Music presents a new front for in-room entertainment

In September 2019, Hilton added iHeartRadio to its Connected Room platform, enabling guests to access iHeartRadio’s thousands of live radio stations on guestroom TVs at participating hotels. Photo credit: Hilton

Though video likely will remain the heart of most hotels’ in-room entertainment strategy for a while to come, changing habits and advancing technology present another front: music.

Especially for younger folk, listening to music is a standard part of everyday life. According to Statista, as of June 2019, 51 percent of Americans listens to music daily. Of those 18 to 34, that number rises to 68 percent.

While headphones may be the primary way people listen to music while out in the world, today’s speakers and televisions can provide more convenient ways to listen when at home. By simply telling Alexa or Siri to play an album or by pulling up a music streaming app on the television, consumers can quickly and easily listen to the music they want—and without having to worry about whether their phone or earbuds are going to die.

As always, it’s important for hotels to pay attention to how consumer habits are evolving. As Matthew Rubin, a senior product manager at Hilton who works on the company’s Connected Room platform, put it: “residential trends become hospitality expectations.”

Streaming Partnerships

Late last year, two hotel companies revealed partnerships with two major audio streaming players. In September, Hilton added iHeartRadio to its Connected Room platform, enabling guests to access iHeartRadio’s thousands of live radio stations on guestroom TVs at participating hotels. The following month, SBE revealed its own partnership with Tidal, part of which will include the addition of the music streaming service as in-room entertainment at its U.S. hotels.

Michele Caniato, SBE’s chief brand officer, said the decision to partner with a music streaming service like Tidal was about giving guests the ability to customize their stay. “The days of having a radio in the room are kind of like the old days,” he explained. “The future is more about our guests kind of selecting their own music and more importantly to be able to connect their device or using our device to connect to their preferred music."

Before Hilton’s Connected Room platform added iHeartRadio, Rubin said an audio option was one of the top feature requests the company received from guests. “They wanted some of that ambient noise while they were staying at the hotel,” he said. A few months after the launch, he said the response has been really positive. “We’re watching guests continue to use it on a regular basis and we’re seeing that adoption grow as well,” Rubin said.

For now, in-room access to iHeartRadio is limited to the hotels where Hilton has introduced Connected Room. Though Rubin said Hilton had rolled out Connected Room to just 28 hotels by the end of Q3 2019, he said it plans to expand the service to all Hilton hotels eventually. He couldn’t provide a firm timeline, but he said it likely will follow a similar trajectory as Hilton’s Digital Key program, which launched in 2015 and is now available at roughly three-quarters of Hilton’s hotels, according to Rubin. Caniato said SBE plans to have Tidal available at all U.S. hotels this month.

In-Room Technology Options

Bluetooth speakers provide another potential way for guests to play the music they want while away from home. At Hard Rock International and SBE, the technology is standard across all its hotels.

“I try to, as much as possible, have our hotels reflect how guests live, how I live, how you live,” said Dale Hipsh, SVP of hotels at Hard Rock. “We all like to stream our music, we all enjoy having that ability.”

Outside of Bluetooth speakers, Hipsh said some Hard Rock hotels’ guestrooms feature sound bars guests can connect to and use to bring their music onto the television screen.

At Hilton, however, Rubin said the company has shied away from introducing the technology. “We want to try and avoid putting in hardware in our guestrooms as much as possible,” said Rubin. “When you think about some of the guestroom technology of the past where hotels have invested in VCR players and then DVD players and they're just constantly pulling these devices out, not only is it expensive for them to go and invest in whatever that latest technology is, you keep it in too long guests perceive your hotel as dated.”

Rubin said Hilton has ruled out another newer technology as ultimately inconvenient: casting to the television. It’s something the company looked into, he said, but in its experience, it saw low double-digit usage. Instead, he said Hilton has decided to instead try and partner directly with the streaming services its guests want.

“We believe that we're going to end up seeing stronger adoption and that's what we've seen,” said Rubin. “We've seen that our adoption with Connected Room is considerably larger than what the industry average is for casting solutions.”

High-Touch Amenities

At Hard Rock hotels, in-room music entertainment does not end with Bluetooth speakers. “There’s a real yearning from our customer base that we have some of the more high-touch opportunities,” Hipsh said. These other options consist of the company’s Wax and Picks programs.

Launched in 2017, Wax is the newer of the two initiatives. Through it, guests can borrow a turntable and collection of vinyl—wax is slang for vinyl—to listen to in their rooms. “I’d say [guests] love it almost as much as Picks, but Picks is still the icon of the Hard Rock in-room hotel experience,” Hipsh said. Introduced five years earlier than Wax, Picks lends guests guitars they can take back to their rooms and play.

Both programs have seen high levels of engagement, according to Hipsh. With roughly 20 guitars and 10 turntables per hotel, he said the hotels generally find the equipment is in guestrooms most of the time.