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Solutions: SSE Arena Belfast completes digital upgrade

In the 17 years it’s been open, this popular arena has attracted nine million visitors and counting; however, the legacy equipment had become a hindrance to its plans for greater customer engagement. To rectify this, the venue underwent a revamp to bring its digital offering up to date.

The SSE Arena in Belfast hosts everything from concerts and exhibitions to sporting events and has recently received more than £3m of investment to update its digital assets.

Integrator Eurotek had just eight weeks to turn around the project, which is based around a Tripleplay Digital Signage and IPTV solution and features 200 displays from LG and NEC ranging in size from 39in up to 70in.

“The brief was basically to have as many digital screens around the venue as is physically possible,” says Clara Killen, digital marketing and development manager, SSE Arena. “So we tried to put them on every wall, every place that a customer might be passing by to give us maximum opportunities. And we turned everything around in about eight weeks, so quite an extensive project, as you can imagine.”

Kevin Moore, managing director at Eurotek, adds: “The brief was to provide a stadium-wide platform for visual communications, to include IPTV, digital signage, integration to the EPOS system, and menu boards for the concession booths, with the ability on the IPTV system to take a live feed from the OB for live events.”

On how the project came about, Killen explains: “18 months ago we had major investment into the venue, £3.2m to revamp the arena and bring it uåp to the digital age. We started with the arena bowl, we had 9,000 new seats, we installed WiFi throughout the building, we installed the 200 IPTV screens and we developed a venue app.”

Complete solution

The complete solution features Tripleplay’s Digital Signage and IPTV platform which, along with Amino set-top boxes, manages and delivers content to around 200 LED displays – primarily from LG, with 25 70in LED displays from NEC in the concourse areas. The displays are mounted with a range of solutions from Vogel’s, with additional mounting in the foyer and box office handled by universal display mounts from Peerless.

Prior to the install, the venue had a number of shortcomings: “It was a little bit dated, having been here for 16 or 17 years,” says Killen. “We just felt we needed a venue that was much more engaging with our customers. The digital screens, our app, and all of the digital assets that we have now allow us to interact with the customer and give them something visually pleasing to look at when in the venue. Quite often doors may open for an event at about half past six, and an artist might not take to the stage till nine o’clock so there’s a lot of dwell time around the foyer and the concourse areas, so the screens have really enhanced what we can communicate to our customers.”

The CEO at for the Odyssey Trust, which own and runs the venue, is a fan of many US stadiums, so the install aims to incorporate some of those elements. It was also revealed that the SSE Arena is hosting other venues from across the UK and Europe on a monthly basis to see how the venue has developed.

A lot of consideration was given to the location of the screens. “We had a lot of planning in terms of how do customers walk around our building,” states Killen. “We wanted videowalls because we wanted something that looked really striking and you couldn’t really miss, and there was a lot of consideration in terms of the shape and positioning of the screens.”

In terms of the Tripleplay solution, David Lowry, technical advisor for the SSE Arena, explains: “Tripleplay is used in all of our public-facing areas. In our concessions, we’ve five screens in each hot and cold food and bar area, those are used both for promotion and pricing and our general commercial content as well as our sponsors. We have six videowalls, which are used in different configurations for different events. We have commercial content, health and safety content and merchandise as well, so depending on the event we can change things to suit the need and make best use of the screen space we have.”

“The Tripleplay system integrates the key functionality needed for the entire system so once it was correctly configured and commissioned by the Eurotek project team, with final commissioning by Tripleplay’s engineers on site, the project’s goals were reasonably straightforward,” says Moore. “Having a client who had a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve, and a key stakeholder as part of the project implementation team, was a huge assistance.”

Simple and flexible

Killen explains why Tripleplay was chosen: “We looked around for quite a length of time to find the provider we were going to use for our digital screens and the Tripleplay solution is a simple solution but it’s a flexible solution. We’ve found we can have everything up to complete takeovers of screens and we can individually program all 200 screens if we wish to do so. Having that flexibility to have certain screens with commercial content or certain screens promoting upcoming events, the system allows us to do that. If we get a call that a certain product has run out, we can react to that instantly and update the screens remotely. Having that flexibility in this day and age is vitally important.”

The fact the Tripleplay system is web-based and can be accessed remotely also played a part. Additionally every computer on the corporate network can access the system. Lowry adds: “Tripleplay helps us tie together different areas of the building and help us prioritise different content. On our external screens we have key health and safety messaging, we have welcome messaging, less in the way of upcoming events and commercial content, it’s more about driving people in.”

On the Tripleplay solution, Moore comments: “It was based on our knowledge that this system offered the broadest range of integrated services in a single platform, and with multiple deployments on other sites, we knew the system would prove to be reliable and high-quality.”

The major challenge for those involved in this project was the timescale. Moore elaborates: “As always, the turnaround time for installation was very tight, and equipment deliveries, especially for the displays, were a challenge. Additionally, the stadium’s network infrastructure was also being upgraded at the same time, and we had to co-ordinate with the network service providers, so all in all it was a very intense installation timeframe.”

Killen adds: “We closed the venue in late June and traditionally we would very rarely have concerts over the summer – because everything moves outdoor for festivals. So that was always downtime for us to do just general maintenance, not to completely rebrand the building with a new naming rights partner, develop an app, install the WiFi, and then install 200 digital screens as well. A lot of long days and long nights, but the end product when we opened in early September was breath-taking and the feedback we’ve had from customers has been excellent.”