Creating a Playlist for Digital Signage in Higher Ed

Digital Signage Expo Advisory Board

Question of the Month

April 2014


Spencer W. Graham, II MBA DSCE


                           What is your recommendation for creating a playlist                                for your digital signage audience?

Know your audience and your environment!

Understanding who your intended audience will be is mission critical to the construction of any successful playlist.  Make no mistake; you are in the business of impressing your intended audience!  You are marketing to them.  You are competing for their attention in a world swimming with visual content.  Consider that we are literally bombarded with information as we go about every day when we drive by billboards, pass store fronts, watch television, listen to the radio, view websites, in every store we enter, in every building we enter and a myriad of other visually cluttered environments.  What makes YOUR message standout above the sea of information muddle?  Why will or should they remember your message?  Some questions you may ask during the development phase of the playlist creation process might be used to drill down to the end product.

What are the demographic characteristics of the viewers you want to target?  Are they male or female, or both?  What is the age range that you are wanting to reach with the overall messaging contained within the playlist?  Is the content “appropriate” for young and impressionable children that would be in the viewing environment?  What type of environment will the digital signage be deployed?  Is it a hallway, a bank of elevators where people congregate while waiting, a waiting room, a reception area, a point of sale, a check-out area, etc.  Different environments need special thought as to specific types of content and the duration of each message.

Concise Messages

Stay on message!  Most of your audiences are not going to “camp out” in front of your digital signage unless they are in a waiting room of some sort.  Messages should be “short and sweet” so that the most important information is transferred to the usual pedestrian viewer quickly.  Let the content design tell the story, too!  If you want to dump more intense and in-depth information to them, drive them to a website, a magazine, a brochure or an information desk for the larger amount of information and content.  Your playlist messages should raise awareness that triggers more action on the viewer’s part such as making a mental note, jot down the information or encourage them to seek further information about the message.

Dwell Time

This is pseudo-psychology stuff!  We need to understand the “flow” of the pedestrian traffic within the environment that the playlist will be presented.  Understand the pedestrian dynamic of their movement as they intercept your content in your playlist.  People intercept your creative content as they are moving from Point A to Point B to Point C, etc.  How long do they dwell in front of that particular message?  Are they walking and only getting a glimpse of a few seconds of the intended message, or are they stopped in a line as they wait for an elevator, or in a waiting room, lounge, etc.?  How many messages do you intend for them to consume during that dwell time?  Most static messages should be able to be consumed for a matter of 5-10 seconds in most situations.  With such short dwell time durations your message needs to stay on point!


Grab their attention!  While a picture is worth a thousand words, motion in your content design draws and hold the viewer’s attention longer.  Motion backgrounds can assist in this concept and are readily available to purchase in reasonably priced DVD packages in various formats.  You will need to determine if your content management software supports motion graphics and that your digital signage system video cards have the horse power to leverage motion graphics.  You may want to consider beefing-up your next computer system with a video card that can handle the heavy lifting required for more intricate video content creation.  Don’t get too carried away with BIG and FLASHY motion to the point that it distracts from your intended message.  You can also effectively use subtle background motion graphics to insert your own branding elements for your organization.


Video content is a nice addition to a creative playlist.  Again, you need to understand the dwell time of your audience so that the length of the video is appropriate to support your messaging.  It is NOT television!  Your videos should short in duration and can be used as a transition from one message to another and a great way to break-up the playlist in an attractive way.  Make sure it is a quality video.  Sloppy and choppy video ruins your intended impression with your audience.  Will your content management software support full video?  I suggest you experiment with several types of video types and codecs until you find the best one that works with your software.  You will need to determine what codec best works and what wrapper to use such as a WMV or AVI, etc.  My suggestion is to keep your total run time of each video to 20, 30, 45 or 60 seconds depending upon the message.  The purpose of the video is to tell a short story or support an intended message.  Also, understand that the longer and more intricate a created video is, the larger the video file size will be.  This can create ugly issues if your content management system can’t handle video well or if your computer video cards are not robust enough to play the video in a seamless manner.  Don’t overstay your welcome with your audience when inserting video into a playlist; it should be a concise message that can stand on its own within your playlist.

Video with associated Audio

Does the video HAVE to have audio associated with it to convey the message?  If you creatively design a quality video, it will tell the story by itself.  Laying down an audio track can nicely compliment a video but you must remember that in some environments people don’t want to hear the same audio track multiple times every hour.  Often digital signage is deployed in areas where there are reception desks, classrooms, quiet areas and other offices.  Your creative content should not become a distraction or interrupt that environment more than necessary.  You may want to consider day-parting that type of audio content to specific times of the day such as lunchtime, before or after normal operation hours or evenings and weekends.  Also, the addition of associated audio tracks to a video will add to the overall file size of the video when inserted into the playlist.

The Genre of Content

Your playlist has value!  That value is derived by the impression your playlist makes upon the information-consuming public.  A playlist of twenty-five 30 second static Power Point slides may seem like a good idea but I feel there is more to it than that.  Be strategic in your marketing impressions!  While you are NOT creating a television station, you ARE creating a loop of content to be viewed similarly.  When we watch television there is a flow and transition between the content we watch throughout the viewing session and programming.  Your playlist needs a smooth tempo and flow likewise.  When I go into some of the local stores and see some of the poorly designed (crappy) playlists of content, my IMPRESSION is that their store doesn’t care about their marketing message at all.  That then equates to a waste of money and resources on their part since I now find their digital signage playlist irrelevant to my experience while in their store.

Your playlist ought to flow in a fluid manner with good transitions between types of content.  Pages of content within the playlist can vary in duration.  You could create a playlist that includes a 20 second local weather report, then transition into a 30-60 second current events page that pulls an RSS feed from your organization’s calendar database, then transition into a 30 second video promoting a special program within your company or store, then transition in an announcement poster database that plays a series of posters for 5-10 seconds each, etc.  The key is to break-up your playlist so that it is attractive to the eye and grabs the audience’s attention, and supports your brand.



About swgraham2

Mountain Mists is an opportunity to develop some thought processes individually as I journey through this wonderful world; as someone who values highly effective management techniques and the art of leading teams; and through my association with West Virginia University as a professional technologist and network manager specializing in digital signage.
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