Using Smartphones as TV Remotes a Genius Idea

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Technology never ceases to amaze. Or annoy, at least me, since it seems almost daily some slick new mobile application is launched with a description along the lines of “this is the most amazing thing ever!” The exception was the news last week from LodgeNet, about its launch of an app allowing hotel guests to use their smartphones as TV remote controls.

I spoke with Scott Peterson, LodgeNet's CEO, on Wednesday, and asked how much the company was getting from hotels for this cool new capability. “Nothing,” he said. So then what are consumers paying to download the app? “Nothing.” Wait, so this app, already one of the top 10 downloaded travel-related apps on both Apple and Android markets, is bringing the South Dakota-based interactive media company a grand total of zero dollars in added revenue?

“It's free to the guest and free to the hotel,” he said again, adding that more than 2,000 properties, with about 500,000 guestrooms, are already offering the technology in the U.S. and Canada. To connect, all a property needs is a recently installed LodgeNet system, sometime after around 2005, he says, and high speed Internet access.

When guests use their mobile phones (iPhones, iPads and Androids) to change the TV channel, the cell phone network sends the signal through the Internet to the LodgeNet server, which then tells the server at the hotel to change the channel on the TV in that guest's room. All in a split second.

The app also offers guests two other sections, My Hotel, which provides basic information about the property, and Local, which offers area information for food & beverage venues, events and other attractions.

The app may not drive revenue directly, but LodgeNet hopes consumers happily download and use the new app to avoid dirty remote controls and to take advantage of the added features, meaning hotels without LodgeNet systems or older ones will have to upgrade to satisfy their customers. Peterson also believes increased guest engagement will drive more pay-per-view buys. Hotels, for a “reasonable fee,” Peterson says, will have the option to customize and brand the app within the My Hotel section, adding more images, promotions, overviews, mobile checkout and even for ordering in-room dining.

Hotels could also drive revenue or barter with local entertainment and f&B venues to promote their offerings. And larger resorts could offer the ability to reserve spa, golf or other on-site amenities.

“This is the first step down a path with years of innovation ahead,” Peterson says.

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