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Tue

22

Sep

2009

Social TV and the Hotel Industry – A Marriage Made in Heaven?
Tuesday, 22 September 2009 14:01
by Richard Kastelein

Social TV in HotelWhilst the mainstream media players are quietly pushing their technology and innovation teams to the maximum across the world in a race to marry Social Media and TV, most of the public remains oblivious and left out of the loop, mainly due to offerings being in Proof of Concept (POC) stage or not even… and still on the chalkboard.

However, one sector, the Hotel and Hospitality is one of the earlier beneficiaries from the advances that have been made provision and delivery of TV and other services over Internet Protocol will likely be early corporate adopters of Social TV now that network technologies that include the provision of Ethernet networks in hotels is now a standard requirement. Add a wireless keyboard and an advanced TV remote, you can do pretty much anything.

And buzz is starting to generate in this sector as hotels are coming out of a slump and are looking for new ways to attract the web and media savvy 25-45 year old, Gen X and Y generations who are a lucrative target group in many of their marketing strategies. Social TV in a hotel would certainly be an historical PR victory for any marketing team.

IPTV distribution system in hotels is pretty straight forward… providing high quality, full screen digital TV over an Ethernet network using an existing IP network. Not only can digital satellite and terrestrial channels can be broadcast directly to TV’s anywhere in a hotel – but now there’s the opportunity to implement Social TV as well.

We live in a networked society, and our contact list, for most of us who will never see a cradle to grave job, is paramount. Imagine if you could not only sleep in a hotel, but also create a profile in the social TV network and then find others in similar business paths, or potential new partners right in the hotel… whom you could have lunch with or meet up in a pub. Or imagine you could organize short seminars, get people to sign up and do mini ‘unconferences’ or conferences with others whose businesses can converge with you own.

This is great, not only for the guests, but also for the hotel. They will not only be able to offer better service to their clients, but also be able to come to understand their own demographics more… with a Social TV Facebook social media scenario or clone, there’s plenty of data to be shared to everyone, including the hotel… giving them more opportunity to build better services.

Want to book a restaurant? Do it on the TV. Add it to your bill in the Hotel’s Property Management Software (PMS) program and don’t worry about pulling out a credit card. Feel like going to a concert or sporting event while you are in town? Click or type and buy.

Want to download an iPhone or mobile map application with directions from anywhere back to the hotel and listings of all the offerings of the city you are visiting? Plug your PDA or mobile phone into a USB port and suck it down. Need to book the conference room? Do it on the TV. Need to order some food? Pick up the TV remote and choose from room service or an array of restaurants that deliver in the area.


I could even see, in the foreseeable future, a Wii or Xbox network for gaming and sports in hotels. Why not? Feel like a bit of tennis but can’t book a court? Play your neighbor in room 602. Or shoot at the guys in rooms 562 and 788.

It’s only a matter of time before television becomes social in Hotels because it’s a perfect space for rolling out this technology.

I’d be intrigued by a system that automatically feeds me information about what is the most popular Video on Demand flick in the hotel… what others are watching and even reviews of the movies from other guests. A good recommendation engine built into a social TV hotel network could take care of a lot of things… including which restaurants are hot, bars are not, and where are the cool places that tourists don’t normally go.

Based on demographic data built up by the hotels social TV network, hotels could easily build up relationships with local strategic partners that are popular with their guests – offering discounts and other deals.

Want a taxi? Francois, the friendly, is the best in Brussels. Everyone raves about him on the network.

Or imagine you could reach out externally vis a vis the Hotel’s social TV network with Skype (VOIP and chat application) or Facebook and share with you family at home.

Watching television or listening to music together is often a shared activity with co-located family members and it is something to gather around. But can technology support this kind of experience while apart?

Yes. It's possible. But I am not sure anyone in the industry is going in this direction yet.

When turning your social TV presence on in the hotel, you could also expose you current status on media usage to those at home and in the hotel (what music you are listening to, what program you are watching or game you are playing). Others could join in on the media session that you are currently running and can then scale to other levels of connection.

If the hotel industry manages to adhere to one or two IPTV system which includes social TV, preferably open source, or finds another way to standardize the product, then your social profile can even be ported to multiple hotels, saving you time and work plugging your details into every hotel you stay in.

Orca Interactive’s recent deal with SoftAtHome and Viaccess looks to be a strong contender for setting a social TV standard for the entire broadcast industry. Backed by France Telecom aka Orange, there’s over 200 million subscribers worldwide on the books and, though a minority are on the digital TV program, there’s still strong potential to set the bar in the European industry in particular.

Orca and Viaccess were smart to tie the knot with Softathome. Their Open API and plug in, plug out architecture promises to facilitate easy development and rapid scaling with an easy frame not only for third party developers to innovate and create revenue streams, but also the system is built to hitch up to almost any existing IPTV box or configuration. Their attitude is reminiscent of online open source leaders and if it plays out right, a rather large developer community will be built up fast – such as open source CMS Joomla has done over the past five years in the web world – to literally hundreds of thousands of builders and users driving innovation and knowledge sharing to build a better product for everyone.

Building blocks of the SoftAtHome Operating Platform are deployed today in more than 6 million Home Gateways and one million Set Top Boxes on the Orange network across Europe.

Putting it in hotels will be simple.

It looks like, on paper, Orca Interactive will go after the ISP’s and other IPTV suppliers and SoftAtHome will be targeting the home and possibly the hospitality and hotel markets.

SoftAtHome is a software company created by Orange, Thomson and Sagem Communications to deliver total convergence through a home operating platform for the home digital environment. It fosters a new ecosystem made up of service providers, 3rd party application developers, integrators and hardware vendors to accelerate the advent of the Digital Home. The company is headquartered in France with development and sales teams in France and Belgium. The Home Operating Platform enables Service Providers to deliver and monetize convergent applications for the digital home.

Orca Interactive (LSE-ORCA) is a leading provider of IPTV middleware and applications, empowering broadband operators and service providers to deliver broadcast TV, video on demand (VOD), personal video recording (PVR), home media and other compelling interactive services.

Viaccess SA, a France Telecom company, delivers solutions for digital pay television and secured content distribution. Its mission is the development, production and marketing of conditional access and DRM-based systems for all types of networks, broadcast (satellite, cable, terrestrial, MMDS, DVB-H, etc.) and broadband (DSL,FTTH, 3G, etc.). The constant growth of the pay TV market and digital content not only boosts direct to home distribution by satellite, cable, terrestrial and broadband over IP networks, but it also represents an enormous opportunity for the entertainment industry.



Richard Kastelein, a social media strategist and publisher, is CEO of new startup, Agora Media Group LLC (link), a new creative and innovation agency based in London, UK. He works with partner in the global travel industry and in emerging technology such as Social TV. Kastelein has been building online communities for over a decade and is an Open Source evangelist. He’s an adept team player – a publisher, writer, photographer, marketing director, web developer and graphic designer with more than 20 years experience in the development and operation of newspapers, magazines, web media and marketing of multinational, companies in international settings.

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