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Signs of the Times

by G.M. Corrigan + photos by Chris Jackson

Electronic Signage

Digital signage finds its market niche — and home in the area.

Known by various techy marketing slogans and used simply, or with sweeping complexity in large, multi-feed, client-wide networks, modern digital signage — the poetic successor to the prosaic, airport status board — is everywhere turning heads. These instantly updatable information systems are used to guide, inform, influence and enhance the customer, employee or shopper experience.

“If you want to look like you’re staying up with the times, then the best way to do that is to stay up with the times — and part of that is digital signage,” says Andrew Hoffman, Noventri executive vice president. It’s a straightforward, albeit sophisticated digital evolution from the stagnant poster once used to promote or display content.

Located in Smithsburg, Noventri Digital Signage, here since 1985 and now a 20-employee company with a growing roster of national and international customers, is riding the wave of this fourth-screen future with a surfboard of its own making.

“This system was designed by us,” Andrew says of the company’s proprietary, USA-designed and assembled media player — the SF-200 — the video playback heart of their digital sign system.

“We did not bring in contractors; we’ve employed [local] people to help us design our system … We also have our software, which is coded within our building in Smithsburg. That’s where you create and design your content; put together and schedule its sequence and monitor it from the software.”

With Noventri since 1995, Andrew is optimistic about the future of the targetable media sector due to findings by market research and ratings firm the Nielsen Company. In its quarterly Place-Based Video Network Audience Report (formerly, the Fourth Screen Network Audience Report) the field shows to be growing by leaps and bounds. In one statistical snapshot, Nielsen reported a jump from 237 million video ad exposures per month reaching adults in one network in 2009 to 502 million such exposures in another network in 2010.

And Andrew believes that Noventri — with its small, but powerful media player combined with free software and firmware upgrades, content design, development and training services, server hosting options and 7/24/365 customer support — offers the best bang for the buck. Andrew says the SF-200 is the default media-player-of-choice at many companies utilizing digital signage because it interfaces with the Internet and the Noventri server (or in some configurations, with just the client’s server) in a manner that is 50-times more energy efficient than the personal computer.

“So, for any hotel that’s hoping for LEED certification … or carbon credits, our system is definitely for them,” he adds, noting that Noventri’s customer base is mostly mid-size businesses — think Quiznos, Fenway Park or the Verizon Center (Lockheed Martin and Doubletree Hotels are also clients) — whose digital menu boards are managed by the hardware-software company. “We can sell the client a single player, and they can hook it up to a screen [or screens, if displaying uniform content, delivered on a thumb drive]; or they can go large-scale with thousands of screens driven off our software and managed remotely here or from a network operations center in Utah.”

Andrew also is quick to point out the emerging attributes of modern digital signage in general, whose advertising advantage, according to the Digital Place-Based Advertising Association, of delivering demographically, geographically, and temporally targeted ads to the out-and-about, “active consumer” across at least a million U.S. screens is only one of the benefits of digital, place-based promotion.

Others include making instant, outlet-wide changes to menus or other company materials without the alteration costs of backlit signs; ensuring franchisee compliance with standardized product offerings; providing employees with news, safety announcements or incentivizing production updates, and enhancing the drinker-diner experience with screen games, trivia contests and interactive entertainments — all in high-definition video set off with creatively embedded local or Internet-driven, cloud-based video feeds.

“It’s meeting a need that they have,” Judy Hoffman, Noventri’s director of marketing and public relations, says of growing customer receptivity to digital signage. “So, they’re very much attuned to it when you talk to them.”