“Death comes alike to the idle man and to him that works much” so said Achilles to Odysseus (Homer, Iliad 9.320) and despite lots of running around (perhaps a little like headless chickens at times) the technology and engineering folks at CBS Outdoor in London seem to have messed up like crazy what should be one of the showpiece digital screen networks on the planet.
We reported yesterday  that much of the CBS Outdoor London Underground (Tube) digital screen network had been dark since Sunday AND not surprisingly CBS Outdoor took major issue with this – especially with our use of the word ‘much’.
We had a conference call with a CBS Outdoor spokesperson this morning who wanted to explain some of the issues that we were about to raise (we sent them a DRAFT of this post for review) and correct any inaccuracies. It’s likely however that CBS Outdoor will still be unhappy with what is written here. Remember this is our point of view, our thoughts. We don’t purposely write to cause trouble (though it may indeed look like that a lot of the time).
We had initially heard that almost 400 screens on the Tube network were off, “absolutely not so” say CBS Outdoor who claim a 94% success rate.
CBS Outdoor proceeded to tell us why the screens at Green Park and South Kensington (more on that later) weren’t on. They didn’t however manage to tell us why, that by our reckoning, there were only TWO tube stations that had ALL of their screens (the DEPs) working on the escalators (Baker Street and London Bridge). Every other DEP has an issue with at least one screen on one side. If I was paying for my brand to be on the DEPs I would not be happy with that.
- CBS tell us that all the Green Park screens are off because of London Underground enabling work. This of course does happen from time to time.
- CBS tell us that all the South Kensington screens are off because they are upgrading the system. This makes sense but our point was that one half of the escalator panel didn’t work most of the time previously – hence the need for swopping out and the upgrade.
Here’s the pinch, we can argue about the exact numbers and what is officially on and officially off (or as CBS Outdoor term it ‘Out of Charge’, i.e. is not sold or charged to brands) BUT like many regular London commuters since March 2009 we have seen what can only be described as a massive downturn in the reliability of the digital signage estate.
Walk around the tube and it seems that almost everywhere there is a screen off (for whatever reason) and as previously mentioned walk up an escalator and it’s very unlikely you will see all the screens in action at the same time.
There have been rumours in a lack of technical management and in-house systems knowledge within CBS Outdoor since the departure of several key people in the last 12 months or so and we have seen more than enough systems with our own eyes displaying errors, playing back incoherently or just showing a blank screen.
Rather than a fault with the infrastructure or deployed technologies (hands up here – we are often the first to beat up on Windoze or ‘crappy’ signage systems) that doesn’t seem to be be the issue this time. In fact it would be easy to blame TELentice or Windoze but they are not the culprits – we believe that it is more likely to be human error and lack of process.
CBS Outdoor told us (this is amazing, so hold your breath) that they PAY PEOPLE to go down into the Tube 3 times a day to physically check the screens – in fact they made a big thing about spending GBP 250,000 a year to do this. This is crazy, absolutely crazy!
WIth a properly built and properly managed digital network you can monitor all this remotely. It seems to us that the issues might be with the daisy chaining of the devices (one player goes down on a DEP and it brings down several other screens attached to it), We’d also say that the synchronicity of the DEPs doesn’t seem to work properly either and we expect that is another reason for the need of Eyeball Mark 2.0  tracking!!!
The big problem here is obviously a lack of experienced management at the helm that has seen this once groundbreaking technology reduced to at best an unreliable medium. Long gone it seems is any attention to detail. Again, CBS Outdoor told us “not so” and they vouch for their people 100%. We’d say walk around the Tube and see for yourself.
We believe that CBS Outdoor need to quickly appoint a head of digital (someone who understands all of the intricacies of networks such as these) and stop relying on the IT network folks who obviously don’t have a clue as to how and why the original system was built. Quite literally this once great network seems to have slid from bad to worst since they got rid of a number of engineers who originally built the system.