In this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles continues his conversation with Robert Schoneman, Special Events and Projects Manager at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina about their large scale digital signage upgrade project. Ryan Cahoy of digital signage firm Rise Vision in Shawnee, Kansas provides his perspective on the new interactive kiosk in the Blumenthal Center’s Spirit Square designed by the Rise Vision creative team.
Links of Interest:
- Project profile on SVC’s The Wire
- Case Study from Rise Vision on the Blumenthal Arts Center project
- 2017-2018 PNC Broadway Lights – Blumenthal Performing Arts
- LG Project Profile Series – The Belk Theater
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This is the SVC Podcast from Sound & Video Contractor Magazine with Ryan Cahoy of Rise Vision and Robert Schoneman of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. Show notes and product links for this and other SVC podcasts are at svconline.com.
The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina has come a long way since their days of DVDs and paper signs in the lobby areas. Special Events and Projects Manager Robert Schoneman and Ryan Cahoy of Rise Vision are back with us to finish the story on how their digital signage evolution was crafted. That’s right here on the SVC Podcast.
Robert Schoneman and Ryan Cahoy thanks for being back on the SVC Podcast for Part 2 and we’ve been talking about the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina and the extensive digital signage project completed there. It’s an incredible place and even more interesting is that this whole lobby signage project was done in-house. Robert, you and your team ran the cable, mounted the displays and got it all working. With as much going on there as you have, all of that must have been something of a scheduling challenge.
Robert: Yeah, absolutely. There were a number of reasons that drove that decision; financial, scheduling. And also, we wanted to be sure we got exactly what we wanted. We’d been involved in some projects before where what was said and what were done were two different things. And sort of where the disconnect was there is always hard to know. But instead of going through a long iterative design process we really felt like it was best for us just to think it through ourselves to determine exactly what it was we wanted and then to execute on that directly. [Timestamp: 1:53]
And if ever anything does need fixing or modification your people can do it because they put it all in.
Robert: Absolutely. And we’re a 24/7 operation. Shows happen all the time and these things need to work. We count on them. There is no backup to it. If the displays at the bars don’t work there isn’t another sign that we hang over the front of it that shows what the inventory and pricing is. Those are what there is for patrons to see. So it’s important that these systems be functional and the best way to ensure that we can always have it working is to have done it ourselves. We’re not beholden to somebody else to make updates to a control system or troubleshoot cabling if we can’t figure it out, or to work on something that’s customer built that it’s a one-off. Everything we use is commodity equipment, commodity hardware, commodity software. It’s all readily available in the marketplace if I want to expand it, modify it, change out a component or work on something. There’s nothing to it that’s closed it any way. [Timestamp: 2:51]
Your team knows where every wire and connector is so there’s no need to call a contractor in for every little thing. So Ryan, I want to get the bigger picture of this and what a big step it is when you go from all print and DVD playback to a digital signage system like the Blumenthal Center has now. Is this a typical evolution for Rise Display’s clients?
Ryan: Absolutely. I mean, the price of technology has come down significantly over the last five to even 10 years. And any organization that’s expending resources on people to update printed posters or run around from screen to screen changing DVD’s or thumb drives, I mean they really realize the benefit of a network once you’ve connected all that signage together. I mean, it’s hard to deny the power of being able to sit down and get your message out or update out at the click of a mouse. [Timestamp: 3:40]
It’s one of those things I would think that once you’ve got it in and working, you get used to it and it’s hard to imagine how you were doing it before.
Ryan: Yeah. We talk to people all the time that they struggle wrapping their head around what they can do with digital signage. But then once they have it, a whole new set of ideas come flowing and they realize what they were missing. And it really is a powerful tool. [Timestamp: 4:01]
And the main project for Rise Vision on this was the interactive kiosk in the Blumenthal Center’s Spirit Square. So describe for us what you did out there in that area.
Ryan: Sure. I mean, the objective was to feature local artists on a punch-enabled kiosk so it had to be really visual, easy to navigate, let users watch short videos about each of the featured artists. So the goal was really to keep it simple. Most organizations, when they put in digital signage, they’re tempted to try to do too much with their touch screen. The reality is when a user walks up to a screen, if they’re given too many choices they’re going to get confused and do nothing. And that’s why the screen had to have simple visuals. It had to tell the story with video. And what helped make this project easier than a lot of them we deal is the Blumenthal team had a lot of great media assets for us to work with. [Timestamp: 4:48]
And Robert, what did you have in Spirit Square before? I think you had some local artists painted on those columns and some information about their work before the interactive display was there.
Robert: Yeah. The digital signage is this bigger application – the touch screen application – is sort of an add-on to a project. We had some local artists paint some columns in an atrium space at one of our facilities at Spirit Square and we wanted to provide information about the artists. Not about the people who did the painting, but about the artists the paintings were about. They were about well-known people who were from the Carolinas and we wanted people to have the opportunity to get to learn about them and also to see the art sort of in use, if you will. But we didn’t want to have just little stands with printed pieces of paper in front of the columns. We didn’t want to clutter up the flow of the area, and we didn’t want to have to limit the art that was painted onto the columns in order to create space to put something on the columns. So what was decided was a touch screen interactive kiosk positioned directly adjacent to where all the painted columns are would be the best way to allow the public to learn about the art they’re looking at and that has worked really well. And it just sits there seven days a week running all the time, giving people the opportunity to learn about it at their own pace. So if they only want to learn about one of the columns they only have to. If they want to watch a nice long video about a bunch of them they can certainly do that. If they want to learn about the painters or get their social media information they can do that as well. [Timestamp: 6:21]
Yeah, I think when you have a crowd in there and they see others using the interactive display it gets their attention and they’re curious as to what you can do with it. Ryan, you touched on this last week but describe for us the various steps in the development of the interactive display in Spirit Square.
Ryan: We follow the same process for pretty much every project we work with whether it’s passive or interactive. The key is to start with a concept and you take that and you work it into black and white wire frames. Then we move to color renderings and then finally we’ll build the design out in HTML. That iterative process really gives the customer a chance to provide feedback at every step. We want to ensure that we don’t get too far down a path that wastes anybody’s time or money. So the end result is trying to come up with something that’s very easy for the user to interact with but to get to that stage it takes a few rounds of design changes to make sure we capture everything and all the requirements. [Timestamp: 7:14]
And Robert, the digital signage project in the lobby area. Has this been a part of a bigger upgrade project there?
Robert: Well, we’ve talked about two different things here. We refreshed our lobby space. That was the space with all the LG displays and then the touch screen kiosk was in another facility. The LG displays and all of the concession menus and everything we’ve spoken about, those were part of a refresh we did on the lobby; sort of updating of fixtures, furniture and finishes, if you will. The touch screen kiosk was just an additional freestanding thing that we did at Spirit Square; although that facility had existing digital signage displays. I think there are five or six in that facility already, so this was just another one added on to that. But all three of our campuses are using Rise Vision for all of our digital signage whether it be interactive or passive. [Timestamp: 8:05]
Ryan when Rise Vision does one of these I would think that it’s not just installed and you walk away. It must be a continual modernization process with the content and the system itself. On all of your digital signage projects it’s probably never really done.
Ryan: Yeah. I mean, it really depends on the application. I mean, there’s applications like financial trading floors or directories or event boards where your design really stays consistent because you always want people to know where to look for that data. For example, if I’m a trader I want to look up and see the Dow Jones. I don’t want to guess where it is in a new design. I just want to know it’s the correct number and always in the same place. But other applications like – that you may find on a college campus or in an employee break room – those you always want fresh contents. You want to continue to evolve and ensure they’re meaningful for the people when they’re passing by day in and day out. In answer to your question, generally speaking yes. Content should evolve and that really means organizations need to properly allocate resources to keep the content relevant. If you look at what Robert and the team at Blumenthal have done with all those displays out there, they’ve had to allocate resources, keep focused on it, because they are mission critical to the environment. [Timestamp: 9:14]
We’ve talked now and then for several years about Rise Vision. What have you got coming up in projects that you can tell us about?
Ryan: For the last five years we’ve really been focused up on building the functionality of our free platform. We continue to get about 100 installs a day from our web site all around the world. The last six months we’ve been focused on interviewing users and learning what premium offerings our users would want. And we just released an enterprise offering that’s mainly targeted education to help school districts and universities manage a hierarchy of accounts. So for example, IT or marketing can see the entire network. And each department or college has their own account, which is their designs and their displays. We don’t tend to do a lot of big, flashy projects. The vast majority of our users just have a few displays and they’re looking for easy low-cost solutions to display their message. So we’re really focused on giving users plans that range from free all the way up to enterprise so that we can give them the right tools for the job that they’re looking to do. [Timestamp: 10:11]
Robert, what have you got coming up at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center? Who have you got coming in there?
Robert: Oh, wow. Well, we’re just about to start our 2017-2018 Broadway season, so we’ve got an all-star lineup of shows. We’re also bringing back a number of very popular shows that fans really love in a separate encore series to give people an opportunity to see those shows again. So it’s going to be a big year for us. And this is also our 25th anniversary so the company, the building that bears our name, opened in 1992. So 2017 begins the celebration of our one-year-long 25th anniversary. [Timestamp: 10:46]
You’ve got plenty happening there and I know the new digital signage is going to be a central part of it. Thanks to both of you. It’s Robert Schoneman, Special Events and Projects Manager for the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in Charlotte, North Carolina and Ryan Cahoy, Managing Director at Rise Vision in Shawnee, Kansas. A perfect mix of what you both do and it’s been fun hearing about it.
Glad you made it back with us for Robert Schoneman of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center and Ryan Cahoy of Rise Vision. All of the show notes and equipment links for today’s talk are on the website of Sound & Video Contractor Magazine at svconline.com. We’ll see you again next week for the SVC Podcast.