Saving TVs from Becoming a Casualty of the Mobile Boom

By Jennifer Goforth Gregory, Contributing Editor | December 12, 2013

It used to be that hotels had video lending libraries behind the desk for guests to rent movies to watch in their room. Then the technology shifted to being able to provide video on demand systems (VoD) for each guest. But these days, most guests spend their downtime watching streamed or downloaded content on personal electronic devices, including tablets, smartphones and laptops. According to the Skift Global Trend Report (www.skift.com), currently only nine percent of hotel guests even turn on the in-room television.

With LodgeNet ­— now rebranded as SONIFI Solutions (www.sonifi.com) — filing bankruptcy earlier this year, many hotels are realizing that supplying VOD is no longer the best route for profitability and customer satisfaction. Jason Shane, senior director of IT for HHM (www.hhmhospitality.com), which owns properties across the eastern United States, says that the industry is currently upside down on its investment in video on demand. “Each month operators are paying more in fees than they bring in from video on demand,” says Shane. “Because people are bringing their own content, they are not looking to purchase content through video on demand, which has made the systems irrelevant.”

With the dramatic change in what guests are looking for in regards to in-room entertainment, to meet the customer’s needs many hotels are shifting their guest room entertainment focus. “It used to be all about how to deliver more content to guests and how to get them to pay for the content,” says Jonathan Wise, general manager of JHouse Greenwich in CT (www.jhousegreenwich.com). “But now the content is being supplied by the guest, and the hotel just needs to supply the connectivity and vehicle to play the content.”

Making smarter connections
One solution is furnishing smart TVs in the guest room. These sets allow guests to log onto their own streaming accounts, such as Netflix and Hulu, to watch the content that they have already paid for on the guest room television. Wyndham Worldwide (www.wyndhamworldwide.com) provides Samsung Smart TVs (www.samsung.com) at many of their properties, which allow guests to log into their personal streaming accounts  through the television. Rob Mano, director of guest technology, strategic sourcing at Wyndham Worldwide (www.wyndhamworldwide.com), says that many of the Wyndham properties use the AllShare Play feature available on the Samsung smart televisions. “This allows guests to stream content over the Internet from their tablets to the television and also from the television to their tablet,” he says.
 
JHouse Greenwich meets their guests’ need to watch content by providing connectivity panels in each room along with smart televisions. These devices allow guests to plug in almost any device directly into the television. Wise says that their hotel rooms provide connectivity that you would expect in a boardroom not in a hotel room and supports Apple products, HDMI and Android along with pretty much any device that would be in a guest’s luggage.  Guests can even plug their MP3 player into the connectivity panel and listen to music on the room stereo system, says Wise.

Bandwidth issues arise
No matter how the hotel decides to allow guests to play their own content on in-room devices, this technology brings up another issue – bandwidth and connectivity. “It’s not just about television, but it’s also about having the appropriate bandwidth for guests to watch video on their own devices,” says Mano. “Many of the hotel networks were built four or five years ago when most people traveled with just one laptop. These days a family of four may want to use eight to 10 different devices on the wireless network in one room.”  Previously wireless access points were installed in the hallways with several points serving an entire floor, but this no longer provides enough bandwidth and signal strength for acceptable streaming quality.

Some properties, including JHouse Greenwich, have solved this issue by installing an access point in each room. “Because you aren’t sharing bandwidth with other rooms, this allows guests to successfully stream movies and television and provides a true high speed experience,” says Wise. The most important factor is that hotels address the bandwidth issue before installing additional technology or hardware in the guestrooms. If the network does not provide enough connectivity to watch content over the Internet, then the guest reaction will be negative, regardless of the effectiveness of the technology.

Wyndham takes a different approach. Their properties use the hotel’s bandwidth management tools and devices, which allow them to regulate how much bandwidth any one guest can consume. “This prevents one person from logging on and using up all of the bandwidth, ensuring that all guests who log on are able to have a positive experience,” says Mano.

Increasing value offerings with HD packages
Even though many guests will not watch television, the TV is still an expected amenity. Many vendors are offering high-definition packages that allow guests to enjoy the same level of channels and programming that they do at home. Comcast (www.comcast.com) offers a package with 60 high-definition channels that is popular with hotels and is launching the HD UTD Wall Plate. This device fixes to the wall, hiding all wires and allowing changing of channels without a line of sight. The DIRECTV (www.directv.com) Residential Experience for Hotels package provides guests with more than 100 HD channels and uses the same on-screen program guide that is used on their home televisions.
 
With guestroom technology evolving rapidly, any investment must be evaluated on its ability to either remain competitive and attractive to potential guests, or to increase revenue. Monitoring market segment activity can be telling: according to HT’s 2014 Lodging Technology Study, 50% of the hotel market offers HD content to guests, and an additional 39% have plans to upgrade to HD content within the coming 18 months.  Just a marginal few – 11% -- don’t use the technology and have no plans to add it. “You really have to balance between what technology is fun and what technology matches your market,” says Wise.

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