Dish launches product to evolve in-room entertainment

ENGLEWOOD, CO—While Dish Network already has a large presence in the hospitality space, the TV provider recently launched a new product, the aptly named Evolve, designed with changing guest expectations in mind.

A few years ago, the company introduced Smartbox, a video distribution platform for commercial applications, including hotels, apartment complexes, hospitals and enterprise locations. “It’s our headend for hotels,” said Joshua Rowe, general manager, commercial product management, Dish Network. “We launched that with the intention of really transforming the bulk delivery solution. For hotels, it decreased cost, it was smaller, energy-efficient and it allowed us to deliver HD content directly to televisions. It got rid of a lot of the set-top boxes that weren’t really providing a lot of value at that point.”

Noting that it’s a good solution for live, linear satellite TV, Rowe said, “That’s not necessarily what guests are looking for today.” Pointing to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, he noted that guests are also looking to watch their own content, stream their own music and use their own apps while they’re in hotel rooms.

“We created a box that basically allows us to provide a solution in many different hotel wiring scenarios and network infrastructure at a very reasonable cost,” he said. Evolve is compatible on any hotel network and with any HD TV, with QAM or IP video inputs, as well as DOCSIS, Ethernet and WiFi network connections.

The internal user interface (UI) team took six to eight months researching and developing a solution with an easy-to-use user experience. “A lot of people, when they enter a hotel, aren’t going to know the channel lineup,” said Rowe. “Within 10 seconds, we wanted them to understand where to go, how to watch live TV, how to access the guide, how to access Hulu. There’s not a lot of ancillary stuff in our UI that has no purpose. Everything in there is driven to the action that a guest wants to take.”

When designing Evolve, Dish kept a few tenets in mind. For one, it had to be customizable—including the interface, welcome channels and pre-loaded apps—by brand or by property. “Our UI and our main menu can be customized from the logo to the background images to the welcome channels that come up when a guest comes into the room,” said Rowe. As for the apps, he said, “Let’s say Marriott wants Netflix, Hulu and Pandora pre-loaded on every box. That’s a path we’re working on.”

Keeping in mind that guests want their own content, Evolve is a Google-Certified Android TV platform with access to Google Cast and the Google Play store. Google Cast, of course, allows guests to cast their own content from their devices to the TV without having to enter in any credentials. “A lot of people want that functionality,” said Rowe, noting that since it’s a certified Google Android TV box, Google Cast is built in. “What a lot of other people are doing is taking the Chromecast stick and trying to work around it to make it work in hotels so you end up with pins, a button to push to activate it. It’s not always a clean solution. What we tried to develop here is to make sure we had full Google approval on it that will work with our integrators to develop the right network infrastructure within the hotel. We’ll be able to set each box up and tie it to the room that the guest is in. It’s all tied to one network so there’s no way for someone to go and cast to the room next to them.”

With Google Play, guests have access to thousands of Android TV applications. “Or they can go into things like movies and TV and have transactional video downloaded,” said Rowe. “You can rent a movie for a third of the cost of traditional hotel pay-per-view today.”

Evolve also has Bluetooth LE with audio support. “People want to use Bluetooth headsets in the hotel room, especially if they’re staying with another person,” said Rowe. “Secondly, people want to stream their own music to the TV…so if you have iTunes, which isn’t an Android app, but you want to stream that music from your account, you can do that as well.”

While many guests do watch their own content, there is still a need for live TV. Features Dish incorporated include an intuitive user navigation; a premium interactive program guide; HD and 4K resolution capability; and picture-in-picture, which allows guests to (as they’re scrolling through the guide) come to rest on one and have a live video stream of that program within the guide. “You can actually see what the program is, if you’ve seen it before, if it’s on commercial, and then you can direct tune to it or look for additional content from there,” said Rowe.

The guide also has a genre filter. If the TV has 90 channels, but you’re only interested in sports, you can click the sports filter, and the guide will pare it down to five or 10 channels with sports programming in the next two hours.

The guide provides 23 hours of future programming data, and while guests are in the guide, the audio is always tied to the channel they were last on.

“One of our [residential features]that we wanted to carry over is… previous channels,” he explained, noting that on the hospitality product, guests have access to their last four channels. “This gives you an easy path to get back and not have to remember the actual channel numbers,” said Rowe.

Pointing to the 4K capability, Rowe said that most hotels do not have 4K televisions today, but “it will become a need in the hotel space at some point… It’s a feature we have and it’s more future-proofing for the box itself.”

Evolve receives software updates and provisioning via Smartbox and has PMS integration. If the hotel does not opt for PMS integration, it enables a time-based wipe of the box—the same time every day between check-in and checkout time. “That wipes all of the apps downloaded as well as any user-entered data. If the hotel has decided to do PMS integration, upon checkout the box will clear,” said Rowe. Guests can also clear the box manually. “Our preference is for PMS integration vs. a daily time-based clear because if you’re staying more than one day and you have to re-enter your credentials, it’s not as good of an experience as through the PMS.”

In addition to the box, Evolve also includes a remote control. “The front is one solid surface. It does have raised buttons but there are no crevices like in a traditional remote. It’s easy to clean, antimicrobial, etc.,” said Rowe. “It’s a one-spray, one-wipe cleaning solution.”

Dish Network began installing at its first property last month, with “quite a few” properties lined up for this quarter. “By the end of Q1, we’ll probably be in position to do a wider launch,” said Rowe.

“The good thing with Dish providing this is we obviously have a lot more scale than a lot of the integrator partners that are typically installed in hotels,” he continued. “We’re able to bring some of our scale to bear on providing a cost-reduced solution for all of these hotels. That’s the overarching thinking behind bringing Evolve to market: providing a solution for hotels and for guests that solves all of the different ways people want to engage with entertainment today and doing it cost effectively.” HB

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