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Say Goodbye to your old Playlist CMS!

How should you schedule on a network of digital screens? This is something which, usually, gets secondary consideration to the quality of play out on your screens, but if you plan to build a large network of screens you should consider it closely, and you should consider it right at the beginning of your process to select a system.

This will show you why.

Traditionally, Digital Signage solutions make use of playlists. Whatever the manufacturers may call them, assets which you want to display have to be composed into a list, then where, when and for how long you want to play them have to be programmed through a content management system.

This is very simple. It requires a workflow no more complicated than “approve – upload – schedule – check – forget”. And… It works!

So why should scheduling on a Digital Signage system be any different from working your iPod? The answer is scale. You probably only listen to 1 iPod, but your Digital Signage network is a medium which could span several countries where you want to broadcast different things, in different languages or currencies, at different times of the day. What you can show on your screens might even be subject to different legal restrictions.

Imagine if you had 30 outlets, each with 3 unique day part requirement and 10 different screens, each with its own channel, and you have to change all of the content in each outlet. That means on each of the 10 channels you have to schedule for 3 day parts, in other words – 30 separate playlists and scheduling transactions. If you have to do that in 30 outlets, that is 900 scheduling transactions.

In reality, Digital signage manufacturers try to make this process easier, usually with some success, but the truth is that managing a large network of Digital Signage screens with conventional playlists typically means tens, hundreds or even thousands of separate scheduling transactions.

Which is all a little underwhelming considering that you deployed it in the first place for its flexibility, immediacy and ease of use.

Is there a better way?

Fortunately for you, we think there is. You can schedule using Meta Data. Each time a tier, outlet or department is added to a screen network, you can program it with a customisable rule, or even a set of rules, which act as a playout filter.

These rules can be default rules, inclusion rules or exclusion rules. Rules can be applied over multiple sites in a single transaction or can be unique to the smallest part of an estate. Any asset available in the system is checked against the rules to determine if it is eligible for playout.

And what determines an asset’s eligibility for play out? This is where meta data comes in. When you approve an asset, you are presented with a drop down box of keyword tags (which can be easily changed). You tag the assets with a key word, or multiple key words, and save it.

Let’s say you are targeting content at several players. What are those players going to do once you have clicked “save” after adding a keyword? Without going into complex computer algorithms, they will ask the following questions.

1) Am I subject of an exclusion rule? 2) If “yes”, is the asset tagged with a keyword which matches an exclusion rule? 3) Am I subject of an inclusion rule or a default playout rule? 4) If “yes” is the asset tagged with a keyword matching an inclusion rule or a default playout rule?

In other words, by simply tagging content with pre-defined keywords you can affect a potentially complex piece of scheduling across multiple sites, in a single transaction. So what about the day parting aspect of scheduling mentioned at the beginning of this piece? This is dealt with simply by allowing you to day part your rules. If you create a rule allowing playout of content tagged “food” which is only active between midday and 14:30, content tagged “food” only plays out between those times.

This is all great, right? But what if you want to play your files in a specific order. In other words you want the kind of features you get in a playlist? By its nature meta data scheduling is going to be random? Surely? Well…. Yes.. but…… what if you can weight an inclusion rule? Let’s say you weight a rule at 50%. This means compliant content occupies 50% of airtime when the rule is active.

That is one way of doing it, but it gets better, because none of this actually excludes use of playlists. Playlists can also be tagged with keywords, which means you get the benefits of a defined play list, without having to schedule it.

900 times…

We believe this is the future of enterprise digital signage, and it’s going to get better. There are now many ways of detecting when and where people are standing in front of screens – Sensors, webcams or mobile phones Apps will give you good insight into this information. Rules can “weight themselves” in response to this information, or lie dormant until this information triggers them – you can properly target content at your audience and the technology to do it already exists.

And you can wave goodbye to your old playlist CMS.

– John Muir

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