Balancing In-room Entertainment and Customer Devices
Written by Warren Markwart Friday, 04 January 2013
Today’s guestroom entertainment technology is changing at a rapid pace, and hotels are facing a dilemma keeping guests satisfied with their connection. Guestroom entertainment has become a confusing maze of hardware, content and connectivity that is increasingly complex.
In the past, guestroom entertainment involved a TV set with network channels and pay-per-view movies. The guest could use the TV for entertainment, to display hotel information, order room service, view a hotel bill or check out of the hotel.
But, today’s guests are travelling with their own hardware, software and content. They own smartphones, tablets and laptops with thousands of gigabytes of music and movies stored on their devices or in the “clouds.” They have subscription services such as iTunes, Netflix, YouTube, Skype and Hulu, and they can access a host of Internet sites that stream music and video. They play interactive games, competing with global users at any time of the day. Today’s travellers — from gen Xers to Ys, millennials and baby boomers — are well versed in technology.
As a result, hoteliers must provide guests with more bandwidth, while enhancing guestroom entertainment content to “push” data to the guest. Flat-screen TVs are now available in a variety of sizes and can be mounted on the wall, broadcasting in high-definition (HD), while creating theatre-quality viewing and built-in superior surround-sound systems. Special commercial-grade hotel TVs, made by LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Sharp and Philips also offer special features to access hotel information, pay-per-view movies and the protection of digital rights of the broadcasters.
The hotel guest can also “pull” entertainment content to their own devices and connect these to the TV, which consumes an enormous amount of bandwidth.
More than 80 per cent of hotel rooms are equipped with flat-screen TVs, and many have computer processors, hard disks and Wi-Fi capability. But, less than 20 per cent of hotels broadcast in HD as cable infrastructure often requires costly upgrading to deliver the enhanced signal.
Hotels “push” two types of content through the TV — “Free to Guest” regular network and speciality channels that, with the introduction of digital TVs, now offer more than 100 channels as well as on-demand pay-per-view, which shows new release movies. Its main competition is “over-the-top” content, Internet-based content that can be downloaded or streamed from the web.
Rogers and Bell Canada are major suppliers of free-to-guest network channels and hosts of speciality channels. Geoff Baker, VP, national sales manager, Bell Satellite TV For Business, says the free-to-guest channels, including sports, local news and weather, major network TV channels and movies remain popular with guests.
Pay-per-view suppliers, such as Lodge-net — the largest supplier of pay-per-view channels — are offering more entertainment options for the guest by utilizing other in-room devices. The service, available in more than 1.2-million guestrooms worldwide, is enhancing pay-per-view movie systems, developing technology to blend together the “four-screen-world” of a TV, laptop, tablet and smartphone.
Lodgenet recently launched a mobile app that turns a smartphone into a remote control for the TV. Guests can use their smartphone to change channels, adjust volume and display programming guides. The app has already been installed in more than 600,000 hotel rooms. Paul Johnson, VP of Product Development for the Brampton, Ont.-based company, says guests who use the app end up buying more movies. The app is easier to navigate than using a TV remote and displays information quickly, resulting in impulsive movie purchases.
InnVue, a Montreal-based in-room entertainment company that offers pay-per-view movies and TV signals, has also developed technology to elevate the on-screen experience, using a system to deliver HDTV over the hotel’s current coaxial wire systems — without costly upgrades. InnVue understands how guests are accessing and viewing entertainment content today. “On a PC you have to look for the entertainment, [but] on a TV the entertainment comes to you,” says Louis-Philippe Nöel, president of InnVue.
Today’s guests prefer to connect their own devices to the Internet and also have the ability to connect their device to the TV to access their pictures, video and music.
Paul Guardian, executive director of Brand Operations at Delta Hotels, says Delta has recently redesigned its guestroom concept with a focus on in-room entertainment and technology.
In addition to installing the latest TVs in its guestrooms, the upgraded room features a “jack pack,” manufactured by LG Electronics, an all-in-one multimedia hub that provides users with multiple audio and video inputs so the guest can connect any device — including an iPhone, smartphone, tablet or laptop — to the TV. DVD/CD players, video-game consoles, MP3 players and camcorders can also be connected, giving the guest a range of possibilities for entertainment. If the guest doesn’t connect devices, the in-room TV display will remain on the source selected; when a device is connected, the interface switches to display the new source.
With the demand for high-speed Internet continuing to grow, many hotels are finding their network bandwidth infrastructure is inadequate to meet demand. “Guests want more bandwidth. They are streaming video at increasing volumes, and do you charge for that?” asks Irwin Prince, president and COO of Realstar Hospitality. Do hotels “push” more entertainment to hotel guests, or create an infrastructure to make it easy for them to “pull” entertainment content, anywhere in the hotel? “The guest expectation is that the hotel technology will work the same as at their home,” sums up Delta Hotel’s Guardian. “It’s got to work simply.”
Warren Markwart is the principal of MK2 Hospitality, Toronto, which specializes in integrating hospitality technology with revenue-management strategies, guest service and business objectives. The 30-year industry vet has held executive roles at Fairmont Raffles International and Delta Hotels and Resorts. He was recently honoured with the Award of Merit by the international Hospitality Financial & Technology Professionals association. He can be reached at warren.markwart@mk2 hospitality.com.