Speaking at HTNG’s 2019 Insight Summit, RLH Corporation John Edwards detailed how the company approached building out a new in-room entertainment platform for the Hotel RL brand.
PARK CITY, Utah—On-property entertainment is one of the core features of the Hotel RL brand, and RLH Corporation CIO John Edwards said his company put a considerable amount of work into getting the most out of that when creating a new in-room streaming platform over the past few years.
Speaking during HTNG’s 2019 Insight Summit, Edwards detailed the company’s path to creating its platform, starting with why in-room streaming seems to be a better solution than casting content from guests’ devices.
He said ultimately streaming was the better option because the hotel had a greater degree of control and it was less taxing on networks, which ran contrary to some assumptions.
“My network engineer argued with me about that for a month,” he said.
He said the hotels used to have a simple broadcasting network within their properties so guests could watch events in the lobby as they happened from their rooms, but ultimately the experience needed to be upgraded to provide content on that channel when performances weren’t happening. Changing to a streaming option allowed guests to access the back catalogue of recorded performances at Hotel RL properties across the country, he said, and also allowed the hotel to create an app that lets guests and performance to view and promote those performances whenever they want.
“That ended up helping (performers) by sheer luck, our marketing team had nothing to do with it,” he said.
Edwards said the development process on the platform is still ongoing with some major challenges such as integrating live TV options alongside streaming platforms like Netflix and Hulu. But he said there are still some major technological hurdles in making that a reality.
He said the next major jump for the company will be streamlining authentication and login for those services. Ultimately, he hopes to get to the point where those accounts are simply tied to guests Hello Rewards loyalty membership so they are automatically logged in and out as needed.
“You’ve got to get (guests) on a private VLAN, and you’ve got to build that up and tear it down sometimes multiple times if they move rooms,” he said.
He said he’s excited about the potential that has in terms of improving guest experience.
“We need to make sure the guest who moves from room 201 to 205 who paused their baseball game has it (immediately start where they left it) when moved,” he said. “We’re still working on that. Some areas work flawlessly, while others still crash and burn.”
Edwards said all of the investment in time and development needs to result in greater ease of use for guests to be worthwhile, and so far the changes have received “great guest feedback,” even though they’re still changing and adapting to deal with some issues.
He said one of the top remaining concerns is how their chosen hardware doesn’t integrate as well with guests’ Android devices and he doesn’t want hotel operations teams to ultimately be in the “Android support business.”
“I don’t want my team or the operations team dealing with that,” he said.
He said another hurdle his team faced was there is no enterprise-level solution to offering live television on streaming devices, and signing up for individual licenses to streaming TV services for each room in a hotel would be incredibly expensive.
The company needed to find a hardware solution and get vendors to work together to solve problems similar to that. But he said once his team had time to work with the various vendors involved and explained to them the end product they envisioned, everyone involved was engaged and excited about the project.
“Once vendors saw the vision, they started saying it make absolute sense and is a really fun project,” he said, noting that multiple times vendors have stepped up with solutions to problems before his team was even aware of them.