Expanding Opportunities in Retail Audio and Video Media
by Paul Shonfeld*
Expanding Opportunities in Retail Audio and Video Media Audio and video media have been a core part of the retail sales armoury for decades and not just as commodities to sell. Creative retailers began experimenting with video back in the 1970s when early-generation video cassette recorders such as Sony’s U-Matic and Phillips’ VCR provided the freedom to create and display commercially relevant content in-store or in the front window. Electronic signage followed in the early years of the present century, made possible by IT-based digital video signal storage, increasingly large flat-screen screens, video walls and laser projectors.
Advancing beyond digital signage
High street stores today face the challenge of maintaining their visibility in the competitive online retail marketplace. Most maintain their own website as a reference hub which potential customers can browse for specific items if content to select click-and-deliver rather than getting to grips with products prior to purchase. But how to maintain footfall in the actual stores? The first digital signage displays were positioned in retail shop windows to attract the attention of passing traffic. Robust monitors were later developed for mounting outdoors and in public areas. Content tends to be a mix of still images, text overlays and short video clips, allowing considerable freedom in composition. Similar creative skills can be applied in web design.
In recent years, video and audio media technology has made great advances in terms of quality, affordability, versatility, compactness and reliability. IT-based production and editing tools combined with the ease of internet-based on-demand or streamed programme delivery now allow any commercial organisation or individual with sufficient motivation to establish and operate a complete television channel. Inhouse and online AV media offer highly effective ways for retailers to raise their profile above their competitors.
The Fortnum & Mason experience
One of Britain’s longest established retailers, Fortnum & Mason, selected ATG Danmon as its technology partner in an innovative project intended to promote its onsite and online visibility. This centred on the design and integration of a video production system for the company’s London headquarters at 181 Piccadilly. The new facility includes a Food and Drink Studio plus a dedicated control room. Created as a multipurpose resource on the store’s third floor, the studio incorporates a kitchen with remotely controlled cameras and adjustable lighting
“Covid gave us the time to really think about the direction we want to take with the space,” comments Tom Athron, Fortnum & Mason’s chief executive. “Our whole strategy for a while now has been to become more relevant to more people more often. The purpose-built Food and Drink Studio is dedicated to experimenting and learning, crafting and producing; where beginners can meet masters and the craft of food and drink is celebrated. It will play host to live cooking demonstrations and workshops led by established chefs and emerging talent.”
The challenge was to integrate a versatile production system into an area that could also be used for audience-participation events.
Robotic cameras – the key to efficiency
After a careful site survey, we recommended a solution based on compact overhead 4K-UHD HDR cameras with integral motorised pan/tilt/zoom. These have proved highly effective and efficient in many recent ATG Danmon systems integration projects, notably in newsrooms and theatre venues. Carefully chosen robotic cameras enable a single member of staff working from an adjacent or distant control room to match the creative flair of a full broadcast production team by televising the action from several angles. Compact cameras with integral motorised drives allow pan, tilt and zoom to be precisely adjusted before a shoot or trimmed during the live production. The cameras we selected provide the freedom to track a presenter smoothly along a horizontal, vertical or diagonal path, with gradual acceleration/deceleration. The motors themselves are practically silent.
One of the cameras in Fortnum’s Food and Drink Studio is located immediately above the main demonstration area to capture close-ups of food preparation. The kitchen area includes an oven with a built-in camera which contributes live video closeups of food being cooked. The results have proved very eye-friendly both from a video production viewpoint and as experienced by Fortnum & Mason’s customers visiting the suite.
Cost-efficient production control
A video production control room sounds like a formidable investment for a retailer but technical advances in recent years have made every element affordable. Core requirements of such a system:
1: A monitor screen showing the various incoming video sources to be seen in a single view.
2: Cool-running energy-efficient LED plus a lighting control panel.
3: A video production switcher allowing the required source to be selected or mixed with another.
4: An audio mixer allowing selection of a specific microphone or other sound source.
5: Video audio audio signal storage.
6: ‘Digital glue’ (meaning the electrical cable, fibre or wireless links necessary to connect the various elements into a single system).
Here too an experienced systems integrator can recommend and install a fully effective solution centred on latest-generation IT-based technology. Signal storage is commonly now available within the video production switcher so item 5 effectively disappears or can be supplemented by very low cost data disk drives. ATG Danmon’s experience with media-over-IP networking in turn ensures cost-effective ‘glue’ connectivity.
In the Fornum & Mason example, the entire system outputs to the store’s existing audio network which in turn has been expanded to accommodate video feeds to wall-mounted display screens in various parts of the building. Retailers considering setting up their own video production facility also have the option of making individual programmes available as files which can be downloaded on demand from the web. This is a highly effective way to highlight the services that make a store stand out from its competitors and to focus on specific products.
Potential revenue source
Far from being an overhead, a well designed retail-focused studio in an urban centre is a potential revenue source which can be offered to third-party content producers on a rental basis for their own projects. This can be made even more profitable if supplemented by an editing suite, rentable outdoor cameras or even a mobile production vehicle. There is also the option of installing and offering a green-screen virtual studio which allows any desired scenery to be superimposed around the presenter. Additional resources such as a fashion runway can be made available for promotional events, enhancing the customer experience as well as providing additional video and content for potential inclusion in-store or online.
Choosing the right system
ATG has the complete knowledge base necessary to design, integrate, configure and onsite-test complete solutions that will operate effectively from day one.Careful pre-planning also allows easy expansion if needed to provide additional features or to support extra channels. That includes the ability to recommend production tools which are compact, easy-to-operate, robust and capable of very high quality. Training and documentation are additional aspects of our service. We collate and supply reference documentation supporting every element of each system we design and, where necessary, offer onsite training to relevant staff.
…and the right partner
Part of the Danmon Group, ATG Danmon (www.atgdanmon.co.uk) is an international systems integrator and a world-class supplier of broadcast systems planning, design, installation and commissioning services. Established in 1993, the company has three decades of experience working for a wide range of media-related customers including some of the world’s largest television and multimedia networks. ATG Danmon is also active in the educational and corporate sectors. We have partnered with many clients in the construction of IT-based automated file workflow systems, high-definition studios, master control rooms and playout facilities, as well as the upgrade of existing SD systems to HD and UHD. With offices in Asia, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, the Danmon Group (www.danmon.com) thinks globally and acts locally to support customers with its highly experienced sales and engineering teams.
* Paul Shonfeld is Head of Sales at ATG Danmon and the author of Expanding Opportunities in Retail Audio and Video Media