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Television loses its top spot in hotel rooms

By Jane L. Levere | China Daily | Updated: 2013-06-02 08:01

Len Markidan, a 26-year-old marketing consultant based in San Francisco, is the type of business traveler who forced LodgeNet, the hotel guest-room entertainment provider, to file recently for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Mr. Markidan, who spends 40 percent of his time traveling and is an elite participant in the Hilton and Hyatt loyalty programs, takes his MacBook Pro and iPad with him and watches all television programs by streaming them on his laptop, using a portable router to extend the Wi-Fi signal in his hotel room.

"For a lot of people my age and a lot of people in general, the way we consume entertainment at home is changing," he said. "I no longer have a cable subscription - the way I watch entertainment at home is the same way I watch it on the road. I have a Hulu subscription, Amazon Prime and Netflix."

Guest-room entertainment "is not an amenity that will drive my decision to stay at a hotel," Mr. Markidan said, adding, "I'm a lot more concerned with loyalty program perks."

James Lingle of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, a consultant to hotel companies and guest-room entertainment service providers like LodgeNet's competitor iBahn, observed: "If you look back, typically the first thing a guest would do when they walked into the door of a hotel room would be to turn on the TV. Now people bring their entertainment with them."

LodgeNet's decline directly reflects these changes. According to its bankruptcy filing, the number of hotel rooms it served globally dropped to 1.5 million in 2011 from 2 million in 2009. It provided guest-room entertainment services to most major hotel chains, usually by installing and maintaining free televisions and offering video-on-demand entertainment, for which it and the hotels received fees.

LodgeNet faces competition from Swisscom Hospitality Services, based in Geneva; iBahn, based in Salt Lake City, Utah; and Guest-Tek, of Calgary, Alberta. All are developing systems that let travelers consume entertainment via the Internet, frequently through subscriptions they already have and use at home.

Different types of hotels have different policies regarding Internet access. Many less expensive hotels offer it free, while more expensive ones often charge for it. What's expected to happen next, speaking broadly, is that using the Internet for e-mail will be free, while many hotels will charge for uses requiring a lot of bandwidth, like downloading or streaming videos, with the cost tied to the amount of bandwidth required.

C. Scott Hansen, director of guest technology for Marriott International, said his company's objective over the next several years was to connect every guest-room TV to the Internet.

Josh Weiss, vice president of brand and guest technology for Hilton Worldwide, said his company offered a broad range of short, low-price TV programs in many hotels, provided by LodgeNet and others. This content costs $2 to $5.

CitizenM, a Dutch chain of what it calls "affordable luxury" hotels - now all in Europe, with two slated to open in Manhattan this year and next - provides a Samsung tablet in each guest room, with technology from Swisscom that provides a music library and free video-on-demand TV.

The 85-year-old Peninsula Hong Kong is installing a guest-room entertainment system that Ingvar Herland, Peninsula Hotels' general manager of research and technology, said costs $10,000 to $25,000 a room. This proprietary system features fully customizable bedside and desk tablets preset in a choice of five languages. The tablet allows the guest to order room, concierge and housekeeping services. It also provides - via a flat-screen, Blu-ray, LED television - terrestrial programming, 90 international television channels, 450 Internet radio stations, free HD and 3-D movies.

Mr. Herland said the new system would also be offered at the Peninsula Paris, opening next year.

One vanishing option is sex-related entertainment. Omni banned such programs in 1999, citing its support of "pro-family issues," while Marriott International stopped offering it last year. Mr. Hansen of Marriott said: "If you want it, you can access it online on your own."

The New York Times

(China Daily 06/02/2013 page10)

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