Commentary

The Whole World Is Interactive

Again and again during his keynote at MediaPost's Digital Out-of-Home Forum and Expo last week, Trevor Kaufman, CEO of Schematic, stressed that digital out-of-home was in its early, inchoate, stages, and anything could happen. Kaufman, a new-media expert, brought a remarkable perspective to DOH, which is, after all, a new medium. (And, for the record, he prefers the nomenclature interactive out-of-home, or IOH -- if only to avoid the Homer Simpson-esque DOH, and far worse and utterly unnecessary DOOH.)

Those at Schematic know from whence they speak when it comes to the futuristic applications of the burgeoning platform. Listening to Kaufman's keynote and viewing his presentation at the Forum, you'd be forgiven for thinking you no longer had both feet planted firmly at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Times Square but were instead lost in a Philip K. Dick story.

After all, Schematic CCO Dale Herigstad worked with Steven Spielberg on the conceptual design for the film "Minority Report," and he also designed the interface for those hologram screens on which Tom Cruise seemed to be throwing things all over the screen with his hands.

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A few of Schematic's current projects, such as a 13-foot-long screen designed to help Cannes Lions attendees navigate the event, echo the screens in "Minority Report." One of the most arresting features of the large screen at Cannes, besides the move away from fixed interaction to an interface that allows the user to drag elements wherever he or she wishes, is RFID integration. An RFID chip in the badges of attendees lets the multi-touch-screen know when a specific person is getting close. The badge holder's name then becomes larger and larger on the screen as he approaches, beckoning him to interact and calling up registration information.

Schematic has not yet developed tenacious robot spiders to hunt down attendees who don't check in at the screen.

Kaufman likens the current state of DOH to the Web, circa 1995. "That's the year I stopped having to explain to people what the Web was," he says. But at that time the Internet was seen as little more than a paperless-distribution channel for publishing. It was the time of AOL, Salon and Slate being hailed as the future. And while those are all still around, of course, the online world has taken some unexpected twists and turns, and continues to do so. The similarity to DOH/IOH comes when you address the one-to-many publishing model. The social tide lifted the Web's boat, and it may be one of the keys to growth in out-of-home, as it becomes more than a collection of billboards with video.

"When a new interactive platform with its own behaviors comes along," says Kaufman, "it destabilizes the existing economics for the parent medium." He points to recent projections from Carmel Group that DOH is expected to grow to as much as $2.5 billion in revenue by 2010. And it's an additive medium, meaning it doesn't take dollars away from anywhere; it just generates new (and by some estimates, limitless) possibilities. There'll be no "Death of BLANK" signs hung outside the door of DOH.

"Interactive media have the potential to be social, useful and transactional," Kaufman says. And they are also highly measurable. DOH is getting to the point of being increasingly so. And that may be one of the places it runs afoul of privacy watchdogs.

Imagine the lather those who get apoplectic about behavioral targeting will get worked up into when they get a load of facial recognition. Kaufman calls facial recognition "the most evil cookie." And the name might be fitting; if mobile is DOH's click-through, then facial recognition is its evil cookie. The technology could allow for the tracking of where specific individuals live, work and relax, and how much attention they pay to ads. Is this starting to sound like "Minority Report" again?

Remember in the film "Medium Cool," when the crowd outside the 1969 Democratic Convention in Chicago chanted "The whole world is watching" as the frame zoomed in on a camera lens? Well, we've leapt from that to "The whole world is interactive."

Kaufman says Schematic has proposed an interactive out-of-home screen to Blockbuster that could change the company's business model. In the new model, touch screens in malls or train stations aren't merely ads for the store -- they become the actual store, allowing passersby to browse Blockbuster's entire collection and download what they want to a mobile device right there.

"We're extremely excited about the creative possibilities that come out of DOH," Kaufman says. "But we're not there yet." It's a strange time in the development of the platform, because, he adds, "People are still a little afraid of it."

As things stand now, people need to learn that they can walk up to a screen and interact with it before the next steps can really be taken. Developers still need to include cues to the user that the screen can be played with, the way display ads on Web pages once needed to instruct "click here."

Kaufman recounted an instance where the Schematic team that had been working day-after-day developing touch screens walked into a client's office for a meeting and saw a big back-lit screen in the lobby. They'd become so used to every screen responding that they went straight up to it and started tapping -- to no avail.

"We'll get to a place where people walk up to a screen and assume they can touch it," he says. "It's hard to imagine how people are going to be using digital out-of-home a few years from now."

3 comments about "The Whole World Is Interactive ".
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  1. Chris Lorenzoni from Velti, April 29, 2009 at 2:12 p.m.

    in agreement about activating OOH using mobile. Thanks guys!

  2. Craig Elimeliah from Freedom + Partners, April 29, 2009 at 2:45 p.m.

    Awesome read! I think we all have dreamed of a future where digital is everywhere. BTW the Blockbuster idea is golden, i remember traveling through the middle east and seeing DVD vending machines everywhere with lines down the block, thats why Blockbuster is dead... anyways... the key to this whole article is "social, useful and transactional" enough said, stick to that and your on the right track.

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, October 16, 2009 at 11:32 a.m.

    Strangely similar to the April 22 story from Mr. Capone.

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