Taking Advantage of TV

By Ed Rubinstein • Contributing Editor | May 01, 2006

The longstanding offering of supply-pushed video content in hotels appears to be giving way to a demand-pulled combination of high-definition broadcast, satellite and video on demand (VOD) programming, and even IP-based video content.

While in-room telephone revenues have plummeted, the television, or the TV/PC combo, remains one of the strongest sources of additional revenue available for hotels through on demand movies, music and music videos, on demand video games, Internet on television, and television on demand programming, as well as high-speed Internet access.

With more movies becoming available in the high-definition (HD) format and anti-piracy/encryption technology gaining traction, VOD revenues are averaging annual growth rates of as much as 40 percent, according to several sources Hospitality Technology spoke with.

Building on relationships
A few hotels have chosen to extend existing relationships with leading VOD providers in order to accommodate the HD wide-screen format that sports the 16:9 aspect ratio. One such hotelier is the landmark Beverly Hilton, first built in the 1950s, where recent renovations include the installation of 42 inch plasma televisions from LG Electronics (lge.com) and the SigNETure programming service from LodgeNet (lodgenet.com).
According to Michael Robertson, who oversaw such recent renovations at the property, LodgeNet offered an integrated communications cable and external HD tuner that is hidden in the walls of each of the 570 rooms. "With the flat screen TV, we had to make it look like artwork in a hard-wired solution," he says. Robertson also notes that LodgeNet continues to establish direct relationships with the major studios for licensed HD movies on demand. Last fall, LodgeNet inked a major pact with Paramount Pictures to distribute HD versions of the studioÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s movies on SigNETure.

Triple play
Other hotels are more focused on the opportunities of IP-based content as well as one-stop shop solutions for voice, data, and video, and are utilizing Internet Protocol (IP) as the means for providing their guests with such a triple play. Earlier this spring, for example, Hong Kong-based Peninsula Hotels announced a five-year purchase and support contract with broadband provider Guest-Tek (guest-tek.com) to provide HD VOD and the One View solution to Peninsula Hotels around the world, beginning later this year with the Chicago property. In addition to VOD, Guest-TekÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s One View solution provides Internet Protocol-based television programming via an exclusive partnership with Tangerine Global, which sources a blend of satellite, off-air, and server delivered content to help create a mix of programming tailored to each hotelÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s needs.

According to Guest-Tek, a prominent part of the PeninsulaÃ.Ã.•¬Ã.•.s programming will be a portal page that displays information that is relevant to each individual guest. Other benefits to the pure IP-based One View include the ability to customize and sort channels to guest preferences. The system can also integrate television and telephone functions so that a movie would pause automatically when a guest answers an incoming phone call.

The road less traveled
In some cases, operators that do not have a VOD provider are building their own HD and VOD paths by transforming their traditional television sets and cable boxes into high-end home theater systems, complete with a TV as PC option.

"We decided to take a different approach, one that closely matches the home theater experience that our guests may already enjoy when they are home," states Todd Wood, vice president of information services at Sea Island Resorts of Georgia. The company, whose operations date back to 1928, manage the newly renovated Cloister, Cloister Cottages, The Lodge at Sea Island, and Cabin Bluff, and operates several fine-dining establishment like the European-inspired dÃÆ'©cor of Georgian Room and the traditional, golf-influenced Colt & Alison.

All 156 rooms in the main Cloister hotel now sport 45 inch Sharp Aquos LCDs (sharp.com), along with wireless keyboards, personal video recorders and DVD players, which provide guests with a high connected/high resolution TV and/or PC experience. Each set has five inputs, three of which are used for cable TV, PC and DVD, and the remaining two allow customers to connect their own devices, be it an Xbox360 or iPod.

The setup, complete with RS-232 controls, allows the operator to monitor and control certain functions of the sets, such as turn down/limit the volume, turn on the device upon check-in and off when not in use or upon customer checkout. As for programming, Sea Island customers have access to over 300 channels, including more than 50 digital music channels, 12 channels of HDTV content, 12 HBO feeds, and two channels of ESPN.

According to Wood, Sea Island will build web site templates later this year that will automatically turn on customized web pages that cater to the individual tastes of guests.

The open architecture of this setup will allow Sea Island to take advantage of VOD offerings. "The full PC/HD display opens up all types of opportunities in the IP world," Wood adds.

One such opportunity could conceivably be offshoots of a service called Akimbo (akimbo.com), which utilizes HSIA to send television programs either to a specialized set-top box that sells for about $70 or to PCs using Media Center software from Microsoft. Such on demand movies and television in one box may give true meaning to television a la carte.

Working with RCA and Movielink, Akimbo is slated to introduce a $300 cable box that provides shows from Akimbo and movies from Movielink.

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