Trends Directing the Future of In-room Entertainment

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October 25, 2016
In-room Entertainment
Elaine Hendricks

The television experience of today bears little resemblance to the television our parents watched or even what we watched as children.  And by the same token, tomorrow’s television experience is likely to be dramatically different to the one we know today. What does this mean for the hotel industry?

We’ve witnessed a comparatively quick metamorphosis from an era with cable eroding the network’s dominance by providing a vast array of interest-based programming to a time when consumers are doing what was unthinkable only a few short years ago…cutting the cable cord, taking control of what they watch, when and where they watch it and on what device.  They want what they want.  If it’s not served up to them the way they want it, they are coming up with their own workarounds.

AN EYE-OPENING NEW GUEST STUDY

Most hotel companies are pinning their strategic plans on creating an at-home experience.  But a recently released study of guest expectations and preferences suggests the industry’s current understanding of what guests want in in-room entertainment (IRE) is only partially complete.

Would guests welcome an at-home experience if it were provided to them?  Absolutely!  A large portion of guests say they actually expect the in-room experience to be as good or better than what they have at home.  Easy, intuitive and with their own content readily accessible. But the findings of this research provide the important reminder that guests still want a hotel stay to be a special.  Like home, yes, but better.

Nearly 40 percent of all hotel guests expect the hotel in-room entertainment experience to be better than at home.  This expectation is lowest in the economy tier, progressively increasing and topping out in the upscale tier.

What would guests like to see in their in-room entertainment experience?  To start, they cite picture clarity, more channels and premium content.  Not surprisingly, expectations escalate the further up the price scale one goes.

The research cited in this article was sponsored by ADB Global, a provider of iTV software and solutions.  ADB commissioned an independent research firm to conduct the study.  The researcher used qualitative methodologies consisting of consumer focus groups and interviews with hotel executives, followed by a quantitative survey of 2,100 North American consumers.  The contrasts between consumer and hotelier perceptions were particularly noteworthy, with hoteliers often rating IRE services such as pay-per-view and video check out higher than the guests.

DEVICES GUESTS BRING

As guests’ ever-increasing use of personal devices continues to challenge short and long-range Wi-Fi planning across the hotel landscape, the research examined the number of devices each travel party typically brings to the hotel, and broke down the responses by hotel tier.  The chart below shows that smartphones, laptops and tablets are the most popular, averaging just under two each per travel party.  What’s particularly interesting is the average number of devices, no matter what type, tend to go up in number as the hotel tier increases.

It’s no surprise that guests want to watch their content.  Probably because we are all doing it.  The long held assumption has been that guests want to watch it on their own devices.  The research investigated how guests are watching today, and how they would choose to watch their own content.  The chart below shows that only one-third of guests would prefer to watch their content on their own device, and when presented an option, guests would choose to watch their content on the guestroom TV.  The focus group said they wanted to watch their content on the biggest available screen with the best picture and audio quality possible.

DEVICES GUESTS CONNECT

The three devices guests carry most are also the devices they most often want to connect to the guestroom TV.  There is little distinction by tier when it comes to wanting to connect smartphones and laptops as illustrated in the chart.  The demand to connect these devices to the guestroom TV is more universal across price segments.  However, other devices such as tablets and gaming devices find more demand among the top tiers.

The research showed there are a portion of guests who regularly carry devices with them when they travel to facilitate connecting their devices or watching their own media on the guestroom Tvs. The quantitative research explored this further, and found that about one-third of hotel guests carry “connecting” devices of their own, such as HDMI cables or personal Chromecast devices.  Participants in the focus group indicated they were often successful in connecting with their own devices, and when they were unable to connect, often found their hotel willing to help them make it work.  Guests who stay in upscale and luxury hotels are most likely to bring connecting devices, but it occurs in all segments.

Millennials are most likely to carry their own devices for connecting to guestroom Tvs, followed by Gen Yers and distantly by baby boomers.

WHAT DOES AGE HAVE TO DO WITH IT

Much has been suggested recently about the need for IRE technological development to cater to millennials, leaving some in the hotel industry wondering if they should pattern their IRE strategy around an age cohort who isn’t yet at a life stage to spend big on travel or have the disposable income that boomers have.

There are two factors at play when considering the age argument in IRE development and adoption.  Is technology driven by millennials, or are millennials simply the early adopters of new technology that is coming no matter what, leading the older age groups down the same path?  Evidence lends itself to the latter.  And behavior research among millennials shows they spend very differently than their older counterparts, often skimping on new cars and housing to spend on technology and experiences, particularly travel.

The second factor to consider is the sheer volume of people in these age groups.  Millennials equal the size of the boomers, and when combined with Gen Yers, they significantly outnumber the boomers.  This holds true in both sheer numbers and in spending power.  Either way, hotels that center an IRE strategy around what millennials are doing will be in good stead in the future.

ONE DEVICE — MANY USES

The research delved into much more than just streaming media and how guests want to view their own content.  The focus groups uncovered the desire among hotel guests to have the guestroom TV function as an entertainment and communication center.  The chart below shows how guests value the use of the guestroom TV.

The service priorities were measured on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being extremely important.  Of these, broadcast TV rated most highly. But it’s important to note that guests are also interested in having the guestroom TV function as a communication device with the hotel.  They would like to be able to order hotel services and concierge services via the guestroom TV, as well as browse through hotel and area information that would typically be found in hard copy in the compendium.

Millennials tend to value each of these services more than the other age cohorts, followed closely by the Gen Yers.  The highest priorities among all age groups are broadcast TV, the ability to view hotel and area information on the TV, free video on demand, and the ability to pause live TV.

TOMORROW’S IN-ROOM ENTERTAINMENT EXPERIENCE

Tuning in to guest demands in in-room entertainment is only one of the challenges hotel companies face.  As the pace of technological change continues to accelerate, hotel companies are struggling to find the right balance between today’s daily operational challenges and innovating for the future.

Currently the industry is grappling with how to provide guests the IRE experience they want and expect.  And as with all technology, it is a matter of aiming at a moving target.  But today, thanks to some research, we know more about how those guest expectations are evolving.

While many hotels may not be able to offer every type of entertainment feature that guests want, it is important for decision-makers to understand guest desires and trends in the IRE space, and to recognize the importance of millennials in signaling the direction of IRE for the future.  The hotel industry typically links IRE upgrades to the 5-year to 7-year property renovation cycle, and in that time the IRE can quickly become obsolete in the guests’ eyes.  However, the growth of cloud-based systems and new solutions promise the opportunity to meet and even exceed guests’ IRE expectations in the future.

 
Elaine Hendricks is a partner with The Prism Partnership, a hospitality consulting firm providing marketing, distribution and technology services to the global hospitality industry.  She leads the research practice and brings more than 25 years of hospitality research experience to clients worldwide.
 
 
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