By Christine Lewers
No time was wasted getting down to business at the furniture industry's latest trade show complex, the World Market Center in Las Vegas.
When 60,000 people descended on the two buildings in January for a 2-week furniture exhibition, the first things they saw were plasma screens running advertising. Lots of them.
Twelve 60-inch plasmas are recessed into the second-floor balcony handrail in the rotunda of the center's new 16-floor, 1.6 million-square-foot Jon Jerde-designed building, which made its debut at January's show. Buyers moving between floors via the building's open-air escalators pass 26 46-inch screens. Plasmas are in each of the building's 16 elevator bays, and two more are behind the reception desk. Adjacent to the new building is another 10-story, 1.3 million-square-foot building with 55 plasmas placed similarly. During the show every other screen in each building displayed identical advertising provided by furniture manufacturers to lure retail buyers to showrooms.
"If the approach was one or two plasma screens, we would not have been successful with advertising placement," says Shawn Samson, co-managing partner of World Market Center LLC. and The Related Companies LP. He explains that the idea of alternating content on so many screens in so many places ensures that for two advertisers at a time, their message comes across strong.
And it's about to get stronger.
The Master Plan
World Market Center's ambitious master plan calls for digital signage in an eventual eight buildings that will total a colossal 12 million square feet, making World Market Center the biggest trade show complex in the world. Jerde's plan shows the buildings situated together as a modernistic 3-D collage of geometric shapes connected by skywalks and a plaza.
Samson says the screens, too, will connect the buildings. "The idea is that when we have an event or a party, then the entire complex, by virtue of the screens, becomes one big party," Samson says. The plasmas also help with wayfinding and display Las Vegas-area information.
World Market Center's digital signage system stands out because it's designed to transmit video signal from a central source to a large number of screens over long distances, says Brent Brown of International Business Systems, which supplied the digital signage network controlling the screens. Not only did the center's owners want multiple screens, but they also wanted the system connecting them to be cost-effective, easy to manage, scalable, and reliable, he says.
Brown met these needs by combining 3M digital networking software, Samsung screens, Dell PCs, and Magenta signal distribution products to pull the signal over Cat 5e and Cat 6e.
"The owners wanted the ability to know what pictures were showing when," says Brown. "The 3M software gives them that auditing capability, and it's also easy for the user to update, schedule, and program."
Making the Connection, Bridging the Distance
World Market Center's IT department manages the screens from administrative offices in the older building using a central server PC to load, schedule, and send content to eight other PCs, four for each building, that in turn store and forward content to the screens. Brown installed ATi All in Wonder video cards into the eight media players, which allowed for component video inputs so the monitors could broadcast live events. Each card also has 256 MB extra memory. "Having a lot of memory is critical when you're doing that much video processing," says Brown.
A fiber-optic run connects the new building's screens to the administrative offices. Within the buildings, Cat 5e and Cat 6e cable delivers content to the screens using Magenta's MultiViewTM series five-output, four-output, and single-output transmitters combined with a variety of distance-adapting receivers and 1x9 distribution hubs, says Brown. The MultiView equipment makes it possible to distribute content over long distances without losing resolution or compromising sync signals, very important considering the complex will eventually span several football fields.
"This is independent of the IT network, so they don't have to worry about streaming video issues or network traffic," says Magenta's marketing director Randy Young, who worked with Brown on the project. "We're transferring high-resolution analog video onto the Cat 5, and it's received in real time with no glitches or hesitations," he says.
Another plus for running the cable was that the building's designers placed IDF and MDF rooms within 330 feet of one another, says Bill Miller of Reliable Security, the Las Vegas company that designed the low-voltage infrastructure for both buildings. "The physical layout of the building was very conducive to cabling," he says.
On the receiving end of the network are 111 commercial Samsung plasmas. What helped make this project affordable, says Brown, is that the size of plasma screens are increasing while price tags are dropping. In addition, technological advances in plasmas have made them much less sensitive to reflections from daylight.
That helped a lot here. Although the buildings' permanent showrooms are windowless, Jerde's design more than made up for it with heavy use of glass in the building's public areas, where the screens are located.
"Since it's an advertising revenue-generating resource for the owner, they want them to be in prominent positions, wherever the public is focused," says project manager Bob Lehmann with JMA in Las Vegas. Except for in the buildings' rotundas, where the monitors are recessed, the rest of the screens are either ceiling hung or wall mounted, he says. Peerless supplied the mounts.
As the 10-year project progresses, each building is becoming more refined, says Lehmann, and this includes incorporation of digital signage. Plans for buildings six, seven, and eight call for glass towers featuring Time's-Square-style digital signage that Samson says will help trade-show guests know from the outside which building contains what type of home furnishing products, ranging anywhere from lighting to area rugs.
But for now the focus is on getting more plasma screens into the center's third building, under construction and set to open July 2008 at World Market Center's annual summer show. At 2.1 million square feet, the campus's third building is the largest scheduled.
Samson says the investment in more screens will be worth it. Advertising sales during trade shows have been brisk. "In terms of comparison with conventional signage, the plasma screen wins every time," he says. "It's impossible to miss."