This month, in the CEO Spotlight, we welcome Masafumi Yumikake, President and Chief Executive Officer of COMEL Co. in Tokyo.
- What is your background and how did you get into the digital out-of-home advertising and information business?
I joined International Telecommunication Japan Co., Ltd. (now SOFTBANK TELECOM Corp.) in 1993, holding positions in corporate sales, personnel affairs, in the project management office of new business (Otoku Line), and as executive assistant to the vice-president. In 2006, I was named service planning director of the Digital Signage Division. In the same year, COMEL Co. Ltd. was established and I assumed the post of managing director. In Feb. /08, I was appointed President and CEO of COMEL.
- Where are your products located and what variety of screens do you offer? Sizes? On kiosks, in store windows, on walls, hung from ceilings?
Currently, we are operating Digital Signage Media in two areas in Japan. One is in Fukuoka, Japan’s fourth largest city, and one is in Yokohama, the city near Tokyo. We have installed hundreds of displays in several types of locations, such as general merchandise stores, convenience stores, drugstores, shopping malls, train stations, bus stations, and airports. The size of displays ranges between 32” to 52”. Our 42” size is the most popular.
- I understand that COMEL is collaborating with Yahoo! Japan on electronic signage that photographs passersby, analyzes them using NEC’s facial analysis technology, guesstimates their age and sex, and then gives appropriate advertising content. What is COMEL’s role? Is this working yet, and if not, when and where will we see it?
We are currently running demonstration experiments in Fukuoka to measure the effectiveness of digital signage advertisements using NEC’s facial analysis technology with Yahoo! Japan’s digital contents and AD distribution technology on our Digital Signage Network. The purpose of this joint experiment is to verify the effectiveness of the advertisements based on demographic targeting and also to verify what kind of information is most effective to catch people’s attention at each location.
- From what I’ve read, COMEL has also worked with Vanten K.K. to develop Japan’s first wireless digital signage system. I believe it allows advertising and information sent through the Internet to display at railway and bus stations, malls, airports. There were some 1,000 displays in this manner planned for 2009. Can you describe this system a bit and tell us if and how it is working, where, and what kind of content it carries?
We have installed more than 500 displays using wireless internet technology. Various advertisements and information are delivered to the display using that network. As mentioned earlier, we have installed the displays in several kind of stores, stations and other public places, We are providing content such as flash news of professional baseball, local news, forecasts, restaurant information, best selling DVDs, fortune-telling, etc..
- Both of these systems sound very advanced and very flexible. What do you think is most important for the growth of your company, and where would you like to expand to next with this?
Our goal is to provide necessary information, along with advertising, to people needing it in ‘that location’ at ‘that time’. Also, as stated in our corporate slogan: ‘Creating Media for Life’s Enjoyment’, we want to develop community-based media that make people’s communication style more rich and fun – as well as media that can be used by people to communicate and share knowledge with each other. We want to deliver the content.
- I’ve read a bit about Fukuoka City Media. In one place it seems that it has something to do with working with the police for disseminating information (maybe like North America’s Amber Alert?) and in another it seems to be involved with food distribution. Can you explain what this is and how COMEL is involved with it – if it is?
In Fukuoka City Media, we deliver real-time information on nearby displays about crimes that happened. We receive such information from the police via the Internet. It is based on an existing information delivering service that the police currently operate via e-mail to PC and mobile.
We also provide content that gives information regarding popular restaurants near the displays. To provide this information, we collaborate with ‘tabelog.com’ , a word-of-mouth restaurant and gourmet food review site powered by Kakaku.com.
- I believe that COMEL’s holding company is a telecom company. Did it buy COMEL, or did it develop COMEL in-house? How much involvement and/or influence does it now have on COMEL’s plans and operations?
Our Holding company SOFTBANK Corp. operates several business segments such as Mobile Communication, Broadband Infrastructure, Fixed-line Telecommunication, Internet Culture (Yahoo!), e-Commerce, Media and Marketing, etc.. COMEL was established via intrapreneurship in the SOFTBANK group and now operates under the Media and Marketing segment. To develop and operate the digital signage media, we are working in closer cooperation with the SOFTBANK group company.
- Do you provide creative for your clients? How about measurement of campaigns? What system for measurement do you use?
We provide creative for clients – mainly using Flash. We usually use online questionnaires to measure the results of campaigns. We have also started to test the facial analysis technology, counting the people who watch the display.
- I believe that you worked with a trial of promotions and advertising activities in Yokohama. Can you tell us about it and how promotions and sponsorship fit into COMEL’s activities.
Yokohama City Media is also a community-based media which provides local information such as sports news, news of events, sale information in malls, and movie theater news.
- With Japan considered such a technologically advanced country, what do you do to make COMEL stand out from the clutter?
As we are subsidiary of the Internet company SOFTBANK, we will be focusing on how to bring the Internet technology and business model to the real world (offline). In the current Japanese Digital Signage market, the main players are display manufacturers such as Sharp, Sony, Panasonic. Their prime objective is to simply sell the displays, PCs, and software. Instead of that, COMEL does not sell the displays but will install displays to create media that delivers information and advertisements to people in the city.
- What are your growth plans inside and outside Japan? Japan is a small country with a large population. How does that affect digital growth potential?
Currently we are focusing on the Japanese market only. Our immediate mission is to expand the digital signage advertising market in Japan. We will develop the media ourselves and also connect other companies’ digital signage to expand our networks. However, as our holding company SOFTBANK is aiming to be the No.1 Internet Company in Asia, we also wish to expand our network to Asian countries in the near future.
- Are there any imminent laws pending in Japan or in specific cities that might affect your business?
No, we do not think that there are any such laws pending.
- How has the world economic situation affected the digital out-of-home field in Japan? Is it a market in which you would encourage foreigners to invest, or come enter?
The Japanese DOOH market has just starting to expand, so we think that the impact of world economic situation is not so big. In addition, (not digital) OOH media are also doing well, compared to other traditional media such as TV, newspapers and magazines.
- The Digital Signage Consortium of Japan apparently has about 141 members. How active is it? What would you like to see it do?
Large study sessions of 50-to-100 people are held every month. Several small sessions (5-20 people) are held every two or three months. There are sessions on topics such as ‘Systems’, ‘Location’, or “Measurement of Effectiveness”. We would like them to improve common indicators for effectiveness of campaigns so that clients could determine them easily.