Smart TVs and IP-based content distribution mean new possibilities for a rich customer experience.
We live in a golden age of branding. The internet and social media have made it easy for companies to communicate directly with consumers. And customers have shown a willingness — even an expectation — to understand more about the brands they spend time and money with. What story does the brand tell about its values, priorities, and history and how does that story resonate with people’s own interests?
To tell stories effectively and create rich brand experiences, companies have developed a variety of touchpoints, from websites, to advertising, to mobile apps, to events. In hospitality, one of the most important touchpoints has become the television. Whether it’s digital signage in a hotel lobby, a wall of screens in a bar, or flat-panel TVs in guest rooms, emerging display technology has put hospitality brands in a position to own a critical communication channel and continually tell new stories.
There are two significant enablers of digital displays as rich touchpoints in hospitality. First is that displays have gotten smarter with faster CPUs and more memory that allow screens to provide more than just entertainment. Second is that the networks over which media and data travels to displays increasingly support internet protocol (IP) communications. What was once typically a one-way, inflexible communication medium is now an applications platform for brand messaging and engagement.
Starting in the hotel guest room, the latest generation of TV technology plays an important role in allowing brands to own the user experience (UX). Until recently, many companies have controlled the website and mobile app touchpoints, but the television was the purview of technology partners and integrators. Which meant it wasn’t particularly nimble. To add new logos, for example, or other features, the brand had to circle back to multiple integrators and negotiate a timeline to realize a vision. Today, the same smart TV technology is making hospitality TVs as part of systems that automatically push out changes to multiple sites – allowing brand messaging to evolve essentially at the speed of light.
Indeed, the hospitality television is no longer just a television, whether it’s in a hotel room or a lobby bar. It’s a web-based application-delivery platform. As such, it offers new possibilities, such as integration with popular voice control systems, media casting from personal devices, or even interactivity through touch overlays on kiosks, directories, or menu signage.
If there’s a challenge in this newfound opportunity, it’s the same one that information technology departments tackle when building enterprise IT systems: integrating with back-office systems or third-party information sources seamlessly and securely. For example, to serve loyal customers with tailored content — or even just to show them their bill — the smart TVs need to reach back into IT systems for data. To allow guests to log into their own streaming accounts from a hotel TV, brands must ensure that connection has been tested for vulnerabilities. IT security professionals talk about “penetration testing” to determine how hackers might exploit new technologies; smart TVs and digital signage networks fall into that category. A number of customers have performed security testing on the Pro:Centric platform, and security has become a basic feature instead of an afterthought.
The good news is, hospitality display systems are migrating to an infrastructure built on well understood standards and security best practices, namely IP-based networks. Hospitality brands have spent years building out robust network infrastructures to satisfy guests’ hunger for high-speed connectivity. Those same infrastructures are what allows in-room TVs to emulate personal computing experiences or enables brands to deliver content to screens throughout a location from a single point of control.
Today, for example, hospitality brands and operators can acquire systems that pull down satellite video feeds, convert them into an easily distributed, protected IP signals, and send them to specific displays through a drag-and-drop interface. This is an improvement over traditional signal distribution, which may have required a separate, expensive control system layer and specialized cabling. When content and messaging travel over IP, using existing, cost-effective network cabling, hospitality brands and operators enjoy ease of use and installation at a lower price point.
And they can position themselves better for future user experiences. The display technology itself continues to evolve to include even higher resolution screens, including 4K and 8K models. In some applications, that many pixels may signal the upper limit of guests’ perception, but for creative branding solutions, like interactive video walls or another UX, next-generation display technology may just fit the bill and be driven by IP-based content systems. Moreover, display technology is getting flatter and more flexible, effectively turning it into a smart building material that’s addressable over modern networks. LG’s new NanoCell IPS technology is delivering impressive picture enhancements, color accuracy and wide viewing angles to LED-backlit LCD TVs. The result is a new generation of displays that are more lifelike than ever.
All these display trends have put hospitality brands in the driver’s seat of a multi-touchpoint customer experience. And it’s led to new discussions between companies and their technology partners, because TVs and digital signage aren’t one-size-fits-all. They support a growing number of applications, tailored by companies to better engage guests. The humble TV is now a sophisticated touchpoint — and consummate storyteller.