This week, Scala celebrates its 25th Anniversary! Over the weekend, our CEO Tom Nix caught up with Scala founder Jon Bøhmer for a timely online chat about Scala’s beginnings.
Jon Bøhmer: I think it is quite remarkable that Scala is the world's oldest independent multimedia company.
Tom Nix: I agree, look at what you started, an incredible achievement. Would love to hear your story, since I tell the story of the company from what I've heard second hand.
Jon Bøhmer: The back story is that I was turning 20 on Oct 10, 1987 and I was freaked out since I had not started my own company yet. So I ran down to the government office and registered it. The InfoChannel idea came a few months later.
I had graduated from high school that spring and was working in a hamburger factory to make money to buy my first Amiga. I was just going to run the company for a year before starting university just to get some experience... First I was just making videos for companies and events but then I talked to the local cable company and they were sending out letters every month to all the subscribers - this was required by law. So I said - hey, just connect the Amiga to the RF modulator - you will have your own channel, but they had no idea how to use it, even a mouse was a novelty back then. I designed a very easy to use thing, hired a friend to help code it, then I sold the two floppies for $2000. I had to pay my friend with food from my parents' farm since I had no capital.
When I made the first sale to the biggest cable company in Norway I knew we had something. We set up in Denmark within months. Then Sweden, UK and Holland. Then I got some more developers - Øyvind Harboe, Daniel Bloch and Jan-Ivar, and we started making the first networked version. Then we cut some features and made the MM100. Sold over five million of those for the Amiga. Pretty astounding when you realize they only made about ten million Amigas. It was bundled with every Amiga in the last few years.
I remember the early years better than the later ones because it was just so much more fun. The ultimate underdogs, but we always had the most amazing software. We did tricks that Apple only could do after OSX. Ten years ahead of Jobs the guru...
Tom Nix: Jon do you have any photos?
Jon Bøhmer: OK I have two photos. 1994 - the whole developer team:
(Scala team in Oslo, April 1994 —Inge Arnesen, Michael Sinz, Jan-Ivar Bruaroey, Jerry Horanoff, Thomas Hansen, Jon Bøhmer, Øyvind Harboe, Lars Hamre, Dana Williams, Daniel Bloch, Øivind Danielsen, Nico François, Scott Drysdale, Steen Hardy Danielsen, Jeff Porter, Ken Farinsky, André Tieg and Darren Greenwald.)
Jon Bøhmer: Many faces you will recognize. Peter Cherna, Jeff Porter, Jan Ivar, Darren Greenwald, John Orr.
Tom Nix: Peter still looks that age.
Jon Bøhmer: So one from 1989 – vintage. It's a Norwegian newspaper clipping:
Jon Bøhmer: Headline: "Boys with million visions". It talks about how we have signed a large deal and are setting up offices in Sweden and Denmark.
Tom Nix: Love it, and the acid wash jeans.
Jon Bøhmer: White socks mind you.
Jon Bøhmer: The photo was taken in my attic office on the chicken farm. My quote: "It has been hard to make people believe in us, but now things are looking up". So five years later you see the team on the steps outside the Oslo office. Quite a progression. The company was still called Digital Visjon. We changed to Scala the year after I think.
Tom Nix: Good stuff! Really enjoyed this treat tonight. Hope we can catch up soon.
This week, two Scala experts provided interesting insights into the world of digital menu boards and digital signage hardware designs. We hope you enjoy reading these stories!
Scala senior director Damon Crowhurst discusses how quick service restaurants can make the most out of their digital menu boards investment. This story was also published on Digital Signage Today.
Scala senior technical architect John Schilling provides tips for designers to keep in mind while they create digital signage hardware.
A recent study by Nielsen on US consumer preference of shopping in-store, online or mobile revealed some interesting insights.
Have a great weekend!
Robyn Connelly, Manager of Internet and Database Marketing, Scala
On December 14, Scala’s Jeff Porter teams up with Telecine’s James Fine to present an information-packed session at the Strategic Internal Communications conference in Toronto. We invite you to attend.
The central theme of the conference is “How To Use Social Media & Traditional Communications to Engage Employees, Drive Performance & Add Value.”
Jeff and James will examine how digital signage can play in an important role in cutting through the information clutter that corporate communications must navigate.
Digital signage helps corporate communications departments to easily manage their corporate personality and get their message out in real time, in a consistent way. It also provides an effective way to customize and centrally control messaging.
Both James and Jeff bring strong credentials to this subject area.
James Fine is founder and president of Telecine Multimedia Inc., a Montreal-based company focused on helping companies execute effective corporate communications strategies. Fortune 500 clients from around the world rely on Telecine to solve their communication challenges by leveraging electronic media.
Jeff Porter is executive vice president of Scala and his responsibities include corporate strategy and product management. He is a frequent speaker at industry events and is widely acclaimed as one of the Digital Signage industry's leading pioneers.
The Strategic Internal Communications Conference takes place December 12-15, 2011 in Toronto at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.
Scala partner xplace GmbH, Europe-wide market leader and specialist in digital customer information systems, uses Teracue MC-SCREEN encoders to distribute digital signage advertising signals in HD quality on hundreds of LCD and plasma screens.
xplace's newest product is currently installed in the TV departments of the Dutch Media-Saturn stores: Instore-TV via IP-TV. It provides digital signage on all available LCD and TV displays.
In addition, live TV and videos on demand can be played on all TV equipment in highest HD quality.
This is done by using a video distribution system based on an IP network. Thus a single live video stream can be provided on any number of devices.
The professional production and display of the content which is later sent via the IP network is performed by a SCALA digital signage system.
The production of the live video streams and live distribution of the digital signage content adopts MC-SCREEN encoder by Teracue. The MC-SCREEN software encoder grabs digital signage screen-displays, converts the complete desktop view of the PC into a full HD stream and sends it out into the network (multicast). The displays in the stores receive the HD stream via standard IPTV set top boxes, as the Aminet 130 and 140 series from Amino.
In this case MC-SCREEN is installed directly on the SCALA HD digital signage players. As the MC-SCREEN encoder can be operated directly on the SCALA player, and due to the fact that it is a pure software encoder, a full HD video stream can be produced cost-efficiently and without requiring extra hardware. This is a new step for Digital Signage signal distribution.
Harry Horn, Scala Marketing Manager EMEA
By Robert Koolen, President, Scala
It’s good to read positive articles about digital signage in media that as yet do not routinely cover our industry. CRM Buyer last Friday featured an article that discusses the results of a study into the effects of digital signage by analyst firm Aberdeen Research published earlier this year. For a link to the article see this link. I thought there were two interesting observations: the first one that digital signage can and does have a significant and measurable impact on such things as customer loyalty and retention (+30%) and the perceived shopping experience and customer satisfaction (+46%) even at an early stage, as recent adopters have reported. But even bigger gains come with building experience with the medium and investing resources, as early adopters of the technology have found. The early adopters have been working with the technology longer and have invested more resources than recent adopters. For instance, the early adopters report customer retention increases of 49% and customer satisfaction improvements of 65%. From a digital signage industry perspective that means it is not just about the technology, but how you learn to use it most effectively. This represents an opportunity to help customers get up to speed faster by sharing best practices and helping them avoid the mistakes that others already made; experience with the medium clearly matters a lot. For customers there is also an unmistakable message; the quality and experience of a vendor’s ecosystem and how they share their expertise can play an important role in the success of their deployment.
By Robert Koolen, President, Scala
It’s always good to read how our customers are using our product, as described in case studies and press releases. I do this not just because I am part of the review chain for what gets posted on our website, but because it is great to see the variety of applications and industries where our product is deployed. What I find particularly interesting is when customers use our product for multiple purposes. Have a look at this case study from Türk Telecom. During daytime the system serves to communicate product features and benefits to customers, but before and after store hours it is being used to educate staff on new products. Another example like this that comes to mind is one of our restaurant chain customers in Germany. When the CEO needs to talk to his troops before store opening hours, or when they want to do staff training on the introduction of new products, they use the same digital signage platform that during store hours advertises specials and up-sells additional product to customers, while also entertaining and informing customers in the restaurant area. I call that multiple returns on the same investment. Very practical and very smart!
Of course, you need a versatile software platform that can handle all these different usages and can scale, but I reckon after 23 years we got that covered. Let us know if you know more examples of multiple usages that we can highlight.
By Robert Koolen, President, Scala
Retail analyst Steven Platt published a commentary I wrote in his quarterly Retail Analytics Journal. His journal always includes interesting articles and this time he opened with a special on standards in digital signage, specifically on advertising aggregation, or ad aggregation as it is often referred to. The concept of ad aggregation would bring buyers and sellers together more cost effectively than how advertising is traditionally sold, and that would be a good thing for both advertisers and digital signage networks, and thus good for the industry. In short, my reasoning is that the way the digital signage industry is going about it, by several vendors announcing their own unrelated schemes, is not about to solve the problem. It will lead to fragmentation and the problem with ad aggregation is fragmentation in the first place. As I mention in the article, you can’t fight fragmentation with more fragmentation. It’s like fighting noise pollution with a bullhorn.
Read more here and let us know what you think.
By Dennis Ryan, Founder & Creative Director, uplone Consulting
As you walked around the 2010 Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas, you probably experienced a bit of visual stimulation, maybe even overload. There were tons of great digital signage examples!
But did you ever take a moment to think about how much work and energy goes into making it all happen... creating the demos and content... hanging all those screens... even getting appropriate power/electric/internet to the booths? It's all necessary, yet not always easy.
Well this year Scala followed its crew around with cameras to capture a bit of their hard work in action. Watch the video below and hats off to all involved—great work!
By Paul Barnhart, Marketing Coordinator, Scala
If I'm not running to the kitchen or facilities during the commercial break, I'm usually checking my mail (but not checking facebook...I swear!) or looking up something on the internet. If I DVR'd the show, you can bet I'm skipping through the commercials. (JEOPARDY! is roughly 15 minutes sans interviews and commercials).
Advertisers have tried to keep pace with mobile society using pop up ads, website commercials and other strategies, but will that be enough as society grows in both population and the speed at which information travels? Digital signage has effectively managed advertisers as they expanded to creatively use space in elevators, taxicabs and even public bathroom stalls, but there's got to be other places to go (no pun intended)...right?
After reading Next, Michael Crichton's most recently published novel, I became intrigued with this out-of-the-box possibility for branding and utilization of space as advertisement: mother nature.
Crichton's commentary alludes to aquatic life with company logos on their underbellies and plant-life serving as billboards. The novel's theme of inter-species breeding is amazing as a standalone, but the few pages dedicated to companies engineering their own line of animals simply for the ad perks struck a deeper cord. Could digital signage really function in mother nature?
Imagine pulling in a trout on your fishing line and seeing the Microsoft logo on its fin or watching a group hunt on DISCOVERY where a FedEx lion pride pulls down a UPS bull elephant. Yes, imagine adjusting your digital signage advertising management program to include snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. Government lobbyists and activist groups would saturate news programs and talk shows, but the bottom line in all these debates would be...well, the bottom line.
If it's not harming the animals or effecting the ecosystem, who's to say that the digital signage industry couldn't effectively make this new media a success? Do you think advertisers would be lined up for a chance to brand horses at the Kentucky Derby?
The possibilities would be limitless, and, at the same time, right up the alley of society's and capitalism's ego. Instead of finding the winning $1,000,000 soda cap, you literally go on a wild goose chase. The New York Yankees outbid GE for the Great White Shark contract. A dozen eggs advertise the latest animated show about chickens. Lily pads are branded with the Volkswagen logo. Conchs on the beach direct you to www.shell.com.
It's all very thought provoking blah, blah, blah, but is it possible and what is the first step? I say that there won't be the floating billboards like in the Jetsons, but clouds in the sky formatted to act as screens that can broadcast commercials on cross country flights. The airlines could use the extra revenue and digital signage could make the sky high advertising network a bit less complicated to manage. Who knows...in time it could turn the sky writers and planes that pull ad banners across beaches in the summer a novelty altogether.
I'd like to hear your comments, so, please...what animal/advertising combo would you enjoy seeing?
By Guillaume Proux, Vice President, Asia, Scala
Let me apologize for the length of this article... I still hope it will keep you entertained!
"Content is King" is so much of a commonplace that it nowadays almost sounds tautological. I remember being astonished seeing this in the slide sets of my esteemed colleague Jeff Porter when I joined Scala over five years ago. It should have been completely obvious that in a fast-moving world like the one we live in nowadays, to turn the retinal impression into a lasting impression, one needed to offer to the viewers nothing but the greatest and most gorgeous content that good money could afford... Apparently this concept wasn't yet understood at that time and it is still foreign to many today and in very egregious ways.
Last week, on a brief visit to Seoul for an interview with a national newspaper about future trends in technologies, the subject invariably turned to the subject of sourcing good contents. During the day, we visited a number of local Korean content companies creating digital content for the web and digital signage. One of the company that we visited IMTarts (http://imtarts.com/) was a small company specialized in producing realistic looking (natural touch) and fully licensed copies of famous paintings. During the visit, we could see a perfect rendition of the Kiss of Gustav Klimt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Kiss_(Klimt_painting)) drying on an easel. Even from a distance, the paint strokes and the resulting volumes that makes paint such a distinctive work of art gave such a realistic look to the painting that any novice in the fine arts would probably think being in front of an original. Who wouldn't crave hanging a Klimt in their lobby?
Left in bewilderment among hundreds of famous paintings, worth a fortune if only they were real, and while touching the canvas of printed versions of Millet’s or Van Gogh’s most recognizable art transporting me back to my younger years, I was barely overhearing the ensuing conversations between my host and the manager of the company where we stood. Mind you, the little Korean I know is barely enough to order spirits in a bar but historical cultural proximity between Japan and Korea (proximity unfazed by maybe centuries of rivalry) has made it that many words in both languages with a common origin in the Chinese language sound vaguely similar. As my brain was constantly trying to grasp and analyze visual and audio cues to help me follow the conversation, one word came out clear in the white noise: 저작권 ("jeojakkkwon"). I knew the words in Japanese of course: Pronounced chosakuken and usually written in Chinese characters "著作権", the melody of the word was the same in unfamiliar Korean and now-familiar Japanese.
The meaning of this word, you ask? Copyright.
Here I was thousands of miles away from home hearing a conversation about a subject very dear to me: copyright. The question was about the kind of fees associated with obtaining high resolution digital images of famous art works... Most art collections being behind closed doors with explicit "Photography forbidden" signs, is it really possible to use those without paying a fee? Many would indeed feel intimidated because the verb "to copy" almost invariably has a negative meaning in our society. It wasn't always the case though.
Consider me: born in the Information Age, I grew up in Paris suburbs, frequently stealing one day of the week-end to run up to the capital and dwell hours at a time in joy and in the long halls and corridors of Le Louvre with its hundreds of galleries and thousands of works of art for everybody to observe at length or just for a glimpse, to bathe your mind with beauty and culture. And all that for free! What a bargain. Like many kids, I also loved purchasing postcards with the reproductions of the paintings or sculptures that had impressed me the most that day. I would get a whole museum just for myself for a few cents. I would then spend hours over a piece of half transparent paper to separate the colors of a Van Gogh with a fine stroke of my pencil and then trying to make a copy by myself just for myself.
Little did I know at that time I was enjoying the rights embodied within all works of art fallen in the Public Domain.
It was really a few years later that I started learning about copyright (or rather its French counterpart "le droit d'auteur") when as the owner of a brand new Commodore Amiga computer and a few blank floppy disks, I was looking for the best way to feed the beast. When my Piggy Bank was desperately empty, I kept entertained watching demos, showcasing the best of the computer capabilities. Those demos, created mostly by other teenagers, were legally distributed over the postal network (talk about digital signage!) and even online bulletin board system and the more got distributed, the more successful the program and its programmers. Many years later I would buy the CDs of the artist who started his musical career on the Amiga goofing around.
My attachment to public domain grew thanks to the work of Fred Fish, a computer programmer who was making compilation of free software programs and releasing them on a monthly basis for all computer enthusiasts around the world to share. His Fish Disks were an incredible example of what the public domain has to offer and helped thousands of people around the world become more productive with their computers. Some people built businesses reselling Fred's work but all I gained was an immense intellectual wealth. We could share knowledge and as Einstein famously remarked... when one give an idea to another, both now have the idea and none of them get any poorer. On the contrary, each of us is getting richer, if only in the mind.
In 1993, as I was given access to the Internet for the first time, browsing the Web with Mosaic and contributing to some projects related to my hobbies, I started getting familiar with various copyright licenses, their limits and the reason for their existence. My friends were installing Linux on their systems to mimic the serious but very closed and proprietary Sun workstations. Richard Stallman (of the GNU project) visited our campus for a conference about Free Software and as we listened to this American guru not only able to perfectly express himself in French but also able to discuss with ease about fine points of Copyright laws, we were given the opportunity to think of software as free thinkers and not only as users or consumers.
Actually and at about the same time, Netscape was making its record breaking IPO. Microsoft, who after spending a few years dismissing the Internet, eventually recognized the threat on their desktop dominance. Using anti-competitive means to break Netscape, it led them to spend some times in a court to try and defend their indefensible position. Being a young graduate in communications technology, that battle was fascinating. I spent hours reading court documents (per se in the public domain), understanding some of the techniques and tricks used by great lawyers and eventually culminating in the release of Judge Jackson's Finding of Facts and its order that Microsoft be broken up (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Penfield_Jackson). Thanks to Judge Jackson’s very well articulated opinion, I became somewhat of a Law Geek and never bored at reading court documents and judge opinions. So, when SCO attacked IBM about the UNIX copyrights, I was checking on groklaw.com for my legal daily dose of legal drug.
My fascination for all things legal grew, but Copyright became a favorite subject of mine. It is probably because it is so pervasive in our lives (did you know that the famous Happy Birthday song is claimed to be under copyright for another 26 years in the US?) and yet very few people understand the delicate intricacies of copyright. There isn't a day without new polemics or a new question left unanswered in the copyright field. Fortunes have been built based on the protection delivered by copyright. Those fortunate to have amassed such a wealth are now looking for always expanding powers to keep those exclusive rights to them, resulting in laws such as the 1998 Copyright Extension Act (also called Mickey Act because it was entered into law just in time to prevent Mickey Mouse to fall into the public domain). Like many people, Lawrence Lessing's failed attempt in Eldred v. Ashcroft to have this law declared unconstitutional left me in dismay.
As part of my employment in Scala, I was lucky to come and visit Philadelphia, the cradle of American Democracy where the United States Constitution was adopted. Article 1 precises "The Congress shall have power [...] To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;"
Thanks to its Constitution, America and of course the rest of the world benefits from a very large public domain as "exclusive rights are secured for limited times" upon which we can everyday source for building or deriving new works. "Nanos Gigantum Humeris Insidentes": Dwarves standing upon the shoulders of giants. Just like Newton built upon Descartes work, we should enjoy the legacy offered to us by humanity and celebrate centuries of accumulated knowledge by knowing how to better use the works of art now fallen in the Public Domain.
One painful issue is that it is very difficult to know which work is still under copyright and which work has now fallen in the public domain. However, a rule of thumb is that any work published before 1923 is in the public domain in the United States. The word "published" here is important as unpublished works are covered by different rules.
Also, it is clear since 1999 (if that wasn't before) that photography or mere reproductions of public domain works do not afford any protection under the US copyright regime (Decision in Bridgeman vs. Corel Corp) as they are clearly not original.
So coming back to my Korean host... He can now rest assured that he won't have to pay any fee for most of the paintings he was considering showcasing in his digital signage based museum. But by adding substantial creative elements to the paintings (multi-language explanatory texts with on-screen outlines), he will create enough original content that the resulting work will certainly afford copyright protection and can now be licensed for a fee. This is the virtuous circle of copyright.
Public Domain will enable him to promote the progress of useful arts in his own way by letting him provide educational content for all to enjoy on a network of digital signs and be compensated for it. I hope to see this kind of digital signage museum more often and in many places just like the NASA Viewspace exhibit (see http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/informal/features/F_ViewSpace.html) produced using public domain NASA pictures and displaying fresh content daily in hundreds of locations worldwide all that powered by Scala software of course.
As the conclusion, I hope I have encouraged you, dear reader of the Scala blog, to celebrate the public domain and to start showcasing more public domain work on your digital signage networks (even if you don't yet run Scala) to keep knowledge and our culture vibrant and also perhaps to demonstrate to legislators that we are all interested in that a careful balance exists between the interests of a few estates and the general public resulting in a healthy growth of the public domain.