Real-Time Data: Digital Signage’s Secret Weapon

Published in Digital Signage Connection

Digital signage networks are only effective if audiences pay attention to content. That means eye-catching, on-brand design, relevant information and content that gets refreshed regularly. In an ideal world, a team of content creators, marketers and communications professionals will be working around the clock ensuring that the network has the most up-to-date content and that the business and communications objectives of the network are consistently being met. In reality, signage networks depend on sophisticated content management systems that use automation to both update content and set rules and parameters to ensure that content is being programmed consistently.

This is where real-time data feeds play a vital role to ensure audiences are presented with the most important content. Data tickers are a common ingredient in digital signage presentations. News, stock data, sports scores and weather have become an expected and appreciated part of digital signage in many cases. But real-time data can do so much more and transcend virtually every sector of the signage industry. Real-time data from multiple internal and external sources can be used to raise the editorial bar and be put to work to keep audiences engaged and connected.

Real-time data is everywhere; from manufacturing processes to retail analytics to sales statistics. Fast, slow and static data is present across the many sectors where signage is installed. However, much of that data is confined to spreadsheets and proprietary databases and isn’t shared via signage systems. If that data could be ingested, managed, visualized and distributed strategically, communicators would discover an incredibly powerful and automated content type that could have immediate benefits. The fear many communicators have is getting a handle on all that data content and being able to “cherry pick” what is relevant and what is not before distributing it to the proper endpoints. Communicators are also used as tools that visualize data in simple ways; line drawings, basic pie charts and bar graphs not appreciating that there are other ways to display data that take advantage of innovative design and have more engaging outcomes.

On a technical level, signage companies that want to incorporate real-time data sources are required to create a huge library of readers and create custom code to handle integration. This has traditionally been a huge headache. The problem lies with different data feeds having their own unique structure and a general lack of consistency. An alternate approach would be to use readers to ingest real-time data into a centralized database and then apply a standardized set of software tools to manage the data. These tools would be used to moderate, edit, schedule and trigger data according to parameters predetermined by the communications team. The feeds can then be fully customized editorially, reformatted technically and strategically distributed through an API.

In this scenario, dozens of real-time data feeds could be handled simultaneously, and various combinations of the data content would find their way on to select displays that made the most sense from a communications and business perspective. This approach to real-time data is well established in the broadcast industry. Television stations and networks that work with news, elections, sports and financial data select content that they deem important to their audiences, leveraging automation and graphics to keep the information relevant and current. For example, a sports producer who needs to illustrate the top rookies in the MLB with high batting averages will use a data query to “pull out” those statistics from an enormous pool of baseball data. The query can then populate a graphic template that is quickly put to air. The same process can be applied to digital signage, where big data needs to be dissected to reveal a trend or a new business opportunity.

An example from the digital signage industry is the recent U.S. Open Tennis Championship in Flushing Meadows, New York. Multiple video displays of every size and shape throughout the tennis facility were populated with specific data content. The screens were used to keep fans up to date, promote sponsorships and add a heightened level of fan engagement. Producers strategically directed content to specific screens to accomplish specific editorial requirements.

Real-time driven signage at the US Open Tennis Championships

For example, outside the practice courts, producers would display upcoming matches, player biographies, tennis news, schedules and brackets, while the screens located outside the main stadium would display subsets of the live-action data; scoring, serve speeds, number of aces and unforced errors and other game specific data. Producers have come to understand that the signage displays are most engaging and effective when the live data content is relevant and highly targeted. To accomplish this, they employ the same tools that broadcasters use to aggregate, manage, visualize and distribute real-time data.

Across the multiple sectors that digital signage serves, professional communicators and digital signage system providers can leverage the power of real-time data. It is the most effective way to keep screens refreshed, leverage automated processes and keep audiences engaged. Digital signage operators need to get over their fear of big data and seek out solutions that both give them control over data content and foster new business and communications opportunities for their clients and end users.