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Media story: retail Digital Signage Is A Real Beach For Retailer

Hollister pays the city of Huntington Beach a monthly fee to mount video cameras facing the shore
For the 50 Hollister clothing stores across the U.S. that host PlayNetwork's Video Windows application, 'beachfront property' isn't just a marketing clich'meaning prime advertising spots ' it's for real. Well, almost.

The enclosed design of the Hollister stores enhances the effect of live beach footage delivered via PlayNetwork's video windows.

Unveiled in late March at the GlobalShop 2005 event in Las Vegas, the Video Windows play real-time video footage of a Californian beach directly into Hollister's surf-branded retail environments. Each store is fitted with two three-by-three configurations of 21" LCD panels which serve as 'windows' to give customers a live north and south view of Huntington Beach  in southern California.

Footage of the beach is encoded and sent in MPEG-2 format via a private network directly to Hollister stores, where it is decoded and played back in near-real time. Branded onscreen messaging, including details of the current time and temperature at the beach, complements the dynamic content, which runs 24 hours a day.

The Video Windows project came about after Hollister, a division of the U.S. chain Abercrombie and Fitch, commissioned PlayNetwork to develop a visual-merchandising element that would go beyond still point-of-sale imagery and surfing props, while at the same time maintaining the store's distinctive early-1900s beach-shop d'or.

For content, Hollister secured permission from Huntington Beach city officials to mount its cameras on the beach pier, for which Hollister pays a monthly fee.

"Hollister's Video Windows are unique entertainment systems that do far more than showcase images of surfing and beachcombing,' says Stephen Dorsey, PlayNetwork's VP of marketing and creative. "With this innovative digital-signage solution, Hollister has virtually transported its stores from shopping centers to the beach itself."

Objective is branding, not advertising. Hollister uses the Video Windows solely for live beach footage ' no other programming is scheduled on the network. Dorsey explains that Hollister's primary objective for the project is branding and enhancing the customer experience of the retail space, rather than monetizing the network as a direct advertising tool.

Through the configuration of the screens, customers who enter the Hollister stores are given the impression that they are sitting on the pier looking directly onto the beach. Although no audio is played with the visual content, the effect of the Video Windows is enhanced by the design of Hollister's stores, which have no windows and therefore admit no natural light or evidence of the external local weather conditions. "You could be in Iowa and think you are in California," says Dorsey.

According to Darrell Champagne, PlayNetwork's VP for systems engineering, Hollister's original brief was very broad, with the retailer's CEO enthusiastic about the use of plasma display technology.

Champagne says that his team, working closely with NEC Mitsubishi and Aurora Multimedia, engineered a from-scratch camera-to-display solution. After considering plasmas and rear-projection display technology, the team decided that the banks of nine NEC-sourced LCD screens provided the most accurate impression of a window onto the beach, principally because of their thin bezel frames and their built-in video-wall capabilities.

PlayNetwork, which spent over nine months developing a prototype to address Hollister's original vision, partners with Microspace for the system's satellite networks infrastructure, and with VSG, a New Jersey-based video-camera specialist, for provision and maintenance of the cameras at the beach. Customized mounting brackets were developed by Allen Products Company in California.

All other design, project management and installation work for the project is handled by PlayNetwork, based in Redmond, Washington state, through its in-house engineering department and third-party contractors.

Other retailers interested in live video applications

The Video Windows installation marks the first major expansion into digital signage for PlayNetwork, a custom retail audio specialist which currently supplies the sound systems for retail clients such as Abercrombie and Fitch and Starbucks. Until 2003 the company had concentrated principally on audio for retailers, including custom music programs, sound systems and branded compilation CDs.

But over the past two years the company has looked to broaden its customized in-store entertainment offerings to include video-based applications, signing a strategic partnership with Ohio-based EDR for video production in the process. And since the unveiling of the Hollister project, Dorsey says PlayNetwork has attracted interest from other retailers asking about the application of live footage in their stores.

While he admits that live video may not be appropriate for many retailers, he says it is a good example of what can be done with some imagination. "That's just an example of the potential here. Most retailers might not want that specific application, but they are definitely interested in digital signage and we are involved in conversations about deploying some kind of program for least three other potential clients", Dorsey said.

The deployment at 50 Hollister sites represents the first stage of what is expected to be a chain-wide rollout.

Kevin Massy staff story - PlayNetwork and EDR Partnership