Digital Signage Systems

Always-On Messaging

The benefits of digital signage are well documented, but it’s only a game-changer when it’s working. Reliability is crucial

Digital signage has proven its worth time and time again and the statistics behind a digital approach, when compared to traditional static print displays, are certainly persuasive. According to a Nielson survey, for example, 80 percent of brands experienced up to 33 percent additional sales when switching to digital signage. Intel®, meanwhile, has recorded that digital signage also captures up to 400 percent more views than static signage.[1]

These statistics only tell part of the story, with digital signage not just boosting interaction, but also improving management and control over messaging. Rather than a single set of print posters with generic offers and information, digital signage units can be controlled and managed individually, so they can display global information and be tweaked with local knowledge.

Not only that, but digital signage can be updated quickly, keeping pace with your business or organisation – no waiting around for new printed information to arrive. Throw in the fact that digital signage can loop through different types of content, compared to print’s single and static message, and the medium is something that all organisations should embrace.

Yet, for all the benefits that the technology delivers, there’s an elephant in the room: reliability. A static print poster can’t fail and, once it’s placed on a wall, it shows its message 24/7 until it’s taken down, viewable for all to see. Digital signage is only viable while it’s working and, the second there’s a problem, all of the benefits we’ve talked about so far disappear instantly.

No wonder, then, that reliability is one of the key considerations for digital signage buyers. Yet, reliability shouldn’t just be defined as ‘up-time’; the problem is multi-faceted. Standard problems you should also consider are hardware failure and maintenance, but issues extend into usability too. What if someone uploads a file in a format that’s not supported, or a live stream to a screen should fail? It’s simply not good enough to display an error message and assume that people will hang around until your displays start working again.

All of these factors inform reliability, with the simple takeaway that if your screens aren’t displaying a useful message all day, every day, they’re effectively useless.

So, in this guide, we’ll be looking at all of these issues and how dedicated ONELAN Digital Signage Players, powered by Intel, address and overcome them. We’ll also look at how management of content can be streamlined using a combination of cloud and local storage.

Plus, we’ll look at the growing need for global/local content and how ONELAN can help you handle this. This is where presentation and overall messaging can be controlled on a global level, but there’s also a business need to include some local knowledge and location specific information on individual digital signage displays.

Through embedded hardware and software, built to serve a single purpose, digital signage gets the chance to live up to its potential. In this environment, failure can’t be tolerated, and messaging must be constant, without interruption, and without error.

Delivering a Reliable Solution

Displaying an always-on message is critical. Embedded appliances can operate reliably in the most demanding environments

Digital signage can deliver better engagement and ROI than traditional print advertising. With targeted information that can change based on location, time and audience, digital signage is far more responsive to promotional needs than static images, which can only display a single message until they’re replaced.

It’s these benefits that have driven adoption of digital signage across a wide array of sectors, including retail, corporate communications, education and hospitality. ONELAN’s Net-Top-Box (NTB) devices are ideal solutions in this regard, delivering power-efficient performance, broad connectivity support and high reliability to enable impactful and always-on digital messaging. The results speak for themselves.

“Since we first began installing ONELAN digital signage in 2012,” says Ryan Calvert, Commercial Operations Manager at the Chemist Warehouse chain in Australia, “we’ve seen a return on our investment in terms of an uplift in sales for our advertisers, as well as delivering customer satisfaction through greater availability of product information in store.”

Dubai Duty Free is another example. It welcomes over 75 million passengers per year and has a turnover of $50,000 per square metre. Equipped with ONELAN NTB signage appliances, sales performance was measured before, during and after a digital campaign with encouraging results. A perfume brand saw its sales performance boosted by 114%, while a cosmetic brand saw its performance increase by 56%.

That’s the good news. The downside of using digital signage is that it’s only effective if it’s working.  The moment that there’s a problem, the message is lost, the impact is lost and the potential for a sale or an action is lost.

Preventing crashes

Maintaining an always-on information approach means choosing the right hardware and software and there are two ways of approaching this. You can use off-the-shelf computers, installing the commercially available software you need to manage them. Alternatively, you can use a dedicated digital signage player, such as an Intel-powered ONELAN Net-Top-Box.

The former approach might seem cheaper, but your average computer isn’t designed for a commercial environment and continuous operation. The internet is littered with examples of digital signage failures, with pop-up windows, error messages and boot prompts often displayed on-screen instead of the intended message.

With dedicated hardware, you ensure better reliability. In the case of ONELAN’s players, they use Intel-based hardware and are built using industrial components to ensure 24/7 operation. Launching 120 digital signage players across Dubai Duty Free in 2013, not one ONELAN player failed in three years.

Reduced maintenance

Running without crashing or the hardware failing is only one part of the reliability puzzle. Maintenance also needs to be considered.

With a consumer operating system, designed for multi-purpose jobs, there’s usually a greater management overhead. Typically, there will need to be some time scheduled for updating the player software and the OS. Additional items need to be considered too, such as managing anti-virus software. All of this maintenance is time when a digital signage solution should otherwise be showing content.

With its own robust operating system, designed specifically for digital signage, embedded appliances are simpler products focused on one job. That means less maintenance plus verified software and hardware that work together to deliver proven reliability. This minimises crashes and potential downtime, providing a stable and reliable platform.

Always-on operation

Digital signage must be always-on if it’s to be successful, which means that downtime through error or planned maintenance just can’t be tolerated. When it comes to comparing prices for systems, it’s important to consider the entire Return on Investment (ROI). So, when factoring in the maintenance of a system, and any losses that would occur during downtime, reliable embedded systems tend to trump off-the-shelf options every time.

Failure is Not an Option

Digital signage needs to be always-on for its messaging to work, which is why failure simply isn’t an option. Any downtime for signage, whether it was caused by a hardware failure or planned/unplanned maintenance, can affect sales, education or access to critical information. For these reasons, ONELAN has developed its own embedded appliances running a dedicated operating system. These provide greater focus and reliability than appliances running standard consumer operating systems.

Of course, reliability figures are hard to come by, as many reports highlight hardware failure and don’t take into account downtime associated with maintenance and reboots. Even so, it’s possible to build a picture of how ONELAN players compare with the industry average.

Looking specifically at PC hardware, off-the-shelf computers and laptops have comparatively high failure rates. A recent look at PC failure rates showed that most computers will get to one year with a failure rate of 2% to 5%. In year two, more expensive machines have a failure rate of 5% to 8%, with cheaper systems tending to fail much more often.

In comparison, ONELAN has built its NTB digital signage players using industrial components, complete with comprehensive QA testing, including 12-hour burn-in and 12 hours of power cycling, during which period the players should return to normal operation. As a result, reliability is far higher than with other signage solutions. ONELAN installed more than 2,400 players at Chemist Warehouse in Australia, for example. Of the 500 players installed in 2013, 93% were still in use six years later. While of the 1,000 players installed in 2016, 99% are still in use after three years.

In addition, off-the-shelf appliances running consumer operating systems aren’t built for continuous runtime and require regular reboots for maintenance and updates. ONELAN has built its digital signage players to run always-on messaging over long periods and this can be seen in its work with Dubai Duty Free. The brief was to provide unattended digital signage that could operate 24/7 and, since starting the project, ONELAN has delivered 500 players that have run reliably and uninterrupted for the past five years.

A Robust and Powerful Approach

Digital signage doesn’t just need to be reliable, you need the power and robustness to cope with any type of messaging

While the pure reliability factor for digital signage is incredibly important, it’s not the only factor. Consider this: is there really any difference between a digital signage display that’s crashed or one that’s showing an error message because content can’t be played? The latter might be easier to  recover from, at least from a technical standpoint. But in both cases, the messaging opportunity has  been lost and with it any potential for engagement and a sale.

Beyond simple reliability stats (i.e. how long the digital signage player can run for?), the ideas of power and robustness need to be considered carefully. They may sound like similar things, but they address different parts of the digital signage journey. In particular, robustness is the ability of digital signage to continue showing a message no matter what, whether an oddly-formatted video has been added to the queue or the network has gone down and the player can no longer communicate with the cloud.

Only by choosing a digital signage player with proven reliability can you truly have always-on messaging. Here, we’ll look at some of the other factors that make embedded, dedicated players the right choice.

Underlying power is key

Using an off-the-shelf computer is a great choice when you need it to perform a variety of tasks, such as editing photos, writing presentations and sending email. Yet, such flexibility isn’t required in a signage player.

Instead, focus and power are the most important factors and that’s exactly what you get with an embedded platform. With a streamlined OS and solid state storage, ONELAN’s NTB Signage Players  offer high performance media playback using Intel® Celeron® and Intel® Core™ i3 Processors.

Focused to one task, these ONELAN players are complete digital signage solutions, capable of managing multiple simultaneous streams as well as 4K content. Crucially, these embedded appliances are rated and tested, offering transparency over the quality of what can be played, whether it’s video, images, RSS/social feeds, HTML5 or live TV/IPTV feeds.

The ONELAN NTB-4K-1000F Net-Top-Box Player, for example, is powered by an Intel Core i3  processor, supports 3840 x 2160 p60 H.265 video, and features HD stream-in, dual-band Wi-Fi and touch options, all wrapped up in a slim chassis that can be easily mounted on the back of a display. It’s costeffective too, with its built-in HDMI and DisplayPort connections enabling a range of video wall solutions.

A question of robustness

How digital signage reacts to problems is a critical consideration. It’s no good having a player showing an error message because a file can’t be found or the connection to the internet has been lost. Robustness, or how well digital signage can deal with faults and errors, becomes critical.

There are several components to robustness. First, is flexibility. Digital signage needs to be able to cope with the widest range of source material to prevent errors in playback or content errors appearing on screen. The box on the right (‘Format Wars’) has more information about how ONELAN players cope with this.

The second part of robustness  concerns a player’s ability to cope with faults, yet keep working to show an image. For example, if a corporate customer is showing a live stream and that stream breaks down, displaying an error message here is hardly an effective solution.

With ONELAN players, the systems work using robust playlists. When an error is detected in an item,  such as a live stream, the player can be instructed to skip to the next item on the playlist. The result is that displays keep working with no user involvement or hands-on management, skipping embarrassing error message pages.

Embedded appliances are also built with reliable solid-state storage, designed to keep a local copy of any pre-recorded content. So, in the event of a network failure, the player can remain functional by displaying the backup copy. Again, there’s no downtime and no loss of message.

A baseline of consistent operation

The ability for digital signage hardware to remain operational and manageable is key, but beyond physical crashes and maintenance, how a device copes with content is also important. Digital signage will typically encounter a huge variety of digital formats from many different sources, and  must be able to cope with it all.

When errors do occur, whether it’s the loss of a live stream or the corruption of a video file, a digital signage player needs to be robust and should continue to show valid content. Only then can digital signage be considered ‘alwayson’; in all other cases, a content fault is as bad as a hardware failure.

Global / Local Management

Digital signage can carry hyperlocal messaging effectively, but only if it’s designed and configured in the right way

Digital signage isn’t built in the same way as print, so each display can show something different. This becomes critical in today’s modern world, where there’s often a need for corporations to control overall messaging while allowing some local knowledge to shine through. For example, a chain of booksellers may want consistent branding for a new campaign yet allow local managers the opportunity to push specific deals based on location and demographics.

This ability to segregate ‘global’ from the ‘local’ is driving the next wave of smart digital signage, but it needs the right mix of hardware, management and usage to operate to best effect.

Local management

Core to the success of this kind of approach is the management system. Having global control over every screen is a must, but granular control is also advantageous. ONELAN has developed a system called Ad-Hoc for exactly this purpose. Using it allows, for example, a receptionist to update the text-based welcome message of screens in one zone and have the admin privileges to remove images from another zone; while ensuring that access to any other zones is restricted.

The capabilities of the system have a part to play. Coming back around to robustness, ONELAN’s range of digital signage players have a full user interface that can be accessed directly for precisely these kinds of updates. And, as the players are powerful and versatile enough to handle a wide range of file formats, there’s some built-in safety in that a user is unlikely to upload any content that will break the system.

In addition, as this interface is so simple, there’s zero need for any user training. With devices powered by efficient Intel CPUs, updates can be applied quickly without the intervention of a digital signage specialist.

Tagging content

Of course, there’s a danger that managing displays individually could add a lot of management overhead. It’s why ONELAN players operate on a tagging system. For example, tagging content ‘Arsenal’ would allow content to appear on any screen near Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium – showing the latest scores, for example, or matchday ticketing info.

It’s a powerful facility that the Virgin Group uses at its London HQ, with tagged content enabling location- or department-specific information to be displayed automatically, with little management overhead. In this way, the company enjoys a smarter combination of global and local messaging, centrally controlled, avoiding the pitfall of overburdening employees with unnecessary admin.

Targeted responses

Digital signage should also be able to respond to events. An example of this can be seen in the work ONELAN did for Dubai Duty Free. Here, ONELAN digital signage players are built and configured to deliver real-time, dynamic content that’s scheduled specifically to match up with airport locations and flights.

For example, if an aeroplane is set to travel to or from China, ONELAN powered signage can be adjusted to show highly-targeted adverts in Chinese, increasing overall audience engagement and raising the likelihood of making a sale.

ONELAN’s comprehensive and easy -to-use management system also allows synchronised playback between multiple screens, so that video and content match up perfectly. Powered by Intel, this synchronicity of content further strengthens engagement, allowing for a single, targeted and hyperlocal message to be sent.

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