By Terry Trucco
Add the TV zapper to the list of hotel room amenities one step closer to the junk heap.
Last week LodgeNet, the largest provider of in-room entertainment, introduced a new app that lets hotel guests use their smartphones to operate the TV. The free LodgeNet Mobile App turns an iPhone, iPad or Android into a hotel room remote control that does it all – turns the TV on and off, adjusts the sound and accesses free TV, on-demand TV and pay-per-view movies. The app also serves up information about the hotel and local events, restaurants, maps and attractions.
The app needs to be downloaded just once to operate the TV at any hotel that offers the service. At present, it works in 550,000 hotel rooms throughout the US and Canada, including those in 61 New York City hotels, from large (Crown Plaza Times Square) to small (The Franklin). Most major hotel brands – and a significant number of independents — have signed on, including Marriott, Hilton, Starwood, InterContinental Group, Four Seasons, Kimpton and Joie de Vie/Thompson. The lone holdout among the large hoteliers is Hyatt.
Intrigued, we asked to see the app in action and met with Todd Kelly, LodgeNet VP, Interactive & Mobile Applications, who brought a fully loaded iPad and iPhone to one of the newly renovated rooms at the New York Hilton.
The first thing he did was use the remote control to turn on the TV and access a six-digit security code, which he typed onto his iPad. “Once you’ve paired the TV and your device, that’s the last time you need to touch the zapper,” he said. The connection ends when the guest checks out.
The app’s bright blue home page appeared on his iPad screen with three options – hotel information, local attractions and in-room TV. Television channels show up on a scroll-down list that’s faster and easier than clicking through 95 channels with a zapper. When the app is upgraded in April, each channel will include a guide to upcoming programs.
To order a movie Kelly called up the pay-per-view movie page, which displays photos of each film as well as links to previews. Hotels can show premium movies 60 days prior to their release on DVD and 90 days before Netflicks rents them. Older movies, like The Help, are offered at a lower price. Scrolling through the offerings, he chose Moneyball. His final decision was whether to bill the movie to the room or a credit card, a nice option if you’re traveling on business and don’t want a dozen in-room movies to show up on your hotel bill.
The app is powered by cellular radio, and from what we saw, it’s fast. Shortly after Kelly ordered the movie, Brad Pitt materialized on the Hilton’s flatpanel TV. “The signal goes over the internet to our headquarters in Sioux Falls and back to the basement TV control in the hotel,” he explained.
We played with both devices and liked what they did. You can turn on the TV before you walk into your room. If you worry that TV remotes are germ bombs, this app’s for you. Pages are colorful, presentation is clear — a remote control isn’t nearly as much fun. IPhone pages appear as landscapes or verticals, but they’re tiny; with its expansive real estate, the iPad is the cool tool.
For now, the app feels a bit like driving a Lamborghini at 25 miles an hour, but a slew of additional bells and whistles await, including DVR capability and localized guides to restaurants, shopping and entertainments compiled in house by LodgeNet’s new managing editor. Hotels can customize the app so guests can use it for tasks like ordering room service and requesting housekeeping.
Buying a movie in your hotel room instead of renting one is another option that may not be too far off. Under discussion are changes in licensing agreements with filmmakers that would allow guests to purchase a movie as a digital asset that can be uploaded to as many as 12 devices and shared with up to six family members. “Instead of renting a movie for $14.99 you’d be able to buy it for $19.99,” Kelly says. And watch it again on the plane ride home.