Can Media’s View On Our Anti-PC Stance

Adrian J Cotterill, Editor-in-Chief

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Phil Austin, Managing Director, Can Media Limited and a long time industry veteran has taken the time to write to us on what he sees (pretty much correctly) as our anti-PC and anti-Windows stance.

He is referring to what is now our most commonly viewed (and most Google’d) post – ‘Our Top 10 Digital Signages Vendors’ (Parts 1, 2 and 3).

He also makes mention of our attitude towards Scala and in particular our attempts at humour on their Press Releases – we wouldn’t know much about their Press Releases any more as they have managed to take all of our researchers and industry analysts off of their Press Release distribution lists!!! :(

Anyway with regard Scala, let’s just say that we have no particular axe to grind with them and try as much as we can (always) to be as impartial and honest as possible – we will however always have an opinion!

Our ‘falling out with Scala, if you will is probably down to our very strong opinion on what we see as the flawed Frost and Sullivan market research that Scala were so proud in trumpeting.

Bottom line it was inaccurate and we believe that Scala should have known better than to take it at (their) face value just because it suited their purposes.

The other issue we had with Scala was with Press Releases from them such as that announcing BanestoTV – a Spanish deployment in retail banking that was made to sound much, much bigger than it was – when in affect it was a single screen implementation in one bank in Madrid.

Anyway, enough from us, as it is unusual for us to write such long posts.

Phil has very kindly allowed us to reproduce in its entirety (we have not edited one word) his email to us.

On 13/03/2008, phil austin wrote:


I am an avid reader of your newsletter and in the main find it entertaining and sometimes informative. I do however sometimes despair at the level of criticism that you frequently throw at companies such as Scala, Microsoft and general PC based solutions. I will leave Messrs Bucas and Gates to respond with regard to their companies although I might suggest that you will only receive feedback from one of the two.

My issue relates to the constant criticism you levy at PC based solutions, forcefully referencing the facts they do not scale and are unreliable.

I am sure that you make your statements in good faith but I feel that I need to air my view as the Managing Director of a company that manage a significant number of PC based remote terminals running Windows and Scala. Can Media group companies (Innov8 Solutions, Storecast Media and The Life Channel) currently manage/own over 4000 such terminals, a large number of which have been out in the field for over five years. The original Healthtrack network consisted of 1250 standard build Dell Optiplex PCs running Scala IC200 and Windows NT. Almost all of those units are still deployed in the field and have historically had a mean time between failure of 29 months. The bulk of these faults being limited to power supplies and Hard Disk failures. The Jewson network has been in the field for five years and consists of 1100 players running the same configuration. Despite being in a very hostile environment, namely a builder’s yard, these systems have had similar MTBF as Healthtrack.

Both of these networks were deployed by Hughes Network Systems and as such were configured, imaged and managed in the highly efficient manner one would expect from HNS. That said they are still running what was a troublesome operating system (NT) on a standard PC. In an effort to avoid potential issues HNS configured the systems to clear caches regularly, health check the PC and provide uniformity of drivers thus ensuring that most normal PC associated issues would be avoided.The net result has been that both of these large networks have been inordinately resilient and robust. Since the implementation of these networks Can Media companies have installed over two thousand similar systems, albeit using later Windows operating systems and later versions of Scala. This technology is deployed with two UK banks, a high street furniture retailer and underpinned the Alphyra radio network in Ireland. As you know Tesco Screens uses this technology and to the best of my knowledge this network has proven to be as resilient and robust as those networks previously mentioned. In this regard it is worth mentioning that in the early days of Tesco (TV as it was) Scala was not the original choice. A non PC, fan-less, resilient solid state player was selected but proved to be unsuitable and not scalable. Obviously times have moved on as has technology, as such I am not decrying the great products available today..

For my part I recently embarked on a whistle stop tour of content management systems in order that I might ascertain whether The Life Channel was using the best product. Having looked at most products I have to say that I was impressed with certain software vendors not least Broadsign. Having looked at their offer some years ago I was impressed by the development that had taken place, well done Broadsign. I also evaluated Digital View for a client last year. I was very impressed with their product, service and the general approach of Richard Cobold. In short there are some great products out there, unlike when I started out. The fact remains Adrian that they are in the main different in their functionality, ability to scale and cost. That cost word is often ignored in forums such as yours; Can Media spends several million pounds each year on these products and as such it is of prime importance to us.

As it happens, the Scala product best suits our company’s needs currently. Is it flawless? Absolutely not.

As regards how many staff Scala employ I think it is important to understand what “a significant presence” means to a client. As a large user of content management software I am more interested in technical support than sales people, in that regard I have always found Scala on the ball. Whether these people are in the UK, France or Beirut is academic to me, I need support and I get it from Scala.

In summary I can state with confidence and have definitive proof that a PC based solution running a Windows operating system and Scala software does what it says on the can (sorry for the pun), in support of that assertion my company has spent several million pounds installing this very solution. That might make us stupid although our balance sheet suggests otherwise.

I would welcome anyone to challenge my comments but only if they can speak from a similar moral high ground namely that they operate as many remote terminals as we do.

P.S. I would not single Scala out for special attention when it comes to PR, the industry is full of hot air statements on blogs like yours, this note will probably be construed by many as just that.

4 Responses to “Can Media’s View On Our Anti-PC Stance”

  1. Guy Bucknall Says:


    I too have been a client of Scala for nearly eight years and conducted similar surveys to Phil over that period. I must admit that I and my technical team would completely concur with him on all of the points posted.

    Every DS installation has its vagaries of client requirements and an exact match of needs is actually impossible to find, so picking holes in any deployment solution is very easy to do from an arm’s length perspective. For network operators the reliability and resilience of remote boxes is of absolute paramount importance and if Scala or any PC solution was not able to deliver this, they would not be getting any renewals over the longer period.

    Scala recently celebrated their 20th birthday. At the event was a surprising number of network operators who have been Scala users for more than five years.

    Reporting of ‘Rumour Control’ is extremely important and your column is gaining a bigger and bigger readership (congrats). To maintain the success you are achieving, I suggest that a measured and balanced view is what we are all looking for.

    Kindest regards

    Guy Bucknall, MD, Gym Screen Media

  2. allo Says:

    PC’s are not reliable enough for digital signage. Just because they get used for this doesn’t mean they are that good at it. Better/cheaper solutions are coming. There are just to many thing that go wrong in the “wild” and PC’s are rather touchy with any problems that are encountered. Humans using the PC’s seems to be the biggest problem :-)

  3. Randy Young Says:

    Yes, PCs will always have their cost-related issues (reliability, licenses, maintaining IP addresses, etc.) and practical maintenance issues (you don’t want repairs taking place out on the digital signage “floor” in front of customers), so we advocate the minimization of PCs and their being located in a secure, controlled environment, then signal distribution via UTP and/or fiber using extension devices. The receivers out at the displays are inherently much more reliable than local players or PCs. With good extension/distribution hardware, this method is solid and has been a standard approach for years.

  4. Martin Waddell Says:

    In all the years I’ve been around I have not once entered a Jewsons and seen the TV working.

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