You might think that the pandemic would have a negative impact on the digital signage business with the resulting impact on retail, hospitality and entertainment footfall. But no, says BrightSign CEO Jeff Hastings: “Far from it”. To underline he point, Jeff arranged a sneak peek of the new solutions scheduled for launch at the forthcoming ISE London and Barcelona events.
AVN: Can I start by just asking you, what are your expectations of the year ahead, starting with the ISE events?
JH: Well, we have put together a modest expectations for the ISE events and scaled the investments to match. We think there is going to be a modest showing of people; there are still a lot of people on the edge. So we have modest expectations. To compensate, we have arranged for our team to actually walk you through a virtual demonstration of what we will have in our booth.
JH: So we are having a real trade show booth, so that we can have a presence there, but then secondly, be able to replicate it virtually so that our sales folks talk to people and if they say they can’t go. I thought it would be a good way to show you kind of how we’re giving people the real experience of the event. And then secondarily, for people who can’t make the real event, especially after they cancelled a few of them to give them a virtual event. On screen, you can actually see what’s going on and ask questions, so it’s literally just like being at the trade show, except it’s virtual.
AVN: We will probably do the London show but Barcelona depends on the quarantine requirements
Let’s see what happens. In 2019 we introduced BSN SoundCloud.- a completely new product, cloud connected, and which allows our devices to instantly get on the cloud. Via SoundCloud users can access their control cloud and the content file. So you can a lot to look at all your devices online and do diagnostics and things like that. The cloud updates your experience, new content, and more. It’s been going very well. We now have tens of thousands of units that are now connected to the control cloud and the content cloud.
AVN: So what can you show as a virtual installation?
JH: I can just look at the dashboard and my network on the control cloud. So if I click into this network. I just brought up a story of a small network. It’s got five players in it. It’s my network. So I’m constantly testing things. So there’s always devices online that shows me those three devices online. I mean, two devices online and three devices offline. And then I can look at what was the last connection.
For most people, this managing devices. If they’re having some issues we can call tech support and they can get information about it. We can also run all kinds of diagnostics. So we could look at the network, we can see what the IP network looks like. We can actually do a network capture. So, if there were streaming issues, you can do a network capture, otherwise someone would have to take a PC into that network to do a network capture. We can do it all on our device and then we can do things like snapshot. It allows you to do this all instantaneously.
So I’m doing this but player is somewhere else. It’s not it’s not a local player. So all this is being done over the Web from a Web based interface. You can even update the operating system. Even on the control side, you can actually reboot the player. You can factor a reset. So these are things that we added, like I said, in twenty nineteen as part of this in the cloud. And these have been just enormously powerful to the installers and the entities that use our devices, because now when they actually deploy these devices, all they have to do is plug them into an action blank SD card and it will contact our servers and pull down all the content – everything that’s needed for that player. So, altogether it’s been a real breakthrough whereas a lot of people think of us as just a hardware company. We build media players that this whole business in the cloud, especially with the control cloud, has completely changed the way that people view us.
AVN: So what’s next? Which new improvements to the user experience will bring back the footfall?
JH: It’s been a very, very interesting period for us. From my perspective I thought this is going to be really bad. Now the picture is much clearer. Retail didn’t close down. Not at all. Yes. there were winners and there were losers. The massive winners, the people that were declared essential businesses, boomed. In the first four months after the Covid crisis started, we received our single largest order in the history of the company. from a retailer that was one of the winners. Overall, our business in the retail sector was actually up. We got more revenue from retail than we had before Covid.
Now, there was a bunch of losers. Smaller companies that were closed. There were not spending money, but the large retailers were spending an enormous amount of money on their stores. And their philosophy is we had a whole bunch of new customers come in and now we want to increase the experience to keep them coming back.
At an emotional level. we can’t help sympathising with the people who are closed down, but for us, it was it was crazy that our retail business was actually up during Covid. So we’re seeing those retailers that have that were declared essential. Their business is booming and they are putting lots of investments. And a lot of these were the bigger retailers where they had historically not and money on the store experience. Now, they’re wanting to spend crazy money on the store experience to keep these new customers.
AVN: What new features and facilities can people expect from Digital signage?
JH: I think the clothing retailers are going to see a big resurgence of people coming back because the act of buying things, trying them on and sending them back is just a lot of work. I think that its going to be a big boost to them as things open up. I think those clothing retailers are going to see a big resurgence. I thought it was going to be a horrible time with retail, but it was quite the opposite. It was our best year ever in terms of retail. I/m going to have Karen walk you through some of the demos that we’re going to have at the at the ISE shows. I mean, but they’re all, you know, reasonable looks at it. So with that, I’ll turn it over to Karen in she’s in our Los Gatos office and can give you a live demo.
Karen from BrightSign: I’m here in our headquarter offices in Los Gatos, California, and we’ve created this virtual showroom to demonstrate the power of BrightSign. As Jeff mentioned, we will be exhibiting with Next WebSphere, who offers interactive sensors and lighting elements that pair extremely well with our BrightSign players so that you can create really engaging experiences.
Spare pushbuttons are installed under each of the players We can operate flawlessly because we have a solid-state platform. That means there’s no moving parts to fail, there’s no fan required, and it even has a patented aluminium enclosure. So our players can operate at extreme temperatures. So that makes them really ideal for these types of kiosk installations, any kind of space and even outdoor applications. So that single BrightSign player that is controlling this entire experience is also powering each of these eight Next WebSphere elements. So when I press one of the buttons to learn more about the product, you’ll see the content changes. We’re going to be highlighting this demonstration with new air button controllers .
It works very much like a push button, but rather than physically pushing the button, you’re simply cover your hand or your finger over the button by about one or two inches to trigger the same response. It creates a touchless environment that’s hygienic. We feel that this type of touchless interactivity is going to be here for some time to come.
We can walk visitors through any number of these eight categories to try to learn more about whatever they might be interested in. And it’s a massive multiplex presentation that only runs off our flagship player, because of the video and performance that’s required to drive it. And that’s partly because we can also launch twenty-two different example presentations with a touch of a buttons. For presentations categorized by market verticals and by feature sets, so when a visitor walks up and they want to see a realistic application for their feature or their market vertical, with a touch of a button to show them exactly what that means and how it looks.
So next I can show you a video wall. This is a very eye-catching video wall because we have a different screen sizes, different orientations and aspect ratios. If it looks like it’s lagging behind our frame accurate synchronization, we can connect each of the players driving the screens through the Internet connection so that we’re constantly keeping the communication going and making sure everyone’s playing the right content at the right. Now, this video wall is very impressive, and we can actually make our video interactive. It makes the wall a really engaging experience.
There players are all of these are going to be installed into various finished fixtures so that you can see how they operate and realistic applications. And the same is we’ve got this mesosphere controller connected to eight different interactive devices and lighting sensors, and there’s one single USB cable that uses black cable here that you could go into the BrightSign player to control and power all of these devices from a single USB connection.
We do that using serial or over USB commands. We’ve got a presence sensor so that as you watch, the distance you are from that sensor you have intimate lighting that changes with the content. When I get further away, the lighting changes to purple and we’ve got different video content. We can also use an RFID antenna with a product that has a pickup pick-up sensor so that we can trigger content. You can keep a log file, which can be used to fine tune your display or just learn how people are utilizing it.
We can also build-in a scanner that senses the gender of the person sitting in front of it. And you can sense my age and my gaze. So centre, left and right, and it’s keeping account of male versus female. So you can either just use that as a data point or you can actually trigger your content to play back based on the gender that’s detected.
Moving on, we have a touchless sensor that they started providing in the pandemic age here. It’s called Air Gestur: it’s a touchless solution that operates much like you would swipe your smartphone screen. When you swipe across your screen to get to the next set of contests, you can do the same with this gesture sensor to navigate. You’re just hovering. We’ve got these icons here along the bottom that we want to navigate through and simply by swiping my hand over the sensor.
There’s a proximity sensor located underneath the display that when you trigger it, it will move from a track that was playing into a call-to-action video. We’ve got a BrightSign built into this display here that oversees controlling the entire experience. And we’ve got RFID antennas installed into the shelves and sensors on the cosmetics. So to interact with it, I simply lift up one of the products they want to learn about. It plays the content that matches that product.
JH: Thanks, Karen. You know, we’ve been using this tool actually during the pretty much this whole Covid crisis and actually giving people live demonstrations where our salespeople can’t actually visit the customers. And as you say, it’s pretty compelling that if we have to be in this virtual world to be able to give demonstrations like this.