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The Next Big Thing: The Mobile Phone as a Video Set Top Box

PortablewifiDavid Pogue reviews portable WiFi boxes from Kyocera, Junxion and Top Global -- devices that use the PC laptop card provided by a cellular carrier like  VerizonSprint or Cingular to provide wireless service to PCs anywhere there is cellular service, at DSL speeds (400 to 700 kilobits a second).

The Kyocera box will even let you connect with an EVDO cellphone, such as the Samsung A890 or  Audiovox 8940, with a USB cable. The phone becomes a sort of Internet antenna for the router.

Executives of the new News Corporation "startup" Mobizzo, or the mobile initiatives for Viacom or Time Warner might want to make note of this development. Right now, all of the assumptions are based on mobile video only being displayed on the mobile phone itself. What happens when the phone becomes like a set-top box, and is able to "sling" video (and other multimedia content) from the cell networks to any video screen in a two hundred foot radius?

The carriers, especially Verizon, don't like this development: "Broadband access is designed for individual customers. When customers use unauthorized devices to share the service, they are in violation of their service agreements," according to Brenda Raney, a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman. Verizon had only recently changed their policy, now allowing their subscribers using the LG VX9800, Motorola RAZR V3c,  Motorola E815,  and LG VX8100 mobile phones as high-speed modems for their laptops.

History is repeating itself: When I was with @Home, our financial projections were largely based on charging $40 to $60 per computer, much as we would charge subscribers for extra set-top boxes. While MSOs lost some revenue from the shared connections in the short term, the opportunities from WiFi enabled services like VOIP, combined with superior economics (no truck rolls for adding the new services), have more than made up for the difference.

Link: David Pogue review in New York Times (registration required)

The New Retail Networks

Starbucks_musicOn the heels of Starbucks' declaration that they are, in fact, a network, comes a similar announcement by Starwood prexy Steve Heyer. By defining a distinct brand persona for each of its nine hotel chains -- for example, W is a "flirty escape for hip insiders" -- Heyer plans to reach out to media companies, telecommunications firms, apparel lines and other businesses to help each of Starwood's nine hotel brands stand out from competitors.

He has already targeted urban "central social districts" for Starwood's new "aloft hotel" brand (earlier dubbed "XYZ"), whose own brand persona is reportedly about delivering a "sassy, refreshing oasis" (which might sound oddly familiar to his old Coke associates). In the months ahead, look for traditional tie-ins with companies like Victoria's Secret, as well as less traditional digital downloads from Time Warner's family of media products in your next hotel room.

Link: Transcript of Starbucks annual investor conference

The New Payola: Online Hotel Reviews

TravelsitesThe hotel industry should be concerned about the number of hotels that are trying to pay online sites for positive reviews. Today's New York Times reports (subscription required) on the incentives hotels are currently providing to people that post "real" reviews on sites like Citysearch.com. For example, one NYC resort is "discreetly offering a free reflexology treatment to customers who posted a positive review of the establishment online."

Hotels run the risk of repeating the same mistake that the radio industry did. Let's look at the definition of payola, according to Wikipedia:

"...In the music industry, the illegal practice of record companies paying money for the broadcast of records on music radio is called payola, if the song is presented as being part of the normal day's broadcast."

Are people being paid - either in cash or for consideration for their "reviews"? The Times article is clear that the answer is "Yes". In response, the hotel industry rightly points out that the vast majority of comments on review sites are negative, which reflects basic psychology: you're more motivated to warn people about a bad experience than to share a good one.

But if readers were to ever believe they were being lied to -- there might be a backlash against both the sites and the hotels that paid for the reviews.

I think hotels should continue to encourage travelers to submit reviews, but should drop the requirement that the review be positive. Furthermore, if there are incentives involved in giving positive reviews, I think the online sites need to do a better job of informing their readers of potential biases.

Consumer Reports (subscription required) recently described the simply awful advice being given out by these so-called experts. Let's hope that the next expose isn't about outright dishonesty.

The Real Lessons of the Hotel Bed Wars

Hotel_beddingThe New York Times reports (registration required) that pretty much every chain that is likely to upgrade their bedding has probably done so -- and despite claims that this is something that guests say they want, there is no corresponding research that supports this.

So what have we learned?

The first thing is, customers will rarely - if ever - tell you what it is that they want. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers hotel analyst Bjorn Hansen, even without asking for bedding in the first place, "Most travelers seem to be extremely positive about the improved quality of beds and bedding." Westin sold $10 million in bedding accessories to its customers last year.

Secondly, hotel sampling has led to other changes in home consumption patterns. Hanson also noted that the bedding revolution has led to changes in the way people sleep at home, with guests modernizing their bedrooms after sleeping in hotel beds. As I've blogged before, hotels are increasingly becoming an influencer of consumer habits.

(In a similar vein, the HotelChatter blog reports that the Healthy Hotels Guide will be rating individual hotels and the cleanliness of their bedding, and posting the results online.)

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