Scala: ‘We’re not cheap, and we won’t change’

Scala's partner event took place in a refurbished Amsterdam church

Scala’s partner event took place in a refurbished Amsterdam church

Digital communications software developer Scala gathered its international partners in Amsterdam for its annual two-day meeting this September. The conference welcomed around 250 people between partners, employees and clients. In the mezzanine area a mini-exhibition was held, where companies such as AOpen, Avnet, Christie, IAdea, iBase, Matrox, Samsung and other Scala-certified partners were able to showcase their wares.

The event was held at a refurbished church in the old town and all present had a firm wake-up call when three gospel singers arrived on stage and made everybody stand up, clap and yell ‘Scalalujah’. After a few songs, we were all relieved to see Scala’s chief executive, Tom Nix, take to the stage.

In previous years, Scala would open the conference by looking at the state of the company; this year, the focus leaned more towards trends, investments and its plans for the future. “We want to meet the needs of different vertical markets,” says Nix, highlighting the importance of understanding the customer journey and, therefore, incorporating predictive analytics to provide a better ROI for customers.

The company has added 1,400 new customers world-wide in the past year and seen a nine per cent increase in adoption and growth. “We are capable of delivering software solutions at a level nobody can,” claims Nix. He recognises, however, that companies with a vertical focus and lower-priced products are a threat: “We are not competing against software providers. Our competitors are companies that offer complete solutions. The other competitor threat is price. We are committed to be competitive, but we won’t be low cost. We offer high value.”

Since Nix took the Scala reins two years ago, there have been a few changes, including a management shake up. “I initially wanted to come to Scala to work with its inspiring chief executive George Bucas. When he stepped down, I was not expecting to take his place, but I’m very happy with the way things panned out.

“It took me a good nine months to get used to my new position but now I’m enjoying it. I have a great team,” Nix continues. “We had a great opportunity to introduce new ideas, which came with new challenges, and we realised that we had a shortfall of skills. Luckily we have been able to bring in the skills we were lacking in order to help the company grow.”

Nix predicts that ‘small’ is the next big thing. This is not just because of ROI, which are truly changing the way brands communicate with customers and they way we shop; he also sees the introduction of electronic shelf labels (ESL) as a disruptive technology, especially if it is combined with Scala’s predictive analytics. “Retail is the key area of growth for us,” Nix confirms. “Integrating mobile devices – whether big or small, in the shape of ESL – and making sense of the data that is available from [these] interactions is the way forward.”

Stefan Menger, Scala’s vice-president for advanced analytics, explains how the company’s ‘big data’ collection can optimise retailers business decisions: “By looking to historic market data and combining [them] with live third-party data streams, businesses can create marketing messages that positively impact buying behaviour. We also use predictive methods to determine the probability of what is likely to happen next according to the businesses’ goals and objectives.”

Guillaume Proux, Scala’s senior vice-president for Asia, believes that “there has never been a digital signage market. Digital signage is part of the marketing toolbox. We need a leap of faith, to stop being just an information channel and become omni-channel, so that the right content is delivered in the right location at the right time. Digital signage 2.0 has to be connected, social, intelligent and integrated with CMS systems.”

Scala is realistic about its strengths and the areas it needs to improve upon. One of them, Nix admits, is its communication with partners and the market, which is why its annual conference is so important for the company. As a result, its aim to further the customer experience will be crucial for the coming year, as will its new pricing system, which as yet remains unannounced. Customers, meanwhile, can look forward to its new software suite Scala Enterprise, which along with Web 2.0 APIs, HTML5 support and Android player options, uses big data and predictive analytics for personalised customer engagement.

First published 25 October 2013 – Output

‘A daily wonder experience’: Trinity Leeds

Trinity Leeds represents the latest in a growing number of digital malls, offering new opportunities to advertisers

Trinity Leeds represents the latest in a growing number of digital malls, offering new opportunities to advertisers

When a shopping centre opens, in general it doesn’t go unnoticed. Trinity Leeds surpassed expectations when it launched this March welcoming 132,000 people. The shopping mall, said to be the size of 13 football pitches, is the largest project of its type in Western Europe boosting 120 shops, 12 restaurants, bars and cafes and the largest Everyman cinema in Britain.

At The Screen’s most recent Breakfast Briefing, Sean Curtis, head of marketing at LandSecurities, the company that owns the £378million shopping centre, Neil Morris from Grand Visual and JCDecaux’s Mark Bucknell got together to share their knowledge and experience of the new digital mall. Trinity Leeds features gigantic interactive videowalls, Google product search, LED advertising screens, its own mobile app, which can be tailored by the user, and totally free wifi through out.

“We own many big shopping centres in the UK, but with Trinity Leeds we pay special attention on following a customer led strategy,” explains Curtis. “Things have changed in the world of retail and we also need to change to attract and retain the public.”

Making the site a digital destination in its own right was one of the key objectives; the other was to give customers and retailers the best communication platform they could wish for. The ubiquitous use of wifi allows people to search compare and buy online, even if they are in the shopping mall.

“Nine out of ten purchases are done online today and a big proportion of the searches and buys are done on mobile devices,” notes Curtis. “When we were planning this project we asked ourselves, should we dance with the internet devil in a shopping mall environment? The answer was yes, definitely.”

Using Google’s product search paired with GPS capacities means that people can search online but it will only show retailers within Trinity Leeds. Customers’ preferences are logged in LandSecurities’s new CRM system, allowing it to offer a segmented and personalised service. “A multichannel customer is worth more than a single customer,” Curtis remarks.

The ease of use and customer-centric approach is also reflected in the £1million screen network investment. The screens, located in key areas across the mall, have information about events, special offers, news, the cinema, city guides and the centre itself. But most importantly for retailers, 70 percent of the air time on these beautiful digital canvases is dedicated to local stores’ advertising and promotions.

Morris described this project as unique for Grand Visual. The company’s day-to-day job is to deliver outstanding campaigns, but in a limited timeframe. In the case of Trinity, it had to consider how to orchestrate digital content across the mall all day, every day, for a whole year.

“It’s like running a channel,” says Morris. “Our brief was to deliver an immersive ‘daily wonder’ experience using Trinity’s screen state. To create these special moments for visitors, we designed a series of interactive content applications. It’s more like an art installation than anything else, but so far it’s been very successful in engaging visitors and providing a surprise factor.”

Using Panasonic D-Imager, a sleek camera-sensor located above the videowalls that collects spatial information about its environment, passers-by can interact with the screen without having to touch it.

“Nobody has done multiple-[dimension] image processing before now,” says Morris. Grand Visual worked with Fraps for the real-time video capture; this is a work in progress, with new interactive games and other experiential projects in the pipeline.

The digital experience at Trinity Leeds also includes a network of JCDecaux’s newly-launched M-Vision digital six-sheets. “The screens give Trinity Leeds and its retailers tactical opportunities,” explains Bucknell. “The advertising in it is location-specific and brands have the power to update their advertising or copy with relevant opportunities and promotions.”

According to Bucknell, malls are retail’s fastest growing environment. The average time people spend in them has risen to 178 minutes, with a 161 average spend and a 12 percent over-spend. “Digital just enhances the customers experience and gives retailers to tools to reach their audience with the right message at the right time,” he adds.

Since opening, Trinity Leeds has welcomed half a million people per week. Its modern look and feel, as well as its practical functionality using wifi, mobile and digital signage, gives Leeds citizens a sense of pride and creates a new destination for the city’s visitors.

First published 3 June 2013 – Output

Rocking the Tobacco Dock: NEC Showcase preview

Now in its fifth year, the NEC Showcase 2013 will be held at East London’s Tobacco Dock, seeing NEC partners teaming up once again to demonstrate how their digital signage offerings work in different ecosystems. Visitors will reportedly be able to see more than 100 solutions represented through the two floors of the show across eleven applications zones: DOOH, retail, education, transport, 3D and leisure, 3D cinema, media, healthcare, control rooms, corporate communications and the NEC innovation zone.

London's Tobacco Dock was built in the 19th century as a secure warehousing for tobacco arriving from the New World

London’s Tobacco Dock was built in the 19th century as a secure warehousing for tobacco arriving from the New World

Since its conception, the showcase has focused on providing end users with a tangible example of what it possible in a real-world situation, and an opportunity to talk directly with manufacturers and system integrators in each vertical market.

“The showcase is a unique event; where else can you see more than 50 different AV and IT vendors working together to show complete solutions?” asks Simon Jackson, vice-president at NEC Display Solutions. “We already have 600 people registered to visit.”

NEC itself is using its event as a launchpad for an 80″ (203cm) screen in its entry-level E series, plus the new P series 70″ (178cm) display with NFC and NEC NOC, a remote service network operating centre. Also new this year is a sensor-driven signage offering, the NEC Leaf Engine, co-developed with NEC Laboratories in Heidelberg.

“We’ve added a couple of NEC zones so we can show off our new technology but the really exciting zones are where the collaboration takes place,” enthuses Jackson. “Look out for retail and 3D – they should be fun.”

Ultra or 4K will feature heavily at the showcase, promised as a complete workflow. Content will be filmed live, edited, exported and displayed around the event. This will be shown on 2×2 and 3×3 video walls and a new high-end laser projector. What content? Watch out for the dancing girls!

Welcoming visitors at the entrance hall with a projection-mapped tunnel will be 7th Sense. Using its Delta media server solution it will show fully uncompressed 4K content on the NEC 4K projector. Richard Brown, principal engineer at 7th Sense, comments: “This is our first showcase and it provides us with an opportunity to demo our products as an integrated solution with NEC’s displays. The uncompressed nature of our video servers means that we can show them off at their best.”

Regular exhibitor PSCo will exhibit a videowall using five different screen formats. Driven by a Harris player, the wall will be arranged in a structure designed by Unicol and put together by PSCo’s engineers. It’s not all about what’s flashy, of course: Unicol is supporting NEC Displays throughout the show with its mounting solutions. There will be a number of coloured Axia lectern stands supporting 46″ (117cm) screens and Axia Titan stands built to carry 100″ (254cm) screens on different videowall arrays.

A newcomer at the showcase is Monster Media, whose managing director Liam Boyle is excited by what the event can offer. “Partnering with NEC is the perfect marriage of intelligent technology solutions and practiced content creation. One thing is to have the shiniest-looking kit on the block; another is to provide a valuable experience for the consumer.”

Exhibiting for the fourth time, White Space will be showing its latest version of 3D-Hub at the retail, education and events zones. 3D-Hub is an interactive media player with 3D content. Its features include rotating, exploding, animating, highlighting and labelling media. The 3D-Hub also works with regular 2D displays, which can be viewed in stereo 3D using Anaglyph or ColorCode 3D technology.

Also looking to take advantage of NEC’s outstretched arm to end users, IHSE will have a presence for the first time. IHSE is a manufacturer of advanced KVM and video extenders, which allow the remote location of auxiliary computer consoles at very long distances from device. Its KVM matrix switches enable different computers to be accessed through one or more consoles – all equipment vital to larger installations.

NEC is also giving visitors a voice. Attendees can submit questions upon registration or at the show via touchscreens, which will be displayed on screens across the show, offering food for thought. Running alongside the Showcase will be a conference organised by DailyDOOH, with ten speakers, in morning and afternoon blocks. And when the show’s done, don’t forget to prepare for a well-deserved drink reception after 4pm – which, some say, is when the business really begins.

First published 13 May 2013 – Output

Intevi: using digital signage to gather sales information

Intevi, a new digital signage company, is developing off-the-shelf solutions for today’s demanding retail market. Adam Wilson, co-founder and director of Intevi, talked to Output about the company’s new Interactive Retail Unit (iRU).

Intevi's iRU can measure sales as well as attract shoppers

Intevi’s iRU can measure sales as well as attract shoppers

Seven months ago Wilson, formerly of dZine and AMX, started Intevi looking to provide end-to-end digital media solutions. Intevi’s iRU software allows digital signage screens to react to what is happening in shops, particularly where customers are encouraged to touch and feel products in an interactive way.

“The software is based on our Intevi Digital Poster solution which is a traditional digital signage product,” explains Wilson. “The content played can be managed in the cloud or it can be stored locally, or even a mixture of both. Our software also allows the media owner to schedule content changes in line with seasons, product releases, and so on, over the internet or via encrypted USB dongles.”

With this solution retailers are able to display an attractor content loop to engage dynamically with its customers. Once the customer approaches the display and a product is lifted from the shelf, a video specific to this product is triggered. So, for instance, if the shelf has female-orientated perfumes and male-targeted aftershaves, a suitable video will be displayed depending on the target gender of the product that the customer picks up.

“We first developed this solution for a couple of clients, and now it is an off-the-shelf product offering at Intevi,” says Wilson. “We have designed a physical interactive module, which allows for the various triggers to be connected and programmed accordingly. The interactive module communicates with the screen and stores the content ready to be played back.”

The content displayed can be triggered via a range of methods: product pick-up; pressure sensor; motion sensor; push buttons; gesture; or using analytical cameras which can determine the age and gender of the person in front of the screen. The content activated is specific to the action performed.

“Retailers are stepping up to the fact that consumers are more knowledgeable and tech savvy than ever before. Standard, non-interactive digital screens are seen by some retailers as old news and we are constantly investigating the latest solutions for our digital retail customers,” adds Wilson.

But the most interesting feature of this software is that it can provide retailers with real data on what products are most successful and which ones aren’t. They can then draw sales statistics and fine-tune their next order, change the location of the product and use the digital media displays for more insightful knowledge.

“Our system collates all information about what products were picked up, by whom, when, how many times. This is then cross-referenced with sales data to see what products where actually purchased,” concludes Wilson.

Screens are no longer just ‘moving picture decoration’ – they are real retail tools for information for the customer and the retailer. Retailers can improve products sales and get their numbers on the ROI from the screens.

first published 18 July 2012 – Output

NRHA invites industry to Rethink Retail


BrightSign's digital signage has been used in retail environments including FNAC stores in France

BrightSign’s digital signage has been used in retail environments including FNAC stores in France

This week, the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) is holding its Rethink Retail Conference in Las Vegas, addressing two hot topics: digital technology for retail, and loyalty marketing. The focus on technology is not surprising, in particular since the association’s recent studies show real increases on sales when digital signage is used in shops.

The NRHA has published the results of research that compared sales of specific products in stores that used digital signage for promotion against stores that did not. For the research, the NRHA teamed with BrightSign customer Aubuchon Hardware, a large hardware retail chain with 130 stores in the USA. The results of the NRHA test confirm that product sales increased when interactive digital signage is used.

Aubuchon Hardware branches saw unit sales rise by 23 percent for interior paint, 45 percent for smoke detectors and a remarkable 178 percent for air filters in stores with BrightSign-powered digital signage promoting specials on those products, compared to Aubuchon stores without digital signage.

“The information we’ve received shows every hardware retail location using our BrightSign players reported significant sales lift,” said Jeff Hastings, BrightSign chief executive. “The hardware store trials clearly support the fact that highly visible product information with moving graphics and streaming content creates a measurable ROI for store management. When you see such a substantial increase in sales of paint and air filters, certainly not what you would consider impulse buys, the impact of digital signage over printed signs becomes obvious,” he emphasised.

For the test, Aubuchon placed Endcap digital signage displays powered by BrightSign players in six stores and ran interactive presentations produced by the NRHA for one month. The sales results were then compared to six other stores in the chain that historically had similar sales for the products tested.

Intel Digital Signage Endcap Concept is based on second generation Intel Core processor technology, and uses the Intel AIM Suite built specifically for anonymous audience measurement. Endcap works two ways: not only does it provide retailers with valuable information about its customers, but it also allows them to send offers, recommendations and promotions to smartphones, PCs and other devices.

BrightSign is making waves in the market. In April it launched smaller, lower cost HD solid-state digital signage controllers. The new HD line comes in three flavours: BrightSign HD120 – a basic interactive model; BrightSign HD220 – networked looping model; and BrightSign HD1020 – a networked interactive model. The company will be exhibiting at Screenmedia Expo in Earls Court, London on May 16th and 17th.

Back in January, BrightSign and signagelive announced their collaboration. Jason Cremins, chief executive of signagelive explains: “We selected BrightSign players for their proven reliability, advanced features. BrightSign range of networked devices can be integrated with signagelive to provide a solution that rivals the technical capabilities and stability of more expensive PC-based solutions.” Screenmedia Expo visitors can also see how BrightSign works with cloud-based digital signage solutions from signagelive on the latter’s stand.

First published 3 May 2012 – Output

NEC Showcase 2012 at the O2

NEC Display Solutions Europe organized its third Showcase at the O2. Its doors opened at 10am and there was a queue to get in. Last year, the showcase was held at Battersea Power Station. The exhibition space was smaller, brighter, and very hot; but it was also well attended.

NEC has been a partner of the O2 since it re-opened in 2008 and it managed to get a prime position for its showcase. The hall, which was at least 50% bigger than last year’s, was divided in nine zones: DOOH; Education; Professional Office; 3D & Leisure; Innovation; Colour; Healthcare; Transport and Retail – these last two were new zones. The zones were consistent with current vertical markets and all but two, featured digital out of home solutions, demonstrating how widely used this is.

Visitors were able to meet face-to-face with a total of 47 partners. Some of these companies included Intel, U-Touch, Smart, Scala and Onelan; and internal NEC units such the IT solutions division.

Seeing the different technologies integrated in real life situations was ideal to provide NEC partners the chance to show existing and potential clients their latest solutions. Half of the total attendees were end users.

At the show was also VUKUNET, NEC’s automated ad delivery platform and marketplace for DOOH media. VUKUNET was formally launched in Europe this year at ISE 2012 in Amsterdam, and at the NEC showcase it made its UK debut.

Dirk Hülsermann, manager of DOOH Solutions for NEC Display Solutions Europe, did a presentation at The Screen Briefings* conference, which was held also at the O2 at the same time as the NEC showcase. He said: “Until now, there was no way for an advertising agency to communicate with all the different networks – because they speak different electronic languages and also because the market is too fragmented. For the first time, VUKUNET brings together advertising agencies and digital-out-of-home media owners in one single cloud-based solution. Media owners can aggregate their networks into a nationwide buy with VUKUNET. VUKUNET turns any internet connected screen into an advertising face, which can generate incremental revenue for the screen owner.”

VUKUNET’s first UK partnership is with Wonderworks Walkway Media Ltd. The contract will see Walkway Media supply a DOOH, signage, information and advertising network across a target of 30 mall locations in 2012 commencing with the recent installation at several independent sites, including the Criterion shopping malls at Slough, Dalston and Sutton.

New to the show was Wonderworks 3D, also part of the Wonderworks group but separate from Walkway Media, was welcoming visitors by the entrance of the showcase with a ‘Pepper Ghost’ holographic display. Using Mussion’s Eyeliner film screen, and an HD NEC projector, the company has packaged the holographic solution to be used in luxury shop windows and other applications where companies want to wow their clients.

Matrox Graphics, a manufacturer of graphics cards, had its finger in the pie in several zones at the showcase. Its high-performance Mura MPX Series video wall controller boards and M-Series multidisplay graphics cards were featured in a variety of environments as go-to multidisplay solutions.

At PSCo’s corner the Matrox’s Mura was integrated on a four-by-four video wall made up of 16 of NEC Display Solutions’ new X463UN 46-inch, ultra-narrow-bezel displays. The setup stood at 4.5 meters high in portrait mode at the show’s DOOH zone. The Professional Office of the Future zone, featured a two-by-two, Mura-powered video wall leveraging an Exterity codec as well as a player from VisioSign. Matrox was integrated in video conferencing solutions, working with HD VC LifeSize; in transport information displays and others.

Matrox is just a good example of how NEC partners work together across the board to enable great solutions.

Over 850 people, from clients to AV professionals – and some of NEC competitor companies, walked the floor and networked at this year’s NEC Showcase.

*As mentioned before, the Screen Briefings took place simultaneously at the O2’s Cineworld Cinema. There was a morning session presenting: ‘A Digital Journey’ and ‘Digital Engagements’; and in the afternoon there was the VUKUNET presentation and some applied technologies talks touching upon: ‘Augmented Reality’, presented by Grand Visual, ‘The Wolrd According to 3D’ from White Space and Burner Mobile gave an insight on ‘Mobile Interaction.’


First published on Output magazine