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PODCAST 227-2: Nanolumens and FSG Team Up for a Spectacular Ticker Display at Dallas Morning News

On this edition of the SVC Podcast, Contributing Editor Bennett Liles concludes his talk with Gerald Reeves, Project Manager at Facility Solutions Group (FSG) about their installation of a 75ft. Nanolumens LED news ticker display in the lobby of the Dallas Morning News headquarters. Gerald provides details on the structure, the weight and other specs on the new display. He also offers some general guidelines for digital signage installers and clients.





What’s more impressive to a news business than to have a giant LED headline ticker scrolling above the lobby with the biggest stories of the day? The Dallas Morning News called in the signage experts at FSG and got the job done in spectacular fashion. Project Manager Gerald Reeves is back to finish up his story next on the SVC Podcast.

Gerald it’s nice to have you back with us on the SVC Podcast from the Dallas office of Facility Solutions Group. We were talking about the big new LED headlines ticker display at the Dallas Morning News that goes all the way across the mezzanine in their lobby. FSG does a lot of this type of work so can you give us some sort of the basic guidelines for digital signage installation where this would probably be a good example?

Well, thanks again. I appreciate you including us in this. I can think of three things that really stand out for us, and this really isn’t just for digital signage although it really does apply here. It kind of goes across the board. But 1) plan ahead. You can really never start too early to coordinate something like digital signage. A lot of times folks think that digital signage is really an afterthought, but the moment you know that you’re going to be going down that path start the coordination process. You really can’t start too early for that part of it. 2) I’d say add 20 percent, whether that be time and/or money. We all know construction rarely stays on schedule whether that’s ground-up or tenant finished construction, just when you think you’ve got it all figured out the schedule slips and now this month turns into next month. So there are all kinds of hiccups that come from delays and timing as well as money. So I think the key here is plan ahead, obviously, with the first part of that but adding 20 percent, especially in time, and give yourself plenty of time. Just because you have a month to work with on the actual schedule doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to pull it off in a month. There is a lot of coordination that must happen in digital signage, at least in our experience here on this project, that was critical for us to start early and plan for that overage in time. And then I would say third reveal the process. I think it’s really critical that everybody involved buys into the expectations of what goes on with digital signage. A lot of times we as contractors and integrators, we try to hold things tight to the vest. And while that could help us in the long run, or at least short-term as well as long-term, the real big piece of this is that general contractors tend to want to partner with you more when you can reveal the process to them and let them in on what you do a little bit. You don’t have to give all your secrets away but it really is helpful to get their buy-in early on when you can make sure that all expectations are communicated and set as well as agreed to. So I think those three things are probably the most critical piece of digital signage because digital signage is not limited to what you’d find in a box. It’s obviously all over the place, whether that’s a ticker in a newsroom, a large video wall in an outdoor venue. It can be all over the place. And planning ahead, giving yourself extra time and then revealing the process to the team, making sure everyone buys in is critical. [Timestamp: 3:23]

Yes and with so many people to coordinate in there plus the limitations of the historical architecture I would say you would really have to add some time because there are going to be things that come up that are just not under your control.

That’s correct.

So when you got onsite and were ready to start and get all your ducks in a row what’s the first thing you had to get down right?

Our biggest hurdle on the very front end of this was working with an existing structure that was 50 years old. We were very limited on how we could mount our system to their structure, and that was our biggest hurdle. And I think getting signoff not only from the owner but from the construction team, the consultants, the architects, the historical society, there’s a lot of people involved. And getting everyone to buy into this plan was probably our biggest hurdle. And that was the first thing we had to really tackle was how do we get everyone to be on board with us on this step? [Timestamp: 4:19]

This is a pretty big display. What’s the weight of this whole thing? That had to be a critical factor with the old building.

You know typically digital signage, depending on what solution you’re working with, is a relatively heavier product. This was only 550 pounds self-contained so considering it’s 75-foot long it seems like it probably would be heavier. However, Nanolumens makes a really good product and it’s not all that cumbersome and so it was easy to work with. And that 500 pounds was distributed across 75 feet. It actually made it a little easier for us to suspend that ticker out on the mezzanine there without actually putting weight on it. [Timestamp 4:58]

Does it have external components like a separate power supply or is everything incorporated right there in the display housing?

They’re all in the display itself.

So all you had to do once it’s up there is get power and control run to it.

We had to get power to it, correct, and we – obviously we connected it to the server via Ethernet. [Timestamp: 5:17]

And then control lines and an authority structure for the staff who will be actually putting the headlines up.

That’s correct.

The newsroom at the Dallas Morning News appears to have a lot of windows and interior glass walls. Did the ambient light levels present you with any problems on this?

You know it didn’t present as many problems as we’d expected. I think what was more important to everyone involved was to ensure that the image was visible from the outside. And we typically think that ambient light is an issue interior but when you’re trying to project your image to the outside of the building knowing that there’s glare on the outside of the glass to the wall, there’s reflections from the street, from the sidewalks, from the area – other buildings there – the key was to make sure the people could see into the newsroom what was actually on the ticker. So we were really fortunate to not have an issue with ambient light and with the product that Nanolumens provided we were able to get and achieve what we really wanted and that was to see the images on the outside of the building. [Timestamp: 6:15]

And who controls it? Is it distributed control with tiers of authority or how does that work?

Well typically in this case we actually had a server that was provided with the unit. It has a specific software on that that is separate from Nanolumens and the owner themselves, the Dallas Morning News, they actually provide staff to maintain the software as well as provide the content that goes on that software. We were fortunate enough to be able to provide them with a service-level agreement from both the software and the hardware providers of the ticker itself to give them a little added level of comfort in terms of what they purchased. [Timestamp: 6:51]

I’m sure FSG is there for support if something doesn’t work as expected so how is the ticker display constructed as far as being able to maintain it or replace parts of it?

Well, the really good news is Nanolumens provides a certain percentage of panels, extra, that are color-matched to the ones we purchased so should a panel go out then we can easily swap those panels out and they’re essentially plug-and-lay. So that’s a really nice feature there. The can itself, the back can of the ticker, is actually a powder-coating aluminum housing and they come in five-foot sections so if there ever needed to be any work done they come apart very easily. Pull the panels down and then take the back can down and it’s really simple. I think the biggest hurdle, then, for maintenance is going to be – it’s one unit on the mezzanine wall fascia. So taking apart one section of it we would need to support it in that spot where it’s disconnected so it would not put any undue weight on the mounting points. [Timestamp: 7:53]

OK and this thing has to be readable close-up and at a fair distance. I would think that the specific viewing angle spec on it would be a central selling point.

Correct. And we chose this product because it already provided a great wide angle view, even at 6 mm pitch. And we were very pleased with the performance up close in the newsroom as well as outside the windows on the street corner looking in. The brightness of the LED’s, the viewing angle, all that that went into the choice of going with Nenolumens in this product. [Timestamp: 8:24]

How long did it take you to get the whole thing in and tested and ready to go?

You know amazingly it took us about a week and that’s it. It was a very quick turnaround. Again, we go back to what we said earlier. If you plan ahead you minimize and can take care of a lot of mistakes or issues on the front end or at least head them off at the pass. This was a case where that planning ahead really did pay off and it took us about a week to get it installed. [Timestamp: 8:49]

Well from the pictures on it sure looks great and I’m sure they’re glad to have that impressive a continuous display up there going all the time. Now that you have that done, what sort of other digital signage projects does FSG have coming up?

Well we have another outdoor venue – entertainment venue – scheduled. We’ve already completed one here in the Dallas area with Nanolumens. And then we’ve got several indoor gaming centers coming across Texas that includes digital signage in the way of a video wall. So we’ve got quite a bit going on and we’ve actually picked up a couple of customers that want us to help them service their video walls and digital signage solutions from past installations. So we’re not only selling it but we’re servicing it, even those that we didn’t install. [Timestamp: 9:32]

The success of previous projects is the best way to get the word out for future clients. It’s been great listening to how you got this one up and running. We’ve been talking with Gerald Reeves, Project Manager with Facility Solutions Group FSG and the Dallas Morning News ticker display. Thanks for giving us the story on it, Gerald.

Thank you, Bennett. Really appreciate your time and focusing on our project at Dallas Morning News. [Timestamp: 9:53]

With the Dallas Morning News all set up with their new 75ft. LED news ticker Gerald Reeves and the crew at FSG will move on to a very busy schedule of other projects. Get back with us right here next week for our own upcoming AV installation story on the next SVC Podcast.

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