Using Live Data Feeds in your Digital Signage Content
What’s the biggest challenge digital signage content creators face today? Having the time and resources to consistently publish fresh digital signage content.
When your digital signage content goes stale, the audience stops looking. It’s why successful network operators make an effort to keep their screen constantly updated with new, informative content. Keeping screens fresh is a constant battle, and not everyone has the staff on-hand to get the work done. The solution is displaying live data feeds on screen and leveraging that same data to automate your content selection processes.
In the digital signage context, data feeds can be used in two different ways:
Data feeds as content or content automation.
What’s a data feed?
Data feeds refer to the process by which you retrieve updated information from a database. Information is stored on a remote server and the data it contains is constantly updated, hence the term real-time data.
A quick Google search will return many publicly available data feeds. These are mostly RSS or XML feeds created by news organizations, independent blog owners and other publicly accessible web content.
Then there is information from business intelligence (BI) and other private corporate sources that is stored in proprietary database formats. To use this information on your screens, you must convert the data to a more usable format, like XML.
XML is a common data exchange format that is easy to manipulate and widely supported.
What about multimedia?
Data feeds don’t just include text. Media RSS feeds support images and video content. These types of feeds include links that point to files stored on remote servers. When a typical digital signage player interprets these data feeds, it retrieves the multimedia content from the source and displays it on screen.
This method lets you play a stream of constantly updated media on your screens without having to upload and manage the content yourself.
Media RSS is becoming more popular with news organizations and it’s not uncommon to find freely available feeds that include images with news items. This is an excellent source of information that you can use to keep viewers engaged.
Having access to an external source of constantly updated text, images and videos is especially useful for smaller organizations who don’t have access to a full-time creative team.
Free data feeds or syndicated content?
It’s important to understand the difference between free data feeds from public sources and syndicated content from commercial sources. A perfect example would be weather data feeds that can be found on public web sites and through subscription-based services.
Public data feed sources
Anyone can access free public weather feeds from NOAA and other governmental sources. These sites offer many types of data feeds that you can use in your digital signage projects. There is however a caveat. Before you start relying heavily on public data feeds, make sure you test them because you have no control over their content or their formatting.
Remember that publicly accessible data is often provided in a format that can’t be easily repurposed. It can make it difficult to adapt to certain digital signage screen layouts without any programming skills. It’s important to note the data feed’s host can change a feed’s address (URL) at any time, without prior notice. They can do this because it’s a free service.
What happens when there is a data outage?
A data outage can happen whenever a data feed is no longer accessible. Perhaps the feed provider’s database server went offline or there is some other issue that’s preventing your digital signage players from accessing the source. Your screens can be impacted by these external factors so it’s important to know how your digital signage software supports external data.
Each digital signage solution deals with connection issues differently. Some software apps might show empty fields while others remain unaffected. Ideally, your digital signage players should store this data locally to ensure there is always some information shown on screen.
The data may not be current during the outage, but at least your viewers won’t be looking at blank screens. You should always ask your digital signage software vendor if their product supports offline data caching.
Terms of Service
It’s not uncommon to find RSS feeds from reputable news organizations, local TV stations or government websites freely available online. While it’s tempting to use any content you find on the internet, always be sure to read the fine print. You should identify the data feed’s source and respect the publisher’s terms of service. When in doubt, contact the publisher to confirm the data feed can be used in your application.
Syndicated data feed subscriptions
If your budget supports it, you should seriously consider syndicated data feeds. These are commercial feeds formatted specifically for digital signage use. These types of data feeds have many advantages for business users. There are no additional usage rights to pay and companies sometimes include a service level guarantee, which is an added bonus.
You also get access to technical support services in case you ever run into issues.
Most of these subscriptions are priced monthly per player device, and billed annually.
Here are a few popular syndicated content subscription services:
Syndicated content has many advantages over publicly available data feeds which is reflected in the cost of these services.
Data feeds as content
Using data feeds as content makes a lot of sense. They offer a reliable and affordable source of information for your digital signage screens.
Here are some examples:
- Social media boards (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and others).
- Weather observations and forecasts.
- The latest sports scores.
- Business Intelligence dashboards.
- Airline flight/train scheduling information (FIDS).
- Interest rates and financial data.
- Local and national news.
- Data from business intelligence and other corporate sources.
Having a source of constantly updated information creates better opportunities for viewer engagement.
For example, weather feeds can warn an audience of impending storms, or potentially life-threatening weather. Social media posts help keep shoppers engaged in retail stores. Data from business intelligence sources inform and motivate staff members in a corporate office.
When data feeds are managed and updated by a third-party via a subscription, your staff can perform other tasks. You’re no longer dependent on creating and updating your own content. It’s the easiest way to deliver more compelling and attractive content at a relatively low cost.
Using data feeds in your layouts
Digital signage software products use a range of techniques to manage and deliver data feeds, however, most operate in a similar way.
Data feeds are assigned to fields embedded inside template or ticker layouts. When these layouts are shown on a digital signage screen, each field is populated with updated information from the data feed’s source.
Content automation lets you adapt how your media behaves based on your own scenarios.
With content automation, or data driven content, data feeds aren’t used to populate fields in your digital signage templates or tickers. Instead, they are used to activate or trigger other content that has been programmed in your playlists.
Imagine an ad for ice cream desserts that is shown on a restaurant’s screen only when it’s hot outside, or a congratulatory message that is displayed on office screens when sales hit a certain level.
With conditional content playback, users create rules that determine when certain items can be shown on screen. When the condition is true, the content is activated and plays along with other media on your digital signage screens. If the condition is false, the content is skipped, and the rest of the playlist plays normally.
With conditional triggering, the triggered content takes over the screen for as long as the condition is true, displacing the currently scheduled content entirely. This method is used mostly for emergency messaging like evacuation alerts, or to announce jackpot winners in a casino.
Triggered content is meant to attract immediate attention, while conditional playback is used to modify a content program based on real-time conditions.
About Navori Labs
Navori Labs is the leading software engineering firm behind the QL digital signage CMS software. QL is a professional grade CMS solution that supports any type of data feed as content for your screens. The software also supports content automation and users can create any types of rules to trigger or activate content based on a data feed’s content.