Bulk TV & Internet's David O’Connell on the business of guest entertainment

Photo credit: Bulk TV & Internet (Fourteen years after its founding, Bulk TV & Internet is still connecting guests with modern technology, even as it navigates a merger.)

When Bulk TV & Internet was founded in 2004, the company’s mission was to provide the hospitality industry with the newest in guest entertainment technology. Fourteen years later that goal remains much the same, but right now, Bulk TV has a more pressing matter to attend to: the company's acquisition by Marlin Equity Partners and merger with DCI Design Communications.

David O’Connell. Photo credit: Bulk TV
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There is a lot going on under the hood of this merger. DCI previously acquired hotel Wi-Fi solution EthoStream in March 2017, and David O’Connell, CEO of Bulk TV, said this latest merger will allow Bulk TV to expand on its suite of guest entertainment offerings in a way that would not have been possible alone.

Before forming Bulk TV, O'Connell spent a decade in the satellite TV industry, and in 1998 helped launch a free-to-guest division for a hospitality and healthcare leasing company that wanted to offer the television programming services as an ancillary product to their multi-billion dollar equipment leasing business. After six years, O'Connell teamed up with Tom Conley to form Bulk TV. Conley has served as O'Connell's partner, and Bulk TV's president, ever since.

"Like any start-up, there were risks," O'Connell said. "But I was familiar with the market, competition and opportunities, and we were very confident in what we could do. There weren't too many risks considering our knowledge at the time."

Bulk TV's initial goal was to provide cable and internet to underserved markets, such as hotels, long-term care facilities, senior living communities, hospitals, dormitories and apartments. This remains a tall order today, but in 2004 the company partnered with DirecTV to cut down on costs and market to more users.

Today O'Connell and his team are taking another risk as they navigate a merger between three companies, but once again he said the opportunities more than outweigh the risks.

"DCI acquired EthoStream in 2017, but today they are still perceived as different companies," O'Connell said. "That's the real challenge here. Each of these companies has a great reputation in hospitality, and our No. 1 priority is to keep it that way."

When O'Connell and Conley formed Bulk TV, they set out to provide a consistent video and internet service to hotels in a market characterized by inconsistency. It was a time when brands were mandating upgrades from standard to high definition video, as well as bandwidth increases. Today, O'Connell said all hotels are setting out to provide a unique experience for guests, and in many cases they are attempting to imitate and exceed the residential experience.

"Guests today have a ton of devices," O'Connell said. "They have iPads, laptops and phones and all of these devices are streaming. All of those devices are stressing hotel bandwidth, and that is the biggest challenge today, providing the entertainment guests are asking for."

Bulk TV's newest partner, DCI, has been in the telecommunications game since 1989, and is one of the industry’s largest distributors of Mitel, NEC, Ruckus, HP Networking, Nomadix and Cisco technology in the U.S. During the announcement of the merger, Charbel Zreik, CEO of DCI, said the combination of the two companies will allow both to “maximize our capabilities and invest further in innovations that ensure our customers have access to the best connectivity solutions and 24x7 services available.”

To O’Connell, however, the merger will serve as a tool to simplify the guest experience. O’Connell is proud of the many complementary tools coming together in Bulk TV’s garage this year, and he said all of them will coalesce to form a stronger, unified organization serving as a one-stop-shop for both hotels and guests. All that’s left is to make it through the sticky business that is a corporate merger.

“Although we’re just a few months in to the merger, we are seeing immediate advantages and opportunities for our collective customer base to utilize one provider for all of their video, data and voice services,” O’Connell said. “We are also able to simplify the purchasing experience and consolidate vendor management for all of our customers.”

Logic in Logistics

Nobody said that running a company based around providing internet solutions would be easy, but then again nobody expected guests to bring so many devices with them on the road, either. O’Connell said the cost of bandwidth remains an ever-present obstacle in hospitality, but the most difficult challenge of all is predicting how guests will be using bandwidth one year from now and pre-empt these changes with new offerings. “Guests travel with multiple connected devices now, which increases network demands. Hotel-provided in-room entertainment solutions are simultaneously building on these same architectures to deliver IPTV including over-the-top streaming content and casting applications. The greatest challenge is keeping up with the expectations of guests and the bandwidth and network requirements needed to support these offerings,” O’Connell said.

Clicking with Clients

Understanding the needs of tomorrow’s travelers is like trying to win a game of tic-tac-toe: just when you come close to a breakthrough, their priorities change and hotels are stuck holding the bill. O’Connell said he is fascinated with the rapid changes technology has gone through in recent years, but he admits this high degree of innovation does present itself as an obstacle in many cases. However, to him one trend continues to ring true, and that is why it remains a focus for Bulk TV: the unfettered rise of personalization coupled with the need to remain “connected” at all times. “It is interesting how far hotel technology has come in just the past five years, and to imagine how much it will progress in the next five years should be fascinating and fun to be a part of,” O’Connell said. “We are moving toward a connected and personalized experience that will change the efficiency and management of hotels, as well as the overall experience for hotel guests.”