Is in-room television dead?

Ever the traveling road warrior, one aspect of the hotel experience that I’ve given some extra thought of late is the in-room television. Otherwise known as a flat-panel monitor, such devices are a fixture of any living abode and central to the modern idea of a pastime.

As such, it’s important that hoteliers pay attention to what they offer their guests for this critical aspect of the room. From my most recent evaluations, though, what we are actually providing to our customers is strikingly inconsistent.

In today’s media space, the whole concept of a television has been thrown asunder, with the output device now capable of acting as a smart TV with intrinsic apps, cloud integrations, casting functionalities and personal preferences. Setting aside of these more futuristic applications such as room service, concierge duties or even guest billing, let’s focus on the television’s clear-and-present raison d’être – as an entertainment vehicle.

While modern app integrations such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu or a host of others are all but mandatory in order to properly appeal to the smartphone generation, there is still some wiggle room for the delivery of various broadcast or cable channels such as pay-per-view. While the younger cord-cutters have shifted to the abovementioned streaming services, many are still quite comfortable with traditional offerings, albeit if they’re convenient and on-brand. The range of these viewing options is often made on an individual property basis, and therein is the opportunity to evaluate the strategy behind your programming selection.

An examination like this, though, cannot happen without looking at your guest profile data. For example, a family orientation would dictate more child-oriented programming. Or if your guests were coming from certain countries, logic would dictate that you offer make some channels available in their native languages. Beyond that, there are a multitude of sports, specialty, movie, news, music and niche entertainment offerings that can add value to the in-room experience, particularly as these are often not bundled in most ‘skinny’ cable packages that people are opting for in their own houses.

What to offer

Ultimately, the hotel pays for every channel that it provides the guest, so a shotgun approach may be especially costly. Many cable companies will throw in some of the more unusual or rarely viewed channels in order to bulk up their packages (hence, why skinny is so in vogue). This ‘look at how many channels we have’ approach won’t fool the savvy modern traveler, though. Your guests will quickly thumb through the list of all stations available and conclude that you are not providing quality television services. If you are trying to deliver a quality guest experience, you need to focus on channels that your key demographics will unquestionably want, and then do your best to avoid confusing them with additional fluff.

Here are my thoughts on the basics for television programming standards, at least from a North American perspective:

Basics: ABC, CNN, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, Weather Channel (in Canada, add CBC and CTV)

Sports: ESPN (at least two), Golf Channel, NFL Network, MLB Network

Movies: AMC, HBO (at least one, ideally more), Comedy Channel

Specialty/children: Animal Planet, Nickelodeon, Disney, History, A&E

Pay-per-view is another useful addition, but, in my mind, there should be some meaningful free broadcast options. I have been in properties in Europe and Asia where, apart from CNN International, the only English-language television entertainment options were within the pay television camp. This was particularly frustrating when paying the equivalent of a thousand dollars per night.

About your hotel channel…

Last, a word on the B-roll, hotel channel. I encourage you to watch yours. Most are just awful. Should you spend money replacing it? What are your options? If you’re branded, you have little choice but to follow corporate guidelines. If you’re an independent, however, have some fun with creative video clippings that get guests excited about their stays. But keep it short, as no one wants to hear the GM or owner drawl on about the property they’ve already settled into for the night – better to discuss what else you have to offer instead of devolving to bloviation.

So, to restate the title, is in-room television dead? Hardly! While I would implore all of you to investigate your options with regard to upgrading to smart TVs that can automatically communicate with other guestroom devices or on-property systems, there are still myriad intermediary enhancements that you can make to get the most out of your traditional broadcast and cable offerings.