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My phone rang the moment news hit the wires that Monster Media had acquired LocaModa. And it hasn’t stopped. Less than one month after that announcement, with my head still buzzing, I thought it would be a good time to open up about the rationale for the deal and the opportunity ahead.

The announcement can be found here but as you might expect, the real news was not really the mechanics behind the purchase, but the strategy.

Monster and LocaModa have been in competitive bids for a few years now – whenever brands wanted a dominant interactive solution, Monster would frequently be their choice. When brands wanted a solution on existing networks, inside a loop, their choice was frequently LocaModa.

Together, Monster + LocaModa can now run campaigns for global clients on any screen, any network and any channel. The agnostic and scalable nature of LocaModa enables this – but that’s not all.

Anyone who knows me or has had the dubious pleasure of listening to me speak about the DOOH space for more than a few minutes will know that I’ve been passionate and outspoken about a vision for what I’ve dubbed “The Web Outside” – a world where all screens are connected and more engaging. That vision was early, but today more brands are asking for what we have patented.

We believe the rising tide of social and mobile will only lift our market if networks can connect to those channels. Put another way, without a scaleable and agnostic solution, the rising tide of mobile and social media will create network islands out of many DOOH networks and erode the value of their proprietary platforms.

Monster has a mouthwatering client base and 70+ super smart people making award-winning media. Together we have a far more scaleable opportunity and we are gearing up to leverage our IP, knowhow and platform to reduce friction for brands and agencies to engage with DOOH.

My role at Monster is EVP Mobile and Social. Expect me to be as outspoken and passionate in that role as I have been at LocaModa.

I’d welcome the chance to chat about this and answer any questions. Feel free to email me at my new email stephen dot randall at monstermedia dot net

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When LocaModa launched Wiffiti some 4 years ago, it was designed as an engagement tool for audiences to express themselves on screens at events or venues.

Wiffiti continues to serve us well and has been used in several hundred campaigns (with brands such as Pepsi, Coke, Verizon, GM etc) political events (such as a fund raiser for the then presidential candidate Barack Obama) and events/concerts (including major trade shows such as CES, American Idol tours and the Black Eyed Peas).

But a strange thing started to happen about 18 months ago.

Where LocaModa was focused on monetizing media on digital out-of-home screens, our platform unpredicatbly started to be embraced by teachers.

Like brands, teachers realized that their “audience” wasn’t always paying attention! Instead of telling their pupils to turn their phones off, enterprising teachers recognized the potential to use the phone as an engagement tool and communication channel.

What may well have started out as a “cool” idea or gimmick worked, and soon we saw tens of thousands of screens being made by users who were not exactly LocaModa’s target customers.

Today over 90,000 Wiffiti applications have been made by teachers.

Scolastic even published a lesson on text messaging in class via Wiffiti.

And that is why we not only had to listen to the wisdom of the crowd, but also work out where new markets for Wiffiti could be.

So today at Wiffiti.com, there is an invitation to a beta program that is being rolled out in the coming weeks to the many thousands of teachers, event/conference organizers and smaller digital networks who have been outside our core market.

The key features that teachers have been asking for have previously only been available to customers paying many thousands of dollars – but those features including the ability for a screen to be private and moderation tools, will soon be available to a much wider group of users.

And for event/conference organizers, who need more flexibility to customize screens to market to their audiences, there will be affordable Wiffiti Pro versions.

Our media clients and digital networks have a very different set of requirements for customized campaigns and/or hundreds or thousands of localized nodes, and these clients will be unaffected by the changes going on with Wiffiti. They will soon be offered a range of applications and features more easily tailored to their specific requirements.

So stay tuned – and if you want an invite to the Wiffiti beta program, you can get one here.

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Taking content designed for a desk-based user experience and displaying it on a place-based screen meant for an audience more than 10 feet away is stupid a common mistake made by many DOOH practitioners.

A good real-time social feed for events or venues needs to:

a) Attract attention
b) Sustain interest
c) Be easily readable by the entire intended audience.

I’d like to address these points using a real example of a feed used at one of our very own industry’s key events, last weeks DPAA Media Summit event in NYC (which I wrote about here).

The screen shot below (taken from my Hootsuite setup) is similar to the initial experience that greeted me on a Twitter screen at last week’s DPAA event. I was sitting a third of the way from the front, in an audience of around 400 people.

There are good reasons why that type of design is not great for an event-based or digital out-of-home application.

While it was well placed to attract attention, being on stage, the execution was poor in relation to it’s ability to sustain interest (which I’ll come back to) and it completely failed with regards to its ability to be read by most of the audience.

I tweeted that I couldn’t read the tweets.

As the tweets shuffled up, the new (attention grabbing) message only commanded around 15% of the screens’ real estate. Not only is that insufficient real estate to grab and keep an audience’s attention, but it’s also competing with 5 other older messages, commanding around 85% of the screen, with the same weight as the new message.

To the credit of the person managing the DPAA’s Twitter screen, they noticed my message and responded by decreasing the number of tweets to 3.

That was an improvement but it didn’t solve the problem.

From the screen shot below (again taken from Hootsuite, not from the DPAA screen, but in any case, similar in structure to the DPAA Twitter screen experience) you can see that the attention grabbing new message now has around 30% of the screen real estate. This is better but it’s still competing with 2 other messages, equally weighted, and commanding about 70% of the screen.

Sustaining an audience’s attention is not only related to content and graphics it’s also related to the predicability of the program or timeline. For example, a news ticker may grab initial interest, but after a few seconds, it’s crawl becomes predicable.

The human brain is designed to pay most attention to the newest movement and sound. Long ago, those changes in movement or sound might have been life threatening. Once we recognize the movements, we can process them and, if they are not life threatening, we tune them out. (That’s why we don’t notice the continuous hum of an air conditioning system until it’s turned off.)

That might be good for our safety but not for DOOH applications.

The screen shot below shows a LocaModa Twitter screen. The difference is hopefully obvious. It’s been designed (and patented) specifically for venue and event screens, is attention grabbing, attention sustaining, easy to assimilate by the entire audience and fun.

The newest message is displayed almost full screen for a few seconds (enough time to notice and assimilate the content) commanding at least 75% of the screen real estate, then it settles into a dominant screen position.

The new message default configuration is the inverse of older messages – new messages typically set to a dark font on a light background. Older messages are smaller, and typically set to a light font on a dark background. Whilst readable, older messages are designed to NOT compete with the new message – they are really used to convoy the flow of messages and activity rather than give them equal status and weight to the new message.

The messages deliberately do not have a predictable movement – they jostle to find their right screen position based on their size and that also provides a sustainably engaging experience for the entire audience, not just the front row.

Less is more.

Big is beautiful.

Content is king – if you can see it.

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I spent most of Monday at the DS Investors Conference and most of Wednesday at the DPAA 2011 Digital Media Summit.

What was notable at both events was that almost every speaker talked about leveraging the connection between DOOH screens and their mobile audience, multi-channel strategies and leveraging mobile and social media technologies.

What was different this week was that this buzz was not limited to the “interactive tent” – it was center stage. What used to be a lonely platform for way-too-early entrepreneurs and evangelists like me, is now well and truly an accepted part of our agenda.

I’m not convinced that every speaker at the conferences was “eating their own dog food” but I can’t gripe – obviously we still have some way to go, but at least the entire industry is talking about it.

There are various stages in the maturation of a digital market, and in my opinion, we’ve reached the end of the beginning.

Borrowed from an earlier Gartner paper, what I touched on in The DOOH Slope of Enlightenment suggests that digital markets move through various stages staring with a “Peak of Inflated Expectations” where the market experiences a fool’s gold rush and invariably early adopters pay the price for being early. The market then moves through a downward trend where it adjusts to a “Trough of Disillusionment” and finally it reaches a point where companies actually release products that exceed users’ expectations. At that point, the market can start to move up the “Slope of Enlightenment.”

As the web evolved from digital brochureware, so too are DOOH screens finally being forced to be more than slideware. Some are and many more will be more connected, more engaging and, as a result, more valuable.

Judging not only from the majority of speakers’ inclusion of all things mobile and social, but also the stream of Tweets from users at both events and even the inclusion of a Twitter screen at the DPAA event – I would say we are at the end of the beginning of DOOH. We are standing at the beginning of the Slope of Enlightenment.

Do you agree?

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Escaping multiple snow storms this week in Boston, I’ve joined James Davies, Chief Strategy Officer, Posterscope on a week long series of thought leadership talks in London with leading agencies about the opportunities and lessons around social media and OOH. James and I had jointly written a paper on the subject which you can download here.

I get pretty inspired when I meet clients and get insights about local issues/challenges/opportunities, and this trip is no exception. Happily, I’ve also been more than a little suprised by the fast pace, innovation, responsiveness and attitude that I have experienced here.

My big takeaway is that the DOOH market in USA is not just attracting global attention, it’s also encouraging global companies to participate and innovate in the market (LocaModa’s partnership with Fujifilm Imagetec is one example). Companies far and wide are inspired by what’s going on in USA and are doing something about it. In many cases, they can move faster – their markets have less baggage, less fragmentation and often (as is the case with Posterscope) already have excellent tools to simplify the DOOH media planning and buying process.

I’ve also seen some beautifully executed DOOH here – for example in major underground stations. My gut feel from just a week in my old stomping ground is that the UK DOOH market is primed and ready to move.

USA DOOH is leading by example – now we need to make sure we continue to innovate, execute and drive a global industry forward.

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