point. As soon as the store personnel received it, which they wielded into place, they didn’t have to have a technician. Essentially, they had a turnkey solution that, as soon as it was plugged in, called home and had a range of content that would be played based on a number of parameters. There was an integrated camera. 

So, I think there’s a really appealing turnkey solution that doesn’t have to rely on the retailer’s data infrastructure, which is usually fairly constrained. This gives the brands a lot more freedom for placement but a lot more control over execution as well as the ability to, as you rightly said, put digital in places where you wouldn’t expect it, and that’s a hallmark of our approach, right? These smaller screens are unique form factors that are less obtrusive and don’t detract from the merchandising but actually can complement it, and you’re right, I think retail media networks will manifest in that way so that it’s not an afterthought. It’s not a screen that’s hanging from the ceilings left in front of the end cap, but it’s actually integrated into the end cap or into the merchandising fixture or what have you. So it really does the job of carrying the brand message, and I think there’s a lot of appeal there, especially in lifestyle brands. Especially for a product where, through our orchestration, we could draw attention to an entire category or shop within a store rather than just having individual merchandising fixtures, each with its own message.

The adoption barrier that I’ve encountered when I’ve talked to brands about this, what you were just describing is they like it, but they only need it for six weeks or four weeks or some defined campaign term, and even though they may be a big CPG brand with all kinds of products they’re so siloed that you couldn’t just say, “This shampoo digital fixture could be a body lotion fixture for round two, and you could share it across different ones.”

They’d say, “Yeah, but that would never happen.” 

Jay Leedy: Yeah, that was actually the concept of the one that we were working on with Westrock and GlaxoSmithKline. So the idea was that it’d be a seasonal product that was focused on at the time, Flonase and Claritin, and then once the season for allergies was over, they would pivot to another product that was better suited to the next season. That was exactly the concept.

I think you’re right. There is a seasonality to these activities, but the beauty of digital is that you can effectively reskin these things and repurpose them. So long as you have an intelligent design and the rest of the fixture to accommodate a range of products, and basically send in another kit of graphics and merchandise to correspond with that in partnership with a kit packer like Westrock.

You can clarify your role with Sony, which you were there for two or three years, I think. But what I found intriguing now that you’re not there is that your gig was basically developing partnerships for Sony to use its smart displays. When you started, there were, I think, one or two, maybe, and by the time you left, I think you were past 80 different partners. 

So you had this unique perspective of talking to a whole bunch of CMS software companies about what they had and analyzing whether there was a fit, and I’m just curious, having seen all these different ones and now somewhat detached from them, what your impression?

Are they all the same, which is, I think what most people would think? 

Jay Leedy: Yeah, I was there for three and a half years, and you’re right. When I came on, there was exactly one product that had gone through any kind of formal due diligence or QA, and so my program was really about building out that ecosystem with some formalities and processes, and I was fortunate enough to talk to and onboard roughly 90 different technologies that were, I’d say maybe 70% of those were digital signage and the rest were spread between unified communications or AV over IP as a software-defined solution. We also had a range of telemetry and UCC solutions as well.

I think I had exposure to roughly 140 companies or so. On the CMS front, I know Invidis recently did a report that you commented on in your blog as well, and you’re not wrong, for the most part, a lot of CMS platforms, at their core, do the same thing. The difference is how they do it. For me, the flexibility in their architecture, as I mentioned earlier, the idea of progressive web apps that decouple some of the real differentiation early in the market, that was an all-in-one solution with device management, has kind of evolved to the point where customers want flexibility and deciding and decoupling that device management from CMS but there’s also, I think, the extent to which these companies have invested in APIs and manage those APIs and other data connectors and understand interoperability sets them apart. 

I think for me, with Videri and our clear focus on retail and creative agencies and optimizing and enabling workflows that would be API dependent, as well as a cloud-based SaaS that has the flexibility to be able to grow and evolve, in that direction, that was what was appealing for me. It’s not to say that Videri was the only one with all those marks ticked in their offering, but as we talked about earlier, had some other organizational considerations that really were the determining factor for me coming over here.

Without naming names or anything, did you see companies that were clearly more advanced versus ones that were maybe building on something that they’ve had for many years, and they’re just incrementally bolting new capability onto an existing software stack? 

Jay Leedy: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s true for any company in the tech space that, at some point, you have to acknowledge that your technical debt load is too much and completely re-architect the solution. We’ve seen that happen with a number of companies in our space. There are a number of others that continue to struggle with that technical debt and architecture that just doesn’t lend itself to meeting the expectations of the market. 

Were you recommending the key things that, whether you’re a solutions partner or an end user, they should look for if they want to be future-proofed and really modern? 

Jay Leedy: First and foremost, these days, it’s an API-first strategy. We need to ensure that There’s a robust enough set of APIs to enable baseline telemetry and interoperability with a number of other API-first solutions. I think about, in particular, what’s happening with digital transformation in large consultancies like Accenture, EY, and Deloitte. A lot of those hinge on moving from on-premise to cloud-based solutions for a range of business applications. 

If anybody listening to this podcast is using Office 365, for example, there are a number of third-party solutions that plug into those, obviously with a fee involved. However, to enable that, you have to have the right architecture, and digital signage isn’t that different. 

We talk a little bit in this industry about headless and the idea of headless means, I think, escapes some people. I think the idea of no or low code development also, I think, escapes some people, but both of those are similar in that they enable. A much lower cost of entry to get a lot more functionality because the architecture is built in such a way that it can just essentially plug in like a Lego, and you can create building blocks that are predefined, versus having to have a linear development approach that can be really cost intensive.

Yeah, I was on a call yesterday, and it was interesting. They were talking very much about that. From my perspective, if you have a solution that has a distinct login and you have to do everything digital signage through that login, with no real hooks into anything else, that’s a big challenge, particularly for larger organizations that want to use one tool set. 

It’s going to push out to whatever the endpoint is and whatever that endpoint is communicating.

Jay Leedy: Yeah, and also just thinking about all the different ways content can be generated now. There’s been a lot of buzz around generative AI, but the rules for content and distribution largely have been in most of these CMS platforms for a long time. But a means of automating those rules and creating if this, then that scenario or ingesting data that can then drive outcomes and content. that’s not necessarily core to a lot of those platforms, or leveraging API calls directly from digital asset management tools and leveraging all of the metadata tagging logic that is built into those, and pulling those directly into the content strategy also necessarily isn’t native to a lot of CMS platforms.

So I think those are all kinds of key things to consider when making a selection or at least knowing, if it’s possible downstream, should your company mature to the point where they want to leverage those types of tools. 

If people want to catch up with you and talk about what you’re doing with Videri, I know they can find you online, obviously, but you’ll be at Infocomm? 

Jay Leedy: I will be at Infocom and the Digital Science Federation mixer in Tampa in about two weeks. Either way, I’d love to see you and continue the conversation. 

All right, Jay. It’s great to catch up. 

Jay Leedy: Great to see you as well, Dave.

Leave a comment