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Casinos are becoming smarter at their deployment of digital screens for consumer information and marketing, reports our resident digital signage expert Barnaby Page
Anyone who’s stepped onto a gaming floor in the last few years has seen how digital screens have become integral to casinos’ core operations, on slots and now increasingly on table games too. Companies like TCSJohnHuxley and Cammegh, for example, have become noted for their use of screens to help games stand out from the crowd.
But alongside that, the casino sector has quietly become a leader in another kind of screen revolution – the use of customer-facing (and, sometimes, employee-facing) displays to market, to inform, even to entertain. Indeed, two casinos – Parx in Philadelphia and Aria in Las Vegas – were among the winners of Digital Signage Expo’s Apex awards this spring, a programme that honours the best installations of screens in public places.
This revolution began around the turn of the century, and in little more than a decade screens have moved from being novelties to being commonplace fixtures in leisure businesses like casinos, in retail outlets, in airports and railway stations and hotels and malls and hospitals, indeed anywhere that the public gathers in significant numbers.
Originally known as “digital signage”, underlining the way that screens can replace conventional static signs with a more powerful, video-capable and instantly-updatable fixture, they’re now increasingly often termed “digital out-of-home media” or “screen media”, reinforcing the growing acceptance of screens as a potential replacement for any non-digital medium that you find outside the home, from the lobby welcome board to the roadside billboard – and, of course, the beloved neon sign. (The potential of digital to give an edge to a venue’s exterior presentation is typified by the terrific installation of Lighthouse Technologies’ LED screens at the Galaxy Macau.)
Sophistication in the technology and its deployment has developed dramatically over that decade. In the early days, the norm was lonely wall-mounted or ceiling-hung TV-style displays, all too often positioned much too high for comfortable viewing; the burgeoning industry specialising in the design and installation of digital screen media has now learned that lesson, and recognised that positioning for ease of viewing is absolutely critical.
Lessons have been learned in the area of screen content, as well. Gone (mostly) are the over-busy executions that hemmed in long video clips with ads that looked like they might have been designed in a Lite software package by the marketing director’s aspiring-designer nephew, and the pointless ticker tapes of news, stock quotes or weather data that nobody ever read (and certainly couldn’t concentrate on if they were trying to pay attention to that over-long video at the same time).
Instead, today’s screens are more likely to feature very short video or animation sequences – there are now content companies focusing on this medium, and they’re well aware that attention span for most screens is measured in seconds rather than minutes. Corporate videos and repurposed TV ads just don’t do the job in this medium.
The physical presentation of the displays is usually much better, too. Technology advances have enabled much thinner bezels (the plastic edges around the screens), making the video wall – an assembly of multiple screens, sometimes as many as 20 or 40, to form what appears to be a single giant display – a much more realistic proposition. And screens are also breaking out of the rectangular straitjacket, most notably and excitingly with the MicroTiles product from Christie Digital, which enables them to be deployed in almost any shape.
Most important when it comes to presentation, perhaps, is the greater consideration now given to the architectural and interior design setting. Your building and your screens are both powerful bearers of your brand, so it makes sense to ensure they work together – at the very least, that they don’t clash.
As one of the most popular bloggers in the screen media business, Dave Haynes of Sixteen:Nine, has put it approvingly of MGM’s Las Vegas properties: “All of it, or damn near all of it, looks like it was always there. The merits of building screens into the design or redesign of a retail or other facility have always been apparent, but if you really want to see this done at its best, have a walk around the Bellagio, Monte Carlo, NYNY, MGM or one of the other properties in that group the next time you end up in Las Vegas. It really, really makes a big difference to spend the time to get the lines run, the walls cut out, metal fabricated and wood milled to build screens into, whatever the setting may be.”
Point and click
Perhaps the biggest changes of all, however, are those involving interaction. There have long been out-of-home screens that the consumer can interact with – ATMs are a ubiquitous if often overlooked example, now sometimes being used for advertising or marketing communications as well as for transactions; and kiosk-type units helping customers find information, timetables, directions through a facility, and the like are also well-established. Significant improvements in touchscreen technology, and more recently in gestural control, have widened their role and it is only likely to grow.
But a new dimension has been added to interaction with screens first by the rise to near ubiquity of the mobile phone, followed in turn by the rapid adoption of smartphone. Add to that the last couple of years’ near-frantic fascination with social media on the part of both marketing departments and consumers, and you have an emerging trifecta of out-of-home, mobile, and social.
How does this work in practice? Sometimes, it has to be said, it doesn’t; sometimes it seems that at least one of the three has been shoehorned into the equation without adding much value for the business or the consumer. But in the best executions, each can enhance the others.
The out-of-home screens bring to the party their strong association with the place, the moment and the atmosphere. The mobile, of course, is a direct link to the individual consumer – and a link which, once it’s established, allows the relationship to be maintained long after they’ve left the premises. Social media, meanwhile, extend that into the consumer’s group of friends and family.
A hypothetical non-gaming casino application, for example, could involve consumers first being attracted by a public screen to sign up for an offer which could win them hospitality comps. They sign up using their mobile – this could involve an exchange of text messages, or (still a little cutting-edge) the use of QR codes or near field communication (NFC) – and then each time they’re in a dining or bar area of the casino, they can give their meal or drinks marks out of ten, perhaps by texting the mark and a few comments to an SMS shortcode displayed on the screen there. A random selection of consumers who contribute win comps.
Meanwhile, selected marks and comments appear on screens around the entire venue as they’re received, encouraging patrons to sample aspects of the food and beverage offer that they haven’t tried yet. It might be desirable to exclude the lowest marks from these public-facing screens, but they could still be shown on other displays in kitchens, management offices and staff areas, prompting friendly competition among departments.
Marks and comments also appear on one of the casino’s Twitter accounts, reaching former or potential patrons who aren’t on the premises, while our individual consumer’s contributions appear on his own Facebook wall, sparking interest in the casino among his friends.
It’s a long way from that forlorn screen high up in the corner, isn’t it?
WHEN BIG IS BEAUTIFUL
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Talking Stick Resort has installed an arena-sized scoreboard using 16 55-inch screens in its Poker room. Hung from the ceiling above the tables, it also features a sports ticker and can show Poker games live.
Said Kent Odekirk, Director of Poker: “The sheer size of board effectively showcases the vast size of our room. Guests probably won’t truly appreciate the magnitude of our arena until they see the scoreboard. After all, they typically see panels that size in sports arenas.”
JCM Global has completed installation of a large digital signage package at the Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort in Suquamish, Washington.
Said JCM’s Business Development Manager Jeff Gray: “Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort came to us with a very specific request. They wanted to provide a visual experience for their customers using the latest and greatest technology available today.”
The network includes four video walls as well as free-standing “e-posters” – self-contained screen units that don’t have to be attached to walls, pillars or ceilings.
DIARY DATE: SCREENMEDIA EXPO
Many in the US casino sector may have looked in on the recent Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas, thanks to its convenient location, but for those in Europe and Asia – as well as any North Americans who missed the Vegas event – the next big diary date is Screenmedia Expo in London in May, a chance to see all the latest innovations in digital signage and digital out-of-home under one roof.
Among the exhibitors will be Elo TouchSystems, which along with partner TE Connectivity will demonstrate its largest Interactive Digital Signage (IDS) touchscreen display. The new Elo TouchSystems 5500L 55-inch touch display, available with either optical multitouch or IntelliTouch SAW touchscreens, is thinner than existing IDS displays and compatible with optional computer modules.
In addition, the company will show the enhanced the 4200L and 4600L (42-inch and 46-inch) IDS models with optical multitouch technology, allowing more customers to benefit from the latest technology advancements. Elo TouchSystems IDS displays are designed specifically for demanding applications in public venues of nearly every kind.
Screenmedia Expo visitors will also be able to experience and test the latest development from Scala, one of the longest-established and best-known software suppliers for digital signage: a new interactive screen communication solution that can be managed through a variety of consumer devices, such as a smartphone, iPad or tablet PC.
By scanning a QR code with their smartphone at Scala’s booth, visitors can access a digital display management tool that allows them to choose from various information bundles and determine what is displayed on the playback screens at the stand.
With this new solution, digital signage viewers can determine which specific information they want to receive at that point and moment – allowing companies to micro-target messaging to individuals.
Visitors can also test Scala’s Twitter integration, and see how interactive screens can transfer a variety of targeted information.
And another exhibitor to check out at Screenmedia Expo will be Kontron, a specialist in embedded computing technology. which supplies customised application-ready POS/POI solutions. Its standards-based products include indoor and outdoor installations of terminals, check-in kiosks and digital signage.
Screenmedia Expo runs 16-17 May at Earls Court in London and is complemented by an extensive free learning programme and a range of special events. For more information, visit www.screenevents.co.uk.
THE SUPPLIER MAZE
No one supplier dominates the screen media world. Some of its biggest names, like BroadSign and ComQi, are virtually unknown outside it; others, like 3M (which provides network and enterprise digital signage software, touch systems, and the successful Vikuiti rear-projection system), are household names.
Distributors and resellers, serving both end users and manufacturers of complete systems, are also an important part of the equation. An example is E-Screen, which indeed itself sells 3M touchscreen kit, as well as multitouch displays and large-format screens. Some, such as Eurocoin with its LCD displays and touchscreens, are gaming specialists and should have special insight into casino requirements.
Then there are the suppliers of the hardware that powers it all behind the scenes, like embedded computer specialists Quixant and Advantech-Innocore.
For those with a clear grasp of what they need in technology terms, the solution can often be built up piecemeal from multiple vendors: the majority of screen media installations are not single-supplier.
However, the complexity of the market (there are at least 200 software vendors claiming to provide digital signage systems, although many of them offer minimal functionality) means that users taking a first step into digital out-of-home media should at the very least engage a consultant to help them identify worthwhile possibilities.