5 min read

Let's Talk Digital Signage Podcast by Kitcast: Mark McDermott, ScreenCloud

Written by
Pavlo Fedykovych
Published on
December 23, 2021
May 29, 2024

In this edition of Let’s Talk Digital Signage Podcast by Kitcast our guest is Mark McDermott, CEO at ScreenCloud. We continue a series of interviews with digital signage market players who are sharing their pains, gains and hopes for 2021-2022. It is made for digital signage professionals, enthusiasts and everyone who’d like to keep a hand on the pulse of the present-day industry. 2020 was quite tough on the world economy and 2021 hasn’t shown a silver lining yet. That’s why it’s important to have a discussion within the market about the ways to save the business and get going more confidently.

ScreenCloud is one of the brightest stars of cloud-based digital signage solutions and it was very interesting to hear the point of view of its CEO Mark McDermott. He shared the company’s experience throughout the pandemic as well as talked about the trends and hottest news from the signage market. As Kitcast and ScreenCloud are both in cloud-based digital signage, it was especially valuable to be able to discuss the ways to navigate through the crisis in the most flexible way possible. It’s only through this kind of experience exchange that we can become stronger and more aware of the challenges. Here are the topics that were discussed during the podcast chronologically:

  • Shifts in demand for post-COVID digital signage 
  • Advice for the businesses that are just starting with the technology
  • Hardware discussion
  • Trends in digital signage application and ScreenCloud 
  • Touchscreens and QR codes
  • The future of technology
  • Where will digital signage be in 10 years?

Transcript of the podcast

Egor Belenkov: Hi, my name is Egor, CEO of Kitcast. You're listening to the new podcast series by Kitcast called 'Let's talk digital signage'. Digital Signage is not the only industry hit by the pandemic, but it's one that will see a great transformation post-COVID-19. While there are positive signals on the market, more than ever do we need consolidation, transparency, and support. For these reasons, we're launching a series of interviews with digital signage market players who will share their pains, gains, and hopes for 2021-2022. And my today's guest is Mark McDermott, CEO of ScreenCloud. Hi, Mark!

Mark McDermott: Hello! Hi. Thank you very much for having me on!

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E: Sure. Thanks for tuning in. That's one of the things I love about our industry: readiness for dialogue and sharing experience with fellow founders. It's now more important than ever, and that's what I believe will help us all bring digital signage to the next level in these trying times and beyond.

M: As they say, a rising tide carries all ships.

E: Okay, Mark. You have customers from lots of different verticals and industries, from non-profits to enterprises. I bet you saw some or even some drastic changes in their work once COVID had hit. What would you say were the most noticeable shifts in demand for digital signage post-COVID? Any new technologies, or specific features, or all kinds of things, like this?

M: So you mean post-COVID, as in like as we open up again? So I think the way I probably phrase it, is there are certain industries where everything just shut down, and the need for signage in closed spaces was just sort of non-existent. But I think that actually during the last time, what we saw was, there are certain industries where the need increased during that time. So that kind of helped sort of balance things out a little bit. And what I'm seeing now is, I think COVID put a spotlight on our frontline workers.

So I think the frontline workers have become notably the sort of more important than ever, to keep the world moving around. And so the screens, which are kind of communicating to them have become ever more important. And I think that coming out of COVID, we're seeing a greater need for companies to feel more connected, especially with everyone being either at home or in the office or, you know, in that frontline space, wherever that might be. And I'm seeing that as a kind of one of the emerging trends. And then, I think beyond that, I'm also kind of getting a sense that, if you look at the last 18 months, just generally, it's been a kind of digital transformation explosion. Every company probably had a kind of digital roadmap for how they were going to become more modern in the ways that they work. And I think that it's fair to say that most of them had to accelerate that roadmap during COVID. And what that's probably, you know, triggered is a chain reaction inside of each business of thinking now, 'Okay, instead of it being a five-year plan, this has now become a two-year plan'.

So how does that extend further? And I think that you know, whilst people are reimagining the ways they work, the way they operate, how they're located, and how they communicate, then I think that's where screens also play quite a big role. I think as people are just reimagining the way things work completely, they're also now considering well, how do we make those spaces more modern, more sort of multifunctional, and bring it really more into the current century, generally. So that's the kind of things I'm seeing.

E: Yeah, got it. Thank you. Thank you very much. And I just can add that for us, for example. COVID has unlocked a new industry that we haven't focused on earlier. It's healthcare. At first, you know, we decided to launch an initiative to support COVID-19 First responders in March 2020, I guess, and their idea was to contribute as much as we can to help public institutions spread accurate information on COVID status and case count. That's when we saw that Kitcast can be useful and helpful, especially for health care facilities. We've built a new widget for live case count by city and added COVID templates to help these facilities communicate social distancing requirements and other recommendations. And for hospitals and other care units, digital signage turned out to be the easiest solution and basically a no-brainer, you know, that we provided for free. So what would be your top three pieces of advice for institutions or businesses that are just looking to deploy digital signage in 2021?

M: Oh, yeah, I think what I would recommend is probably always not even talk about signage at all, and just sort of make sure people kind of are actually planning things out properly. So the first thing I would say to people who are thinking about this, is there's obviously something that's triggered that. So what are they trying to achieve? What are the outcomes they're looking to influence? And I think quite often, people sometimes go into this thinking of it more of an 'oh, this is a more modern way of doing things'. But they don't really go in with a specific kind of outcome or several outcomes in mind that they really want to accomplish. So having just tangible things that you really want to do, doesn't need to be the absolute all and end-all of all of the content, but it should be, if these outcomes happened, then this would be successful. So I'd say start with that. Secondly, I then say, okay, let's consider the audience for that outcome. But there may be multiple audiences. And who is that? Who is that audience? When are they likely to be in front of those screens? And for how long are they likely to be in front of those screens? Because the dwell time they have is going to be quite impactful again, on what you show them. If the dwell time is longer, you have more time to explain. If it's short, you need to get your point across very succinctly. And then thirdly, I would recommend, actually, something I don't think happens very often. It's a way of measuring that. So you've got a sense of what you want to achieve. But how are you going to measure whether the screens have actually been impactful? I think most of the evidence around that tends to be quite anecdotal. But I would actually say it's good to measure where you are today, and then see that improvement. Because invariably, if this project is successful, you'll probably want to go and expand out further. And if you're going to want to get more budget for your project, then you kind of need to prove the ROI. I don't think many people go into these projects with real, again, tangible results as to what the ROI might be. And so you know, when I kind of go back a bit on that and maybe fleshing out a bit, I think, the outcomes are fairly obvious, what you might want to do. And probably, people have a reasonable idea. So, for example, I was recently speaking with a customer who has a whole series of locations in the wellness space. So they're kind of like treatment rooms, treatment centers. And one of the things that they wanted to do was upsell to customers in the waiting room as they're waiting for their treatment. So they wanted to talk a bit about, say, certain products, which there could be used in the treatment that they could also buy and then use at home. So it's a kind of standard sort of thing. So in the waiting room, you've got a reasonably good dwell time. Potentially, they are going to be there for up to five minutes, maybe more. And you can afford them to have some educational content about why these products are good, then you could then say, actually, you can request these products in your treatment. And then if you like them, when you leave, you can buy some more. So a quite simple sort of 1-2-3 of increasing kind of upselling of these products. But then, they kind of left it at that. And I was like, well, actually, there's another way that would be very simple to upsell this. And that would be: does everyone on your team, and your front-of-house team, and your treatment team actually know that this is what you want to do, and this is something that they should recommend? And it was like, 'Well, yeah, I think so some of them do. Some of them don't'. Well, what about a screen that's more behind the scenes, there's actually kind of explaining, you know, this is a reminder to ask customers if they want to try a product out before their treatment begins. And if they do say, “Hey, look, if you like this, you can actually buy some on your way out”. So kind of almost informing the team. Whereas the project was originally more about trying to inform the end-user, which is certainly very important. But I feel that they had kind of forgotten that actually, a really good way of making these outcomes happen is making sure that all your team understands that too. And then obviously, you know, that's a fairly easy one to measure because you measure the upsell of those products. Does that kind of make sense?

E: Yeah, sure! Makes sense. And what about hardware?

M: Yeah. I mean, look, so we tend to be fairly hardware agnostic. So I kind of think about hardware, as you know, there's always a different way of approaching each project and what you're looking to do. I mean, I don't really have kind of much preference on what people want to do on their hard road. Quite often, I'll just talk to the customer and say, 'Well, look. Do you already have something?' And if they do, then I kind of think, well, let's just stay with what you already got. Like, if that's working okay. I kind of find our industry obsesses a bit about hardware. And I tend to like not really. I mean, let's just look at what the right tool for the job is. So let's look at the budget, let's look at the number of locations, let's take stock of your network. And, you know, is this an enterprise network? Does it have security restrictions? Is it quite locked down? In which case we're going to need to accommodate for that? Or is it more of a sort of straightforward setup? In which case, that doesn't matter so much. So it tends to be, for me, kind of more on the size of the network, and, generally, the IT requirements around that, and sort of what the needs are, and a bit budget-lead. But I kind of find out industry just talks a lot about hardware. And I just don't think it's that important. I think there are just so many options out there - we can work with them, it doesn't really matter. And that's what I try and tend to focus the conversations I have, anyway. But I'm not part of the onboarding team, obviously. It is more around what goes on the screen that matters to me a huge amount more than how we get it there.

E: Yeah. Thank you very much. And I can add that it's amazing that we have such a wide variety of hardware that you can use for digital signage today. Or sometimes even no hardware, like no TV player. So all you need literally is a TV screen with smart technology. I know it's the case for ScreenCloud. Correct?

M: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, we work on pretty much everything.

E: Yeah. And for Kitcast, the primary platform is Apple TV. We mainly focus on all-Apple firms that are deeply integrated into all-Apple infrastructure and have been pretty consistent before, during, and now post-COVID. But yeah. Okay, so have you seen any trends shifting in that regard? Did any of the hardware see a particular rise in demand with COVID? Or any macro trends? 

M: Yeah. I mean, I think probably the biggest shift I've seen around hardware is probably greater importance coming on being able to remotely administer the devices. This is for the larger customers, the enterprise customers. So you know, you have kind of popular devices like, I mean Firesticks. You have very basic, very popular because it's cheap, and it does the job. But you can't really manage a large network of fire sticks easily. It is not really suited for that. And I think with the fact that people are now either working from home, and a lot of the IT teams are working remotely, the need to have really strong remote management of devices, I think has become, I mean, that was always a thing, but I think now it's become even more of a thing. And so you've probably seen that come up as a bit more of a request around that. In the hardware, I mean, we actually funnily have, although we've kind of always worked across other hardware devices, we've sort of gone full circle on this. And we're actually producing our own hardware, which we're going to be launching shortly, officially launching next month, but it's already out with customers. And the reason for doing that was something we never really wanted to do if I'm honest. But was to really just have a proper, proper level of control over exactly how the screen is being deployed. And there's a bit of a gap in the market. So there are the lower-end devices, which are kind of, you know, great and cheap and perfect for like SMBs. And then you've got the sort of higher-end devices as well. But there was nothing really in the middle. Google used to play there. So Google had the Chromebit, which was a good device, which they basically stopped doing. And Google Chrome became increasingly difficult to work with with the way they were licensing it. It didn't really sort of work brilliantly, but it was, it was for a while. It was a really good middle ground of enterprise-grade. So it worked with enterprise networks, but did not break the bank in costs, and had good remote management built-in through to the Chrome Management product. But then, basically, Google just withdrew from the market, it just really want to do it. And so that kind of left this middle space, which I don't think anyone's going to fill because you don't really make much money from it. But we've decided to kind of go in there and do a product in the mid-market sort of entry-level enterprise space, not with a view to making any money out of it, we won't. It won't be that profitable, but with a view to just opening that market back up, because it needs to. So that's kind of a shift that, that we've been working on for the last couple of years. And we're launching soon. So, so far it has been, we've tested it out with existing customers, and it's been really popular. We keep selling out of devices already, which is a good sign, I think. And then we will be officially launching it next month. So I'll have a much better answer for you in about six months’ time when we've entered the game.

E: Yeah, congrats. And good luck with the hardware! So Mark, let's zoom out a little bit and talk about macro trends now. What technologies, in your opinion, will be most widely used in the upcoming year or two?

M: Specifically with signage? Well, one of the other things we've probably seen come out of COVID is this idea of like, how do we make screens interactive? Like, the industry has always had this relationship with touch. But I think touch has been, I mean, in my opinion, a bit awkward, because touchscreens are actually 1) they're very expensive. And 2), I don't think people really want to use touchscreens that much. That's my opinion. So if you think of it like, as a child, you're not exactly taught by your family to go up to the big TV and put your hands all over it, right? You're told not to touch these big expensive products. And maybe in generations to come, that will feel more natural kind of going up and touching things. But I've always had a bit of an awkward relationship with it. Because, I think, so I'm going up this large TV in public and I'm touching on the content to then drop what I see in - anyone who's looking over my shoulder can really see what's going on. That just doesn't feel right. And especially doesn't feel right to me when you've got the device that I most want to touch in my pocket, my phone. And it feels to me that the screen's role is not to be interactive, but is to prompt further action. I think COVID has basically brought that relationship back to life with things like QR codes, which, I mean, they've been around forever. They never really took off in the West. They did in Asia, but never in the West. But I think in the last year, now that there's native support for QR codes in phones, which there historically wasn't. And also the fact that everyone's using QR codes for things like restaurant menus and ordering and things. I think that actually now, we will see content going on screens where the call to action is a QR code where you can zip that and then you can go and actually do whatever you want to do next from your phone, which for me feels much more natural than going up to a big screen and putting your pawprints all over it and touching it and especially after COVID. I think that people will be reticent to do that. So I'm thinking that the way that we interact and take the journey digitally is probably going to be a big area of change in how people think about their content.

E: Yeah, totally agree. And I can only add that anything touchless will be a go-to technology in the next few years. Because just look at all the reopenings, for example: to stay safe and comply with regulations, restaurants already had to invest in minimizing contact at any point of interaction with the customer. So it was expensive. With such technologies right now it's even more expensive, you know, and if I were a business owner, I would replace paper menus and even shared iPads that used to be a hit, you know, with touchless technologies and as you mentioned QR codes. Even if we were to put aside COVID concerns - all this is fair for any public high-traffic places and even offices. I have a story regarding hardware. Before COVID, we built our own hardware with a touchscreen. Digital signage for every public place. The idea was very solid, perfect unit economics, but the time wasn't right. COVID happened.  

M: Right, yeah. Was it like an all-in-one product like a kind of all-in-one touchscreen and player and things?

E: It was a tabletop screen powered by our digital signage software with a built-in wireless charger and NFC chip on board. That was a good example of how the market can change your strategy. Yeah. And there is no sense in this kind of product right now.

M: Yeah, right now it's, I think, we're going to need just to keep it simple, you know, for starters. And I've always been a big believer of like, surfing trends. So it's quite tough to educate and change a market. Generally speaking, that takes a lot of money and a lot of noise to do that. But, so I kind of tend to sort of take the opposite view and go, "Well, what's happening in the world anyway, that people are familiar with? And how can we sort of surf on top of that, like, how can we adapt that towards what we're doing?" So that it feels familiar because if it feels familiar, people are more likely to adopt it. And I think that's why the Firestick, as a device, was so popular, apart from price points. Because it's familiar. You use it at home, and you already know, basically how it works. So now you're just using it in an office setting. And you're like, "Okay, it's basically the same deal in the office". And because of that familiarity, you break down, you know, barriers against it. And I think it's the same with, you know, with this, which is like, if we've just had a whole year of, you know, pinging QR codes to do stuff, then it's just not going to feel weird to, you know, to get your phone out and just, like, take a QR code and go right, that's where I do the action for this. And so yeah, I think it's the main thing is just to look at the trends that are happening anyway. And just serve them, really.

E: Yeah. Back in 2019, our hardware was a piece of technology that could start trends, because just hear the numbers: 15,000 pre-orders in five days. Hardware. 15,000. It was amazing. But after the COVID, not only the market has changed, but people's behavior as well. And who knows, maybe, maybe later. But right now, the time is not right.

M: That's tough. I mean, the timing of all of that is pretty awful. Yeah, I have a lot of sympathy for that.

E: Okay, Mark, maybe the last question I have. How would you picture the digital signage industry in 10 years? How will it look?

M: Hmm, yeah, good question. So my feeling on this is that screens will become less of a thing. I think if you think about the future, if you look at any sort of artist's impression of the future, regardless of whether that be in like a kind of commercial setting, or an office setting, or transport, or whatever it might be if you look at those renditions, they tend to have some kind of like digital presence in them. So, you know, everyone always thinks about Minority Report, I don't know why that film is still referenced to this day, it's really old now. But if you look at any kind of impression, there's going to be a digital element there because we live in a digital world. And most of the information we have is online. So going into a physical, you know, physical space that doesn't have a manifestation of digital in it just doesn't make any sense. Now, my question is, are screens really the right way? I think screens are the way that we currently do it. Because we bolt, you know, a big box on a wall, and it works. But actually, if this is going to truly kind of become like, fused with the environment in which it's in, then really, it should be designed into that environment. So I think we're going to see things kind of much more embedded in rather than dispersed screens hanging on walls and pillars and things like that. I kind of think that the hardware is going to blend into the background, you know, maybe there'll be more advanced projection, things like that. And I think it's going to become more part of the environment in which it's in rather than just having these kinds of ugly boxes stuck on as well. So that's kind of my hardware vision, but my, my bigger vision rather than that, because I mean, at the end of the day like that just will make everything feel a bit more integrated, and a bit more thought-through than it currently is. But I think the big shift that I believe, and this is kind of the general belief of all of what is ScreenCloud, is that we're going to see a move away from the content types being put on screens, being what I would describe as static assets. So mostly, you know, videos and JPEGs and, files and things like that. And that content is going to become much more web-oriented. So web-based content first, rather than kind of file-based content, which is I think, historically what most people put on screens as files. Now it's I think it's going to move to be completely web and what would have been previously a video will be generated with web animation. And the reason for that will mean that there can be much more dynamic. So if you wanted to do a video, but you want dynamic pricing, you'd have to go and make various versions of the video with various versions of pricing. It's slow and clunky. And, you know, it's basically a pain to do. But if that's digital and connected to the web, then that pricing can update directly straight from wherever the pricing comes from. And so, I think that that's what we're going to see. So we're going to need to see this as a visualization of the web in physical environments. And it will be much more integrated into that environment than it currently is. But you know, hanging a big screen on the wall, what do you think? What's your vision?

E: Thank you, thank you very much, Mark. As for me, I think touchless minimalism and simplicity are the way to go. And I expect to see huge flashing screens be replaced with subtle projectors that not only change the display pictures, but also adapt to the interior, exterior, weather, and occasion with sound, scent, and color scheme. Content would be even more customized and targeted. And, of course, all of that will be based on data analytics about your target audience. And, all in all, digital signage, like any tech-related industry will quickly adapt and even predict the demands of its users, and great things are waiting ahead, for all of us.

M: Yeah. Well, I think then, you know, given that, I mean, obviously, there might be quite a few people who are coming more from the hardware world than we are. But like, if you look at almost any other industry, you know, software, ultimately, I think in signage, how software has been kind of like the last concern, it's been much more about the how, and rather, like, you know, more like those physical devices. And I think ultimately, if you're going to move towards the vision you've just described there, then it's going to be software that does that. And then really, the hardware is going to just kind of fade away, it's going to be a key thing, but it's going to be fairly ubiquitous. And it really will be much more about well, you know, I don't think we will be able to get away with just playing the same content on a loop, which happens far too much, frankly. And in order to be that personalized, it has to be connected, it has to be automated, you can't just have people deciding that. So, some way or another, in the next few years, people are going to have to really embrace this as a web-based medium and not as a kind of file-based medium to get there. So I think that's good news for people like us who build software.

E: Yes. Let's try to make it happen tomorrow. Let's try to make it happen faster.

M: Yeah. I don't think the customers are quite there yet. I think that they like that vision. But I don't think they, like, if you really kind of talk to most of them, like, you know, I'm sure you hear the same things we do. They definitely need that kind of vision to be really interesting for them. But that's not what they're after today. So I think we've got to be a bit patient with them. But we've got to kind of edge them along towards this. But it's not going to be an overnight thing. I don't think they're going to go and you know, completely commission minority report tomorrow. But what we have to do is make sure that that longer-term vision, which is the right one, because it will basically just mean that everything works better, and is more integrated, then we're gonna have to nudge them along the way. But we're going to have to put up with them uploading files for a while longer.

E: Yeah. But you know, the world moves fast. And our goal is to make the business faster. So to serve our customers in the best way with the best solution technology, and user experience. Mark, thanks again, for joining me today. It was great chatting with you. And, on behalf of our team and all the listeners,  thank you for taking the time to share your insights. I wish you and ScreenCloud all the best and hope to see you again soon. Maybe not virtually, but in person. 

M: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. 

E: Yeah, like in the good old days, you know, hopefully, digital signage experts will come back soon. And we will all hang out more, nice and safe. Thank you, Mark.

M: I'm excited to get back on a plane. And I'm not sure I would have said that two years ago. After a year and a half pretty much at home, I'm very, very excited to come back in real life. And yeah, get back into the world. And I think most people are too, and I think that that is good news for us. Like, you know, there was a bit of a thought that people aren't going to want to be around in these environments as much anymore. But I think that now it's just gone on so long. People are now seeing how much they're missing out by not being back in the real world, so I'm excited to be back as part of the industry and back around customers, and just back around people. Thank you very much for having me on, it's been a pleasure!
E: Thanks, Mark!


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