CIO Column: What Keeps Me up at Night – Changing Paradigm of Media Delivery in the Hospitality Segment

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October 01, 2011
CIO Column: What Keeps Me up at Night
Vivek Shaiva

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For many years, guests have suffered with poor quality standard-definition programming at hotels that is worse than the quality and channel lineup they experience at home. Many hotels have upgraded TVs from older CRT models to high-definition flat screen TVs, but left the quality of programming unchanged at standard definition. In the meantime, hundreds of high-definition channels are streaming their way into homes via cable, on-air and satellite-based services. iTunes®, Netflix and Hulu™ along with devices like SlingBox® and AppleTV®,  tablet PCs and smartphones are allowing consumers to access their own custom content pulled from a vast online inventory of media. Hotel guests are less interested in picking from a relatively costly and limited selection provided by traditional hotel pay-per-view services.

The explosive growth of sophisticated smartphone platforms coupled by the increasing capabilities of broadband delivery networks to stream high-definition content efficiently and easily to consumers is changing the landscape of how hotels provide in-room entertainment for guests. La Quinta Inns & Suites is moving forward with a major new program to right size the brand’s video content delivery technology platform at all its hotels and focusing on features that truly make a difference to guests.

La Quinta Inns & Suites observed this changing pattern of consumption over many years. Revenues from pay-per-view were dropping every year and at many hotels it was no longer profitable to provide this service. Clearly a change was needed. A decision was made to change the media delivery platform in more than 80,000 rooms across the 800-plus hotels starting with the replacement of CRT televisions in 50,000 rooms with new high-definition TVs. The La Quinta team realized that running standard-definition programs on a high-definition TV only served to highlight the poor picture quality of the signal.  La Quinta selected a new free-to-guest delivery solution that provided 37 channels at each hotel with 30 of them in high definition.  Pay-per-view service was eliminated and replaced with additional premium movie channels and features to allow guests to play their own content through the new TVs. Many hotels today provide an electronic program guide (EPG) but it is not interactive and only displays channel lineups and sometimes program details. However, guests cannot scroll and select their desired channels and programs at hotels without an interactive program guide. A fully interactive program guide (IPG) was considered an essential element of the new service for La Quinta. A fully customizable theme-based hotel landing page was also incorporated that allowed content to be easily changed remotely brandwide instead of tedious hotel-by-hotel deployments.

This project began in early 2011. The initial target was to upgrade 50,000 rooms with new TVs and high-definition programming by the end of September 2011, followed by the rollout of the high-definition programming to the rest of the chain over subsequent months. Very large and complicated, this project is being done at an unprecedented scale and speed. Guest-Tek™ is the primary systems integrator and service provider along with its partners DISH Networks®, Samsung and Enseo®. A key requirement of the solution was to leverage the existing coaxial cable delivery infrastructure at older hotels while providing the required interactivity and high-definition programming. A 40-year-old property was the first hotel to pilot the new technology. The results were very promising and the picture quality delivered to the rooms was outstanding. After this success, it was decided to continue with the project. 

Requiring close management coordination between La Quinta’s operations, design and construction and IT teams along with its technology partner's installers and management teams, sophisticated tracking and online collaboration tools were built and deployed at the start of the project to ensure that all went smoothly. Figurative war rooms were setup at La Quinta and Guest-Tek manned seven days a week to ensure tasks were tracked and completed on time.  Issues were promptly addressed and escalations managed effectively. Pre-surveys were conducted by La Quinta at every hotel for any construction or furniture adjustments for the new TVs and to define the technology footprint. These were used as a basis for detailed planning. Initial ramp-up was intentionally gradual to work out any kinks in the deployment process but subsequently ramped up to about 30 hotels per week. By the end of July 2011 about 33 percent of the hotels were successfully upgraded and initial feedback from guests was very positive.

La Quinta planned completion of this program for all company owned hotels by Sept. 30, 2011, and roll it out for its franchised properties.  The technology selected allows La Quinta to standardize the TV service for all hotels and provide a far superior experience than what has traditionally been deployed. Fortunately for the industry, the La Quinta solution will set the stage for the demise of poor, static ridden, unreliable TV programming at hotels ushering in a fresh, innovative approach to in-room guest entertainment.

Vivek Shaiva is the CIO for La Quinta Inns & Suites.

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