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On the Heels of HDTV, What's This IPTV?

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March 01, 2008
Gustaaf Schrils

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© 2008 Hospitality Upgrade. No reproduction without written permission.

You’ve heard it was coming – TVs connected to the Internet, complete with a browser.  This Internet protocol television (IPTV) is seen by some as the next phase in the evolving in-room multimedia offerings for the hospitality industry.  But exactly what would it deliver, when and at what cost? And does it make sense for your hotel?

According to Business Week (“The Real Meaning of IPTV”), “While the IP in its name stands for Internet Protocol, that doesn’t mean people will log onto their favorite Web page to access television programming.  The IP refers to a method of sending information over a secure, tightly managed network that results in a ‘superior entertainment experience.’” 

So, what defines a superior entertainment experience?  IPTV boasts benefits including the ability to deliver more global channels, faster shifting between channels, picture-in-picture on-screen programming guides, multitasking, time-shifting content and integration with other hotel-based IP systems and devices brought by guests.  Regardless of whether this makes for a superior entertainment experience, one point is clear – implementing IPTV would require a great deal of engineering, software and bandwidth expense.

Significant questions remain also about the quality of service IPTV systems will need to provide to win users over from the present cable companies.  We’ve seen before that adoption of any technology we need to provide is triggered by our guests’ habits at home or work.  So before we rush to embrace some new phenomenon, it makes sense to gather data and do research to understand all the variables.

Technology considerations are only part of the picture.  The entertainment industry is thick with intricate and often exclusive relationships.  These could prove major barriers to those wishing to deliver video content over IP.  Broadcasters and production studios would not be the only ones affected.  Advertisers would need to evaluate whether IPTV is better than broadband TV and perhaps reassess their spending and budgets.  Regulation would also be an issue as standards and controls are considered.

Before the hospitality market embraces IPTV, more compelling reasons are needed to justify a shift to this new technology delivery.  Too much is still to be defined and proven.  We’re well advised to take a cue from the bandwidth management challenges that have arisen relatively quickly in our provision of high-speed Internet access in hotel rooms.  There’s no advisory label on the box for such things.  Time and careful evaluation are needed to sort them out.
Be assured we’ll give IPTV the attention it deserves.  We’re not dismissing it.  It has some good things going for it.  Convergence, content management and interactivity of hotel-based systems are just a few. Use of the IP network to deliver multiple services, helps many applications run via a single delivery channel1 with more accessible, portable and secure content.  These are all positives.

Still, with so many logistical and operational complexities, such significant installation and operating costs, numerous competing investment considerations and so little maturity of experience with IPTV, quick adoption of this technology is ill-advised.  What might the costs of equipment and upgrades be for early adopters?  Would guests find real benefit in having hundreds of channels accessible to them during only a short stay in a hotel room?  Would a RevPAR boost likely result?  Still more questions.

HDTV remains the sensible choice for improving guests’ in-room multimedia experience today.  With its superior picture quality, HDTV is a major differentiator for guest satisfaction.  It’s a well tested technology and a reliable investment for hotel owners.  IPTV isn’t off our radar, but it’s in the experimental stage.  Let’s give it time to mature and prove its worth.

1Because IPTV involves a single delivery channel, a backup network would need to exist to guard against possible loss of all guest services (voice, data and video) simultaneously.  This “triple play” offering on a converged network holds some promise, to be sure.  But, it does require hotels to own and maintain more onsite equipment, as well as manage more content.  Again, caution is recommended until the offering matures.

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