A range of choices: Cost, content and commitment all play a role in digital menu board conversions


While one-sheet posters are converting from static to digital in lobbies nationwide, playing movie trailers and advertising, the digital display conversion of growing interest to exhibitors (and that which holds the greatest potential) is the conversion of static menu boards to digital.

When considering a transition from static to digital menu boards (DMBs), exhibitors must weigh a whole host of pros and cons. And while no one faces an identical situation, a set of considerations seem to be top of mind for all exhibitors alike.

Technology costs can be kryptonite. As with any sizeable investment, budgets can be prohibitive. And technology investments tend to be expensive and, quite frankly, a bit scary. Many exhibitors struggle with understanding the costs associated with digitizing their menu boards. There are a plethora of technology options to consider—and to understand them all is nearly an impossible feat for a layman. Why pay the few extra dollars for a commercial-grade display when I can pick up a consumer-grade display at my local electronics store? What are the benefits of a multiple-media player installation versus a single-media player solution? Can I use VGA cables? What is a broadcaster? How does one find a DMB solution with the proper balance of cost and capability? Is there even such a creature? Given that we’ve raised quite a few puzzling technology questions in the past five seconds, it’s no wonder exhibitors can be overwhelmed by the options and costs associated with DMBs.

What about content? Content is a critical piece of a successful DMB installation. Once the hardware is installed, content becomes the key to maximizing investment and standing out from the competition. It seems that exhibitors fall into two categories when it comes to DMB content. For some, it’s the driving factor in selecting a solution because they want the ability to change content whenever and wherever they want. Give them great content or give them death! For others, it’s less of a priority—secondary to the hardware decisions that must be made when investing in digital boards. Either way, choosing a content solution can be tricky. Some software companies implement a per-change graphic design charge, or charge for graphical services by the hour. Such cost structures tend to limit the number of changes an exhibitor is able to make. There’s that kryptonite effect again! The key is to include estimated content costs in the up-front analysis of a digital menu board solution.

Content continued: One paragraph isn’t enough on the subject. Aside from the basic cost structure and flexibility in changes that need to be considered when selecting a DMB software provider, an exhibitor should also be aware of the additional capabilities that are possible with digital boards. Recently, some exciting options have emerged. Interruptive marketing is one such option. Imagine an entire menu board is suddenly interrupted with a dazzling video, taking over all of the displays and promoting a mouth-watering concession special. Not only is this an impactful marketing tool, but it is perceived as impressive and entertaining by patrons. Another consideration is day-parting—which allows the ability to promote different concession items based on time of day or day of week. Coffee in the morning, kids’ combos during the afternoon, hot food in the evening. Some systems even offer the capability of utilizing box-office point-of-sale information to drive menu board messaging. If a young, male demographic is coming through the doors, the system begins promoting energy drinks, nachos and hot dogs. Imagine the possibilities!

It’s worth taking the time to fully understand the complete capabilities each DMB software provider has to offer. Not all are equal. Look under the hood and kick the tires. Taking each provider for a test drive is a worthwhile exercise to ensure the right solution is chosen.

Commitment: A successful DMB implementation requires commitment. Exhibitors have mixed philosophies about this fact. Some exhibitors believe that, after installation and initial set-up, DMBs should run themselves. Others are more active with changes and updates to their boards. But the simple fact is, the installation and initial design of a DMB system is just the beginning. To maximize return on investment, an ongoing commitment is a must—commitment to testing different designs, color schemes, portrayal of combos and offerings, price points, time-of-day programming and interruptive marketing. Like most investments, a DMB system on autopilot won’t come close to performing to its full potential. Sooner or later, the necessity of an ongoing commitment to maintain, improve and fully utilize a digital solution will become apparent.
Though we’ve only touched on a few high-level considerations that arise when researching and selecting a DMB solution, this brief overview makes it clear that the decision is a complex one. No one is flipping a coin or fishing a Magic 8 Ball out of their arcade machine for answers. It all comes down to finding the right blend of cost, capability and commitment. If these factors drive the decision-making process, chances are the right solution will be clear.

Brad Derusseau is a principal at Cinema Scene and oversees the DMB and digital lobby display technology implementations at their network of exhibitor clients in North America. For more information, visit www.cinemascenemarketing.com.