The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG), a provincial agency responsible for racetracks, casinos and other gambling facilities along with public lotteries, has undergone a significant transformation since it began to embrace digital signage 10 years ago. At that time, the organization both issued a request for proposals (RFP) to outside companies and began to develop its own internal team dedicated to the medium. Today, digital signage is tightly integrated into many of OLG’s properties and activities.
Up and running
The RFP led to OLG beginning a longstanding working relationship in 2004 with Capital Networks, a software developer based in Markham, Ontario, Canada. Established in 1991, Capital had transitioned from the TV broadcasting industry to focus on supporting multimedia systems for digital signage networks.
Meanwhile, OLG hired Michael Tutton in 2005 as its digital signage manager. He had experience in corporate video production for digital signage campaigns and staff training for clients like Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSE), Rogers Wireless, Cisco Systems, Elizabeth Arden Cosmetics and the Ontario Science Centre.
“I was brought on to centralize OLG’s digital signage communications and get a network up and running within six months,” he says. “At the time, some of their gaming properties were running PowerPoint slides on screens on their own. The new network would be simple at first, but the key was it would get consistent messages out to all 19 slot machine and casino locations.”
There were also already point-of-sale (POS) screens at lottery ticket retail locations across the province, but these were managed by OLG’s information technology (IT) department and were not treated like a digital signage network.
“My department grew to a team of seven, including myself, two animators, two graphic artists, one content coordinator and one systems manager to deal with software and installations,” Tutton said. “We were the only people within OLG really doing digital signage. We went to market fast, with no real strategy at first, just to get the system into place, but then we got really good at understanding how to create and mix great content. Today, we produce 2,000 items a year for 1,500 screens at 23 locations. And unlike many similar organizations, we do it all in-house. Compared to what a third-party agency would charge, we pay for ourselves in content value.”
Centralized vs. local
One of OLG’s aims was to ‘clean up’ its branding, which it felt had been watered down without centralized oversight. Another was to change content quickly and cleanly, which became easier through efforts to prioritize the screens over printed messages.
“With our team in place, the content could be tweaked easily, so a lot of sites could drop their posters and go ‘paper-free,’” said Tutton. “We decided which screens and what hardware to put in which locations, and we started to increase the number of ‘channels’ at each site by, for example, adding dedicated screens to the lobbies. There’s also a 711 x 279-millimeter (28 x 11-inch) screen at our lottery prize centre in downtown Toronto that we manage.”
The installation of new screens was usually provided by Edcom Multimedia Products, based in Kitchener, Ontario, but at some of OLG’s larger sites, the in-house facility team handled the installs instead.
One challenge was balancing the centralized ‘corporate’ channel with gaming sites’ own local content. So, in addition to setting up the lobby channel, Tutton’s team delineated how the corporate content would be viewed along a visitor’s main path, complemented by local messaging off to the sides.
“It’s like a split channel,” Tutton said. “At Woodbine Racetrack, for example, there’s a purpose-built screen dedicated to their higher-level members, which just displays one message all of the time. And some casinos have large outdoor screens to display their amenities.”
Nevertheless, the corporate channel made its mark across the system. And in 2011, Tutton’s team’s efforts were honoured when they won a gold award for educational interactive content at the annual Digital Signage Expo (DSE) in Las Vegas, Nevada.
From August to December 2012, OLG and Capital Networks jointly conducted a study with chipmaker Intel, Toronto-based Research Strategy Group (RSG) and Edcom. The goal was to better understand the effects of digital signage on non-gaming sales and offers in casino environments.
Casinos with digital signage, static signage and no signage were compared over three periods. With this setup, it was possible to estimate how effective digital signage was in promoting free giveaways, restaurant menu items and the Winner’s Circle Rewards loyalty program.
Four sites were chosen that had similar gambling offerings, including table games and slots. Two digital signs each were installed at Brantford Casino and Thousand Islands Casino, a static sign (i.e. poster) was showcased at Sault Ste. Marie Casino and no advertising was displayed at Thunder Bay Casino.
Intel’s Audience Impression Metrics (AIM) Suite—originally developed in Toronto by CognoVision—was used to collect anonymous video analytics (AVA) about passersby looking at the digital screens and poster. This also helped determine the optimal locations and content design.
The digital screens ran a continuous loop of spots for restaurant items (food and beverages), responsible gaming (with the free giveaway of a tote bag) and the WCS program. On the poster, static versions of the same content were shown side by side.
The poster achieved the highest number of impressions during the first week, but then dropped and remained at lower levels during the rest of the test weeks. The two sites with digital signage achieved relatively stable impressions, fluctuating between 250 and 400 per day. The average exposure time per passerby tended to be two to three seconds, which emphasized the importance of designing content for ease of quick comprehension.
Many regular Brantford patrons said they did not notice the screens, while the ratio of impressions to number of patrons was higher at Thousand Islands, which is considered more of a ‘destination’ casino. This suggests digital signage may be more effective at reaching new customers rather than regular visitors.
“The more frequently you come to our sites, the less you look at our screens,” said Tutton, “so we need engaging content to keep people looking.”
The numbers of tote bag giveaways and selected menu item purchases were higher with digital signage than with ‘static’ or ‘no’ signage. For the loyalty program, however, there was no discernible pattern in the number of WCR signups with digital or static signage, which suggests they may not be as effective at more complex advertising that is not easy to act upon. That said, WCR was already heavily advertised through other media, including direct mail, but also other on-site posters and digital screens at the casinos.
In a project report released in early 2013, OLG concluded advertising items on digital screens could boost sales—or in the case of the tote bags, free giveaways—so long as there was a clear ‘call to action’ for casino guests.
In 2014, OLG switched its digital signage network to run on 100 percent ‘green energy’ from Bullfrog Power.
“Our network was already using EnergyStar-certified screens and hardware at the time,” Tutton said. “The switch continued our efforts to use low-impact technologies.”
Under the commitment, Bullfrog promised to add nearly 1.3 million kilowatt-hours of electricity from low-impact, renewable sources to Ontario’s grid to match the level of consumption by OLG’s digital signage. This is reportedly equivalent to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by approximately 520 tonnes (573 tons) or removing 109 cars from the road.
Reaching out to retail
In late 2014, a digital signage pilot program was launched with Ontario’s dedicated lottery retailers (DLRs), who operate lottery-only kiosks in shopping malls throughout the province and generate a small but significant portion—about $130 million each year—of OLG’s overall sales.
For this program, OLG added large-scale screens to two of the kiosks in Toronto, supported by Capital Networks’ Audience software and services.
“Our IT team worked with Capital Networks in support of our lottery division’s vision for a better point-of-purchase (POP) experience,” said Tutton. “They provided not only technical support, but also industry insights, making suggestions to improve the project.”
The new kiosks were a year in the making. In addition to the large screens, tablet computers were integrated to help customers learn how to play various games and check their tickets.
“Consumers love the new look and feel,” said Larry Colatosi, OLG’s executive director of sales. “The retailers are really enjoying it too, as the new design enables them to satisfy more customers and drive top-line revenue and their commissions.”
Soon, other DLRs were asking to join the rollout.
“It was a great project that may be expanded soon,” said Tutton. “There’s a big opportunity on the lottery side.”
The live event
Most recently, OLG used its casino screens to promote and display its first-ever live million-dollar prize draw. Known as the ‘swipestakes,’ the draw was promoted to WCR members across the network through a series of messages, including a countdown to the live event, which was held on July 16, 2015.
The event, including the draw, was conducted using the screens at each venue by displaying a digital interactive show. Out of 224,000 who entered the initial contest in June, 88 qualified WCR members watched with their guests to see whose randomly assigned number would pop up for the prize. In the end, the winner was Helena Vermeeren of London, Ont.
“It was an incredibly complex undertaking,” says Tutton. “We needed to be able to communicate with the 88 potential winners across 45 draws, representing almost 4,000 combinations. This required the production of more than 400 videos, to ensure each draw result was unique. We worked closely with Capital Networks to ensure the content was triggered and distributed live across the province, from one central point.”
OLG has also tried other ideas along the way. Touch screens, for example, were not well-received among the casinos’ older demographics.
“Digital signage on a gaming floor is part of the ambience and doesn’t need to provide as much return on investment (ROI) as other types of networks do,” Tutton explains, “but it’s only as fresh as its oldest content. So, while the vast majority of our work is supporting existing business communications, we’re also trying to expand how digital signage is used. We’re starting to look at interactive connectivity through beacons and I’m pushing for gamification to engage customers. Following the example of the live draw, we want to start featuring more data-driven content.”
Source: Peter Saunders – Sign Media Canada
With files from OLG and Capital Networks