The modern casino is all about screens. They’re the fundamental element of the slot-player interface; they’re creeping onto tables with the steady rise of electronic table games as substitutes for slower, less flexibly structured live dealer play; and they’re a crucial source of information in the sportsbook.
With these digital displays numbering in four figures at the largest casinos, it’s no surprise that the gaming industry has also explored ways to exploit the power of the pixel beyond gameplay. Slots and table game displays often now display promotional messaging as well as the game interface, while large overhead screens can act as attractors beckoning customers from across the casino floor.
But there’s also another role that digital displays can play in casinos, not only on the gaming floor but throughout the facility. It’s often called digital signage, a name earned thanks to the use of screens to replace printed signs. The state of the art in digital signage is elegant HD video or animation that grabs the customer’s attention, and typically issues a call to action in just the few seconds that they’re passing the screen.
Under the umbrella term digital signage – or alternatives, “digital out-of-home” and “screenmedia” – comes a range of customer communications techniques and styles even wider than those achievable with conventional signage.
At the extremes you might have tiny screens embedded in restaurant tables alerting patrons to that day’s entertainment options, or you might have a giant interactive video wall measuring 20 feet from corner to corner, inviting patrons to touch parts of the screen to learn about the casino or play a game. In-between these two extremes come perhaps the most common approach, LCD screens roughly the size of a large domestic TV, strategically situated in a high-footfall area of the facility where it can be seen by the passing crowds and provide them with swiftly-digested information or marketing messages.
The permutations are innumerable. What they all have in common is the use of digital displays in public places. A decade or so after these began to become mainstream, there are some well-accepted principles for success in deploying them (and some equally well-accepted no-nos), but if you ask half a dozen different consultants or integrators for advice on how to proceed, the chances are you’ll still get half a dozen different answers: so much depends on the precise needs and circumstances of your business.
There’s no substitute, then, for looking at what other casinos have done, and for talking in detail with several specialist firms at a trade show or other event where you can efficiently see, and compare, many perspectives in a short time.
Here, we’ll suggest that when you consider all the advice and experience you’ll get from different quarters, it breaks down into four key elements: define, design, implement, and resource.
You’ll notice that none of those elements is called “screens”, or “network infrastructure”, or “software”, or anything else technical or product-oriented. That’s because implementing digital signage is not, at heart, a technology challenge: in fact, the underlying technology is pretty simple (if you’ve ever played a movie from your laptop through the TV, you’re halfway there already, although of course there’s rather more complexity to be dealt with once you scale that up to a whole casino).
The challenges are not in making the digital signage work…they lie in making it work for your business. And that’s where our four elements come in.
Clearly setting out your goals for a digital signage project is even more critical than for many other undertakings in the business, for a number of reasons. First, it is easy to get led by the technology; you can go a long way toward avoiding this by forming a multi-disciplinary project team at an early stage, likely including representatives from marketing, customer relations, facilities, service delivery departments such as floor operations and food and beverage, and finance (who will need to understand where the payback on the project is expected), as well as IT.
Just as important, though, is to understand that although digital screenmedia can do many things, no single installation can achieve all of them well. Pick your goals; they could include any of the following.
• Direct revenue generation by selling advertising, for example to brands featured in your retail space.
• Indirect revenue generation in a multitude of ways, for example by upselling hotel customers, or promoting non-gaming activities such as dining and shows.
• Increasing customer engagement with the casino offer, for example by explaining the rules and benefits of new games, or by encouraging sign-up to loyalty schemes.
• Increasing customer satisfaction and decreasing demands on staff by providing a way-finding system that helps visitors navigate your venue.
• Entertaining customers waiting for service by providing them with video content such as news and infotainment.
• Reducing costs and maintaining regulatory compliance by replacing regularly-changed printed information with on-screen messaging.
• Improving employee communications and training (especially if you are installing a large public-facing network of screens throughout your premises, it’s worth considering that piggybacking on that a separate network of screens in employee areas may be a comparatively inexpensive addition).
• Even, if regulators allow it or by structuring it as free-to-play entertainment rather than gambling, offering gaming experiences directly through the screens.
After identifying your goals with digital signage and figuring out how you will measure their achievement, it’s time to move on to the nuts and bolts.
At this point, you’ll almost certainly want to engage the services of a consultant or integrator, even if you consider it too early to commit to specific technology providers. For the difference between an effective digital signage network and a flop can lie in the details. Consider:
• Having identified who you want to reach with your screens, where in a large and complex venue is the best place to do that? The number of people who spend time in or pass by a specific location, the amount of time they spend there (“dwell time” in the jargon), and the possible distractions all play a part here.
These may change at different times of day; the ability to cope with this by altering what’s shown according to the hour (“day-parting”) is a major advantage of digital signage over conventional signage.
Also try to figure out, where you can, what stage on the typical customer journey each location represents. For example, someone queuing at the hotel reception desk has very likely just arrived and needs basic information; someone sitting in a bar in mid-evening may well be winding down and wondering where to eat; and so on.
• What kind of content, in the broadest sense, will you need to show to achieve your goals? How-to-play videos lasting several minutes? Static, poster-like slides of restaurant special offers that can be understood in a couple of seconds? These considerations will help inform your choice of screen locations.
• Having an idea of the content you’re offering will also enable you to decide whether there is a need for customers to interact with the screens: for example, scrolling through a map using a touch-sensitive display, or texting a number displayed on-screen to receive a coupon.
Interaction, and especially integration with mobile channels and social media, are very much a flavour of the year in digital signage. And there is no doubt that it can add a great deal in terms of engaging consumers, delivering them tangible benefits (or at least extra amusement), and allowing you to capture their details. But like everything else, it must ultimately be in the service of the messages you wish to communicate; it’s not a must-have for its own sake.
• Will you run multiple channels for different parts of the venue, or will all the screens show the same thing? More channels means more precise targeting of your message, but also increases the complexity of management and content production.
• Will you need audio? Are there any benefits for your message in gee-whiz technologies like glasses-free 3D?
• Who’s in charge? While a multi-disciplinary team may be originating and overseeing the project, day-to-day management will likely come down to one or two individuals, perhaps a marketing person and a technical person. It’s important to define lines of responsibility for keeping the network going after installation. You’ll also need to take a view on whether video and other content will be produced in-house, or contracted to an outside agency; there are now firms specialising in digital signage content.
Once you’ve made all these decisions – and many more – you’ll be in a position to specify, with the help of that consultant or integrator, the equipment you need, how it all fits together, and how it can be installed.
As we’ve said, the good news is that the technology is not wildly complicated, and in many cases – at least for smaller networks – is pretty much plug-and-play. At heart, a digital signage network consists of screens (essentially industrial-strength televisions), a media player (essentially a computer playing videos), network infrastructure to let them talk to one another, and management software enabling you to control the whole thing.
Of course, there are many more sophisticated elements that can be added (for instance, facial recognition of people watching screens, so that different content can be played to different demographic groups), but the fundamental concepts are straightforward enough.
Where the challenge lies is in identifying the most suitable products, for there are dozens or even hundreds of vendors in each category, and no market leaders so overwhelming that you can safely choose to simply ignore alternatives. The differences between products may be relatively subtle – all screens and all media players do the same basic jobs, for instance – but they can still make a big difference. For example, some screens will perform perfectly well in a bright foyer beside a big window, while others will be virtually invisible in the daylight.
An experienced expert will help you prepare detailed specifications and then RFQs or similar documents.
Note that we’ve said “resource”, not “run”. Of course, once your digital signage network is installed you need to run it – but that will be an uphill struggle, perhaps an impossible one, with insufficient resource. So many networks fail to meet their potential because not enough personnel and budget have been assigned, particularly for continuing content production.
Ensure there is sufficient provision for this, however, and your digital signage network should be on the way to achieving quickly those goals that you set out at the beginning of the process, taking advantage of the medium’s abilities to stand out in a busy environment, grab customer attention, and communicate your message.
SIGNAGE IN YOUR SIGHTS
With the ever-growing plethora of digital signage systems on the market, as well as the rapid emergence of new technologies ranging from mobile and online integration, to facial recognition, to sculpturally-shaped video walls, the seemingly unlimited options can be confusing.
A useful way to gain a rapid overview of what’s on the market (both new technologies and established success stories), benefit from the expertise of those who’ve done it already, and generate some ideas is to attend one of the major industry events.
In Europe, the most notable this year is coming up this summer – the European Sign Expo, held at ExCeL in London from 25 to 27 June (more details at www. europeansignexpo.com).
Even if you’re not yet at the stage of specifying and purchasing equipment, it looks set to be a rewarding event, with a free-to-attend learning programme dedicated to digital signage and screenmedia alongside the main exhibition.