The gym is the new shopping mall, much of it hi-tech. From the devices that attach you to exercise machines to devices that tell on you if you haven’t been doing enough time on the machines, the technology is taken for granted.
Take, for example that large, flat plasma screen running ads around the clock. The only reason it manages to compete for attention with the TV screen above the treadmills is that the TV tends to be stuck on repeats all day. The plasma screen also indulges in repeats, but it seems to update automatically, and its aim is to catch passing traffic rather than the captive audience. It is aimed at fleeting but instant impact, in high-resolution video and graphic imagery.
It also offers something very attractive to the advertiser: the content is supplied by satellite, and can be updated or amended from half a world away, in real time. One of the biggest benefits of satellite delivery of digital advertising is the real saving it makes in time and money. Traditionally, such delivery is managed through video players or computers connected directly to the sign, requiring much tinkering. Satellite delivery means centralized control and pure digital delivery. Astonishing, at a time when more than a 1000 sites in South Africa use the technology, it is catching on only slowly in the rest of the world. The model was unique a few years ago, but a number of players have since entered the markets,” says Pierre van der Hoven, CEO of Johannesburg-based TBM, which invented the concept of satellite delivery in the established medium known as Captive Audience Networks. TBM is one of the few companies in the world using MPEG2 encoding, and the entire service is put together in-house, including media sales, securing sites, creating content, encoding material, scheduling, and satellite transmission. They are the only company in the world that uses split screen software to combine content and advertising at the same time at airports.
Why would companies want to advertise to such fleeting audiences? Simple :Airports deliver three highly desirable profiles: high net worth individuals, corporate decisions makers, and tourists.(Gyms don’t do too badly in the first two categories either.) “The key benefit over other communication models is that each site can run unique content,” says Van der Hoven. Which means that it can be delivered to specific clients, premises for marketing, promotions, internal staff training or information.
A different form of this technology has emerged over the past year in cinemas across South Africa –high quality, digitized commercials. A company called Spectrum Visual Network Solutions (VNS) has rolled out the end-to-end solution for creation and play-out of digitized commercials at more than 80 Ster- Kinekor and Nu- Metro cinemas, and four IMAX theaters Ronald Henry, technical director at Spectrum VNS, claims the cost is about one tenth” that of traditionally 16mm film distribution. Traditionally, projectionists receive a 35mm master copy of the advert and an ad play list, which changes each week. They have to manually cut and splice the different ads together into the play list order. During the 10 weeks that the ad is usually flighted, it undergoes significant physical abuse and the quality degenerates.”
Cinemark, which has the exclusive right to most cinema advertising in SA, looked around for an alternative. First Technology and Spectrum VNS came up with the solution: transfer commercials on to a system that digitises and then compresses the ads to reduce the size of each file. Then distribute the ads via satellite, directly to a server in the projection rooms at the cinemas. All the projectionist does is press the play button. TBM and Spectrum VNS are example of South African companies playing at the cutting edge of technology, but still flying under the radar of public awareness. There are many more companies that fit into this category, and any time you suddenly realize that an everyday experience has improved a notch or two, you may just find such an organization pressing Play behind the scenes.

Source: Intelligence Business Magazine July 2004 – Arthur Goldstuck