Digital Signage: The Need to Manage Content

Digital Signage: The Need to Manage Content
Ken Walker


In recent years, the size of widescreen monitors has increased while prices have decreased, making digital displays more affordable for churches of all sizes. Managing this equipment comes with a host of challenges, such as the need to constantly update announcements, messages and video to keep the congregation informed.

With prices declining dramatically, digital signage is no longer solely the province of megachurches. To run displays on 21st- century message boards, monitors and TV screens, however, the right content management system must be chosen.

Communicating Digitally

Twenty-first century communication methods are such a crucial part of operations at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Ky., that Rick Moore carries the title of digital signage manager.

The job includes overseeing 36 display screens powered by a combination of seven computers, which are linked to all monitors on the spacious campus and a satellite location in southern Indiana.

“It’s like a child,” Moore said of the far-flung network. “It has a personality and is different every day. Not a day goes by you don’t have to figure something out. With digital signage you’ve got computers, the Internet, the video side and cable. It keeps you on your toes.”

Moore manages three dozen monitors with the help of a Scala content management system (CMS). The software enables him to change messages from one display to another at a moment’s notice or switch to a live, televised feed from the worship center during services. Broadcasting the sermon over the network helps late arrivals and others throughout the building follow the message. That includes those who prefer to listen while seated in the megachurch’s coffee shop.

The ability to easily change displays is key to being able to update information in real time and keep it fresh. Failure to revise and update onscreen information means people will tune out the message, 11(says. The software also allows Moore to schedule content to appear at any time of day, such as class information that might only appear for an hour on Sunday morning.

In addition, although fancy display screens may look good, the foundation of the system is what feeds that display.

“I like to think of it as changing billboards,” Moore said of his CMS. “Instead of printing out posters we can use screens to promote all sorts of things You can target different groups of people with things that are important to them.”

A Variety of Choices

Scala’s CMS system is just one of hundreds of options that churches can employ to manage digital feeds.

Typically, houses of worship have used PowerPoint, SaaS (Software as a System) or Enterprise-level CMS, says Mike Zmuda, director of business development at NEC Display Solutions, an Itasca, Ill.-based provider of display technology. Although a larger church with multiple screens might require a sophisticated CMS, PowerPoint or a low-cost SaaS subscription may provide the best option for a smaller church.

No matter what system a congregation chooses, ease of use should be the leading priority.

“If the system is not easy to use and update, it will go unused and the investment will be wasted,” Zmuda said. “They should also have a plan of what they would like to do with it before deciding on a CMS. What is the need today and what will it be in six months? That way they don’t have to replace the system, because they outgrew it.”

Churches also should take time to investigate options, Zmuda said. Often, church leaders turn to off-the-shelf flatscreen/DVD packages and end up facing headaches and unexpected costs when it comes to wiring, installation and content creation.

Getting the Best Advice

To help with selection, Moore recommends talking with churches that have maneuvered through a digital transition “so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.” Chicago’s Willow Creek Community Church chose a similar route, attending a trade show to see equipment demonstrations.


Digital Signage: The Need to Manage Content

Dave Cooke, chief engineer at the church, says hiring a consultant, working with the product vendor or visiting existing installations also are possibilities.

“Whenever I see a new product I try to find out who else is using it,” Cooke said. “If there’s a local hospital using it, I might drive over and see what their graphics are like and what they’re doing with it.”

Zmuda says that allowing a company to function as an advisor means obtaining proper displays built for ease of use and a managed solution that takes the burden off church staff. It also means the advisor is responsible for timely installation and maintenance.

With a dizzying array of options on the market, however, Cooke recommends being prepared to spend considerable time investigating choices — and possibly winding up with more than one solution. For example, Willow Creek uses three different CMS set-ups for its network of nearly 60 screens.

Instead of trying to monitor content from one location, Willow Creek has chosen a decentralized set-up, with each ministry (i.e., junior high, high school, seniors, food service area) able to craft messages.

No matter what system a church chooses, the engineer says a dramatic decline in the price of large-screen monitors the past five years and the software options to manage content mean even smaller congregations can consider going digital.

“It’s an eye-catching thing,” Cooke said. `’You don’t have to put a sign up; you just put up a graphic.”

The article “Digital Signage: The Need to Manage Content” written by Ken Walker was excerpted from , 2010.