Long gone are the days of wooing guests with free color TV and HBO on a roadside sign. The changing demands of travelers coupled with ever-expanding improvements in mobile technology have forced hoteliers to not only upgrade their hardware but also completely rethink their guests’ entire in-room entertainment experience. With so many sophisticated media options readily available everywhere from living rooms to doctor’s offices, consumers come to hotels expecting more, especially when it comes to high-def TVs, diverse content options, and high-speed Internet.
“The in-room entertainment experience is really moving toward an environment that mimics the quality of what customers have in their living rooms with smart TV, mobile device access, apps, widgets, and more,” says Fred Crespo, director of technology and business development, hospitality sales, and marketing for Samsung. “Hoteliers must meet or exceed the technology that guests already have at home.”
It starts with the TV. While most travelers check in to a hotel packing multiple mobile devices, the advent of smartphones and tablets has not diminished the importance of the television. “TV is the hub of the in-room entertainment experience,” Crespo says. “The TV is the design and media center of the hotel room. It’s the first thing guests see and has the greatest impact on the overall impression of an establishment.”
But not just any TV. Cathode ray tube TVs have become a relic of the past, replaced by flat-panel high-def TVs. And Crespo says TVs have also increased in size, moving from a standard 32-inch to 40- and even 46-inch screens.
Of course, a state-of-the-art TV is nothing without the right content. “At present and for the foreseeable future, offering a high-definition signal on an attractive HD set with a channel lineup that guests want is going to be part of our landscape and has to be something we take seriously,” says Josh Weiss, vice president of brand and guest technology for Hilton Worldwide.
Hilton, which recently completed a study on guests’ viewing habits, found that guests needed only 10 or so channels to be happy. “The hard part of the story is they are different channels for everyone,” Weiss adds. “The ability to please everyone with a small lineup—as was the case 10 to 20 years ago—is no longer the case. That’s why it’s really important to provide as many HD channels as possible along with an easy-to-navigate and attractive interactive programming guide so they can decide what’s on when.”
Hilton announced in April that it will partner with DirecTV to deliver service to its hotel guests across the country. The relationship will allow hoteliers to offer guests more than 160 HD channels, including premium sports and movie content at discounted rates. The package also includes a DirecTV interactive program guide that hotels can customize with property-specific information. They’ll also have the option of services like DVR—a feature that Weiss says may be more suited for its extended-stay brands. (A plan is also in the works that will enable Hilton HHonors members to get free stays or points if they sign up for DirecTV service at home.)
Most consumers with digital cable are accustomed to the convenience of interactive program guides (IPGs), menus that allow them to scroll through and review available programming. “Providing that living-room experience can be one of the biggest challenges in the hospitality sector, and implementing an IPG is one of the best ways to close the gap,” Crespo says. “Most customers will already be familiar with the IPG integrated in the set-top boxes from their TV providers at home, and this makes it an intuitive addition for content discovery.”
And today’s IPGs need to connect with a wide range of platforms and systems. “In-room entertainment is reaching a place where the TV becomes the conduit for content delivery,” Crespo says, “whether coming from the Internet, a mobile device, apps, or traditional content delivery feeds.” Thanks to portable technology (and content), travelers are no longer reliant on hotels for entertainment once they’ve checked in. As such, enhancing their ability to engage with these personal devices has become the centerpiece of the next generation of in-room entertainment.