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Multimedia at the time of convergence

Multimedia solutions providers are no longer the only ones to propose platforms for innovative entertainment. Positioned on IP technology, telecommunications specialists have joined them. Today they rival one another with offers that are increasingly bountiful. The four major trends: convergence, contents, connectivity and 100% HD.

Convergence:

Hotel chains are increasingly highlighting their “connectivity”. All Seasons in particular, but also Hyatt Place with its Hyatt Plug Panel and Aloft which gets the most out of plug & play. Offering guests the possibility to connect their computer to the high definition television is becoming obvious. For the hotelier and for the guest alike. “He expects it. Connectivity is now unavoidable,” warns Stéphane Coasne. In fact, business and leisure travelers alike are increasingly nomadic and no longer go around with out all the accoutrements of the perfect geek: state of the art computer, digital camera, Ipod, portable DVD... To satisfy this new expectation, professionals are launching external connection panels or integrating them directly into the television. Philips has made its “connectivity panel” the strong point of its Hotel Ambilight range. But isn’t there a risk of competition or cannibalization with multimedia solutions? “We are not here to sell a movie at all costs, but to satisfy the user,” explains David Chevènement. High definition may also become the Trojan Horse of in-room entertainment. “It will always be more pleasant to watch the latest blockbuster in high definition on a nice screen than on a computer,” remarks Jean- Philippe Delouis. And yet, as David Chevènement observes, “the contents are first and foremost the result of impulse buying.”Multimedia solutions specialists such as Quadriga, Locatel or Acentic had long made Internet access and WiFi part of their entertainment offer. Today, Internet access suppliers are doing the opposite. By buying the intellectual rights and technology of Broadcast Avenue which outfits certain Parisian palaces, Swisscom acquired a unique savoir faire in order to supply its clients with the latest technological breakthrough: multimedia over IP (Internet Protocol). This new latest best opens the era of technological convergence – television, video on demand (VOD), telephone, Internet. In the United Kingdom and in the United States, there is a similar trend. In order to participate in hotel entertainment, Ibahn got hold of ETV Interactive and Roomlinx launched its own multimedia platform.The telecom world is redefining boundaries. In the general public, the Triple Play offers are multiplying. This convergence currently reaches the hotel world. Quadriga and Locatel had already begun to enter this curve. The IP TV offer from Swisscom Hospitality will enter the market this month. Available soon, it will bring a serious added value alongside Guestroom 2.0, the qualitative Internet offer made available by the Swiss group until now, and successfully, in 1,100 hotels, meaning half of its hotel partners.The advantage of IP technology also lies in its perspectives for the future, because this system has the potential to do everything. “We can consider offering IP for managing all hotel services: room access, minibars, energy management, video surveillance,” remarks Stéphane Coasne. A single interlocutor, a single technical vehicle: Swisscom is working to implement a complete network management solution: Network Management Services.But such technology is demanding. The need for bandwidth is increasingly important and requiring great mastery for managing these strategic pipelines. “We rely on the strengths of one of the top telecom groups in Europe and real experience in the field of video conferencing,” explains Stéphane Coasne of Swisscom. David Chevènement, marketing and commercial director of Locatel, recommends using suppliers with experience in video over IP. “A big consumer, it is sensibly more difficult to obtain optimal quality using video over IP,” he warns.Like Locatel or Swisscom, Quadriga is constantly looking to optimize bandwidth management in order to modulate it better with respect to the needs of the hotel’s clientele. The goal: to avoid detrimental breaks in service. Quadriga surveys and permanently keeps its inventory outfitted with the Genesis solution with its Network Operating Center (NOC). “This network makes it possible to pilot all the European installations at a distance,” Jean-Philippe Delouis, president of Quadriga France. The NOC thus makes it possible to take action at a distance without the hotel even knowing, or identify risks, such as an interactive card that shows some weaknesses, and resolve the problem before the hotelier even realizes there as one.High definition: In just a few years, the hotel industry moved from the cathodic ray tube /analog age to all-digital on an LCD screen. “This allows for both a qualitative and quantitative improvement of the offer,” observes Jean-Philippe Delouis. In fact, the number of stations has exploded and may now be counted in hundreds whereas it was limited to thirty or so just a few years earlier. With this abundance, suppliers feel obliged to segment the offer. With its IP offer, Swisscom will implement a system that will make it possible to pilot the offering right at check-in. Thus, upon arrival, the guest will find stations in his language listed first in the selection. Another solution: with its Digital TV, Quadriga has implemented the “cut & slice” system which is able to sort by language or type of program. Advantage of the digital solution: “thanks to viewer statistics for stations, we are able to act as a consultant to help the hotelier optimize his bouquet of channels with respect to his clientele mix,” explains the president of Quadriga France.Next stage: Full HD or HD Ready. The renewal of the television supply is fairly advanced and today most hotels are ready for high definition, ready to fully benefit from alldigital solutions. Samsung and Phillips, among others, are putting flat screens on the market that are increasingly flat and increasingly stylish. Particularity of these televisions: impeccable resolution. This HD revolution favors the arrival of new offers. Thus Swisscom is able to offer HD with full resolution. One-third of programs are now available in HD and all of them should be by the end of the year. Perfect definition means a quality of image that makes it possible to surf on Internet with the same visual comfort as on a computer screen. Mid- 2008, Locatel will launch its new product organized around a virtual PC. The guest will have a wireless keyboard that allows him to surf on Internet from the contents portal that Locatel is currently implementing. “A bit like Yahoo! We are first concentrating our product on the contents. We would like to expand our audience to different publics in the usual core target of interactive solutions. This requires much referencing work,” admits David Chevènement. Locatel’s supply is a condensation of Internet and entertainment that is accessible from different spaces: office automation, communication (telephony, email), games, meeting (Facebook, MSN), televisions, VOD. It will highlight the news, favored by hotel clients, with access to the newswire of 200 major media sources. Through this portal, the hotel will also be able to highlight its partners and direct its clients to their websites.The contents: Ideal programming allows the hotelier to achieve monthly revenues of 30 to 35 euros per room occupied. And, in an increasingly abundant offer the contents have never been more important. One area where multimedia solutions suppliers are busying themselves to vouchsafe the panacea of VOD is Hollywood blockbusters. In preparing its IP TV offer, Swisscom Hospitality ensured its access to the latest UIP releases (Dreamworks, Paramount, Universal). Already a partner of UIP, Locatel joined forces with Filmbank, a distributor for Sony Pictures, Touchstone, MGM. The result: 240 films via VOD and 60 new films a year. Quadriga went further by signing an exclusive partnership with Fox in addition to UIP, Filmbank and Canal Plus. “It is the first time a direct signature took place between a multimedia supplier and a Hollywood studio,” rejoices Mr Delouis. Conclusion of this alliance: the guarantee that Quadriga will be able to offer its customers the latest Fox films in several languages.While the VOD bestseller continues to be adult films - Locatel is preparing to segment its offer by theme (black, gay...) – another major trend is emerging: the multiplication of short programs. “We are going to further complete our offer in the “way of life” direction,” explains the president of Quadriga France. Swisscom Hospitality entrusts the realization of high definition adventure, discovery or gastronomy programs to Tangerine, a production company. Locatel is increasing its range of programs for young people and breaking it down by age group: 6-10 years, 10-14 years, 14-16 years.Hotels are able to use the multimedia contents as a loss leader. In the United States Sheraton set an agreement with the channel Showtime to offer its guests preview episodes of its successful series Brotherhood, The Tudors and Dexter. Sports also have a strong appeal. Again in the United States, guests are ready to pay for a full day of American football. Hyatt Place launched a sports package for $10 or $20 including the NFL day with a pizza and two large beverages and early check-in.Connection technology: Hotel chains are increasingly highlighting their “connectivity”. All Seasons in particular, but also Hyatt Place with its Hyatt Plug Panel and Aloft which gets the most out of plug & play. Offering guests the possibility to connect their computer to the high definition television is becoming obvious. For the hotelier and for the guest alike. “He expects it. Connectivity is now unavoidable,” warns Stéphane Coasne. In fact, business and leisure travelers alike are increasingly nomadic and no longer go around with out all the accoutrements of the perfect geek: state of the art computer, digital camera, Ipod, portable DVD... To satisfy this new expectation, professionals are launching external connection panels or integrating them directly into the television. Philips has made its “connectivity panel” the strong point of its Hotel Ambilight range. But isn’t there a risk of competition or cannibalization with multimedia solutions? “We are not here to sell a movie at all costs, but to satisfy the user,” explains David Chevènement. High definition may also become the Trojan Horse of in-room entertainment. “It will always be more pleasant to watch the latest blockbuster in high definition on a nice screen than on a computer,” remarks Jean- Philippe Delouis. And yet, as David Chevènement observes, “the contents are first and foremost the result of impulse buying.”

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