Does Video-Enabled Digital Signage = Show-Stopping Content?

Up-to-date and readily accessible information is as important as any amenity that a hotel can offer. Today, flat-screen displays have moved beyond hotel and convention center meeting rooms, to appear where guests gather, wait and make decisions, whether that be in the lobby, the hotel restaurant or even the parking garage. Notably, digital signage has both simplified and accelerated the ability of hotels and convention centers to customize and update information at will from a central location.

However, the technology's benefits do not end there. As digital signage evolves, it will integrate even more compelling content elements, like IP-streamed video, into its offerings. This is a facet of the technology that is still largely untapped by the hospitality industry, but its value cannot be ignored. Video is even more effective than digital signage at attracting and holding attention. When integrated into digital signage, the video not only draws attention to itself, it also attracts eyeballs to the accompanying graphic and text elements. This is critical for hotels whose services, amenities and events are often unique to their location -- and may even change over the course of a day. The same applies to convention centers, which cater to a constantly shifting range of audiences and events.

The Center's story
Embracing video-enabled digital signage is easier than one may think. Take, for example, the story of the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the second largest building in Washington D.C., which fills three massive levels and six city blocks. Inside, any number of events can be taking place simultaneously drawing nearly one million visitors annually to the Center's meeting rooms and conference areas.

The Center knew it was important to invest in digital signage in order to help the large number of visitors navigate the Center's corridors, but the investment became ever more vital upon learning that a Marriot Marquis Hotel would be built right next door. With 1,167 rooms soon set to be filled by guests, the Center was tasked with fusing the world-class services and amenities of the convention space with the urban sophistication of the four-star hotel.

The key driver was flexibility, since different exhibitors, sponsors and a mix of audiences frequent the convention space each day. Increasingly, the Center found clients requesting digital signage to not only display content in an engaging manner, but allow them to easily customize and update the information. Up until this point, many of those clients were renting costly systems -- paying not only for the displays, but also for cabling and content distribution. Yet, the cost didn't quell the demand for more sophisticated signage. In order to meet it, the Center decided they needed to turn to video-enabled digital signage, which they saw not only as a key component for the future of the Center, but for the future of exhibiting.

The Center's square footage aside, the digital signage outlay it envisioned was large and complex. It encompassed 150 displays, including sixty high-definition flat panel displays distributed around the facility, as well as ninety more (on a separate system) located in meeting rooms. In addition, the Center planned to install a series of video wall panels. One was a 20x6-foot video wall comprised of eighteen displays mounted on the Center's second-level skywalk. Another in the lower-level concourse measured 2x16-foot. And three additional video walls in each of the main lobby areas measured 8x6-foot.

The install required wiring the facility to stream digital content to signs located at the Center's most distant corners. Fortunately, it had recently upgraded to a fiber network that allowed it to distribute individualized content on four separate multicast channels. The Center opted to power each channel using a high-definition H.264 encoding appliance from VBrick Systems in order to meet their clients' demands for video-enabled digital signage. Designed to stream live or on-demand video via internet protocol, the encoders enabled the Center to stream content throughout the entire facility without impacting image quality or network bandwidth.

This install makes the Center more competitive and attractive to visitors and clients alike enabling the latest information, incentives and discounts to be broadcast in a compelling and effective manner. By spreading the digital signs throughout the Center and focusing them in key areas, even the most discerning guests arriving from the hotel next door will appreciate the benefits and ease of use. And just as hotel guests return to the place where they enjoyed their stay the most, visitors will want to return to the Center ensuring crowds fill the building for each and every event.

Possible applications
The applications of video-enhanced digital signage can easily be employed outside of the convention space. Imagine being able to display a guided video tour of a hotel's higher-end offerings that encourages arriving guests to explore new amenities or upgrade their accommodations. A similar approach can help hotel chains build loyalty to the brand, by providing video tours of other locations. Or, live and recorded videos of entertainers performing at a hotel can help sell more tickets to an event. It can also provide the resident chef a virtual stage to demonstrate preparation of the evening's dishes. Finally, video can enhance digital signage's potential as a source of revenue by displaying high-value advertising about local restaurants and attractions off-site.

The possibilities are seemingly endless and the benefits hard to ignore. As the adoption of video-enabled digital signage accelerates, customers and clients alike are to consider it an indispensible amenity.

Michael Waxer joined the staff of the Washington Convention and Sports Authority in the Fall of 1998 before ground was broken for the new Convention Center which opened in 2003. As chief technology officer, Mr. Waxer has oversight for all capital investments in technology, support of administrative systems, and client services in audio/visual, telecomunications, and digital signage/video distribution.

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