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Videoconferencing Makes a Welcomed Guest Bringing Increased Meeting Opportunities.

It wasn't too long ago that hotel industry sooth-sayers were predicting the coming of a brave new world in meeting technology, one that would alter the way hotels do business as significantly as did the coming of the computerized front office. In 1980, when those predictions were ripe, there were approximately 50 videoconferences held nationwide. Over the next three years, the growth of satellite videoconferencing surpassed all expectations, numbering among its champions such organizations as American Express, Frod, Firestone, IBM, Bank Administration Institute, Zimmer, Nabisco, Johnson & Johnson, Texas Instruments, the American Dental Association, the National Safety Council and the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon.

Most observers predicted that there would be more than 500 satellite videoconferences in 1984 alone, and that the medium will experience even more dramatic growth throughout the remainder of the '80s. To hoteliers across the nation, videoconferencing represents more than new business opportunities. It represents a second wave in lodging technology, one that is subtly reshaping the hotel and meeting industries.

Why is this new communications technique growing so radidly? What are the opportunities and benefits for hotels? How much does it cost? Who handles the technical details? This article will attempt to answer some of the questions currently being asked.

One form of a more-general technology known as "teleconferencing," videoconferencing is a communications tool that combines sight and sound to bring together groups of people gathered at any number of locations into a single "electronic" meeting. Satellite videoconferencing differs from other kinds of teleconferencing by the fact that it uses full-motion, full-color video images. It is live television, using all of the TV equipment and production techniques normally used in that medium.

In general, videoconferencing can be divided into two distinct groups: point-to-point for face-to-face) and point-to-multipoint (or speaker to audience). Point-to-point videoconferences are usually among small groups of people gathered at a small number of locations, and the transmission may be provided by satellite of by terrestrial networks like AT&T's Picturephone Meeting Service. Essentially a video-enhanced telephone call, this type of videoconference is well-suited for problem solving meetings and other small, routine business meetings. Point-to-multipoint videoconferences, on the other hand, involve one or more origination locations and any number of receive sites. Only satellites can economically provide this type of videocon-together a large, geopgraphically dispersed group. Geared as it is for large groups of people, point-to-multipoint videoconferencing is a perfect match for hotels, designed as they are to bring large groups of people together.

Greater member and employee participation in meetings is the key benefit of videoconferencing for business organizations. Formerly, corporation employees and association members who could not afford the time and money to fly to a central location for a major meeting were excluded from a good portion of corporation or association activities. Today, through sheer numbers of new participants, videoconferencing offers tremendous advantages.

Tody, the most popular applications for videoconferencing include: new product introductions, national sales meetings, keynote speaker presentations, training and policy seminars, stockholder meetings, political addresses, media briefing, motivational meetings and conference wrapup meetings.

The satellite networking company handles all of the details surounding the installation, service, maintenance and operation of the equipment, including booking satellite time and providing overall technical coordination for videoconference events. A successful videoconference requires that all meeting locations receive top-quality television. Assuring that is the satellite networking company's job, so leave it to them. A Review of the Basics

In general, the network is composed of a central, "originating" site (there may be more than one of these) and any number of regional "receiving" sites connected via satellite.

The originating site can be a TV studio, corporate board room, hotel ballroom or virtually anywhere else. The television signal produced at the origination site is delivered to a satellite transmitting antenna called an uplink. Whether permanent or transportable, the uplink transmits the signal to any of the satellits now in orbit with occasional time for videoconferencing. The various satellites offer a wide range of scheduling flexibility and signal security.

The receiving sites are most often meeting rooms in regional hotels equipped with permanent earth stations. In most cases, the picture portion of a satellite videoconference is one-way. The audio portion can be two-way. The audio portion can be two-way, providing immediate interaction between she audience dispersed across the country and the central originating site.

A permanently installed, commercial-quality satellite receiving station geared for Ku or C-band reception is the only equipment the hotel needs. The satellite networking company will provide audiovisual equipment--television monitors or large-screen display units--needed for a videoconference and, for interactive events, dedicated telephones.

Having an earth station is necessary, but it is not enough. To maximize the benefits of the medium, the hotel should be part of a professionally managed, nationwide satellite network. The earth station should be promoted as part of an easy-to-use nationwide videoconferencing network and serviced, maintained and operated by qualified field engineers working for the company managing the network.

Because meeting planners producing videoconferences usually want to reach many cities at once, they turn to one of the satellite networking companies operating such networks for technical coordination, implementation and for overall support.

A commercial-quality earth station costs anywhere from $16,000 to $25,000. Home-grade equipment is commercially available but not feasible for videoconferencing applications.

A hotel can buy its earth station outright or lease it as part of a total communications service that includes in-room entertainment programming and videoconferencing services. Such services normally cost from five to 25 cents per room per night, depending on the hotel's size and the amount and type of programming purchased. Preemption is the oft-cited problem of such packages--when a videoconference is in progress, in-room programming is necessarily preempted. Hotels that are serious about entertainment programming and about videoconferencing--Marriott being an example--normally choose to install "dedicated" earth stations, that is, one for in-room entertainment and one for videoconferencing.

To attract more properties to their networks, some satellite networking companies are offering an even more attractive cost alternative, by which the earth station and its installation are provided free of charge. In these arrangements, the hotel pays only for installation of the antenna pad and conduit to designated meeting rooms, a combined cost of $2,000 to $4,000. Marketing, servicing, maintenance and operation are left up to the satellite networking company. Locating the Antenna

Earth stations are either ground-mounted or roof-mounted. For ground installation of a Ku-band earth station, the only concern is that there be clear line of sight to the orbital are of the satellite. The station will thus be situated so that the antenna can "see" the Southwestern sky. Because they operate independently of microwave and C-band traffic, Ku-band antennas are perfect for downtown properites. If a C-band antenna is installed, microwave interference becomes a concern in installation.

Since roof instalation requires attention to building and foundation support, it normally costs two to three times as much as ground installation.

Best-suited for videoconferencing are hotels designed for meetings or conventions; that is, hotels having more than one meeting and banquet room with the capacity to seat 75 to 200, with ceiling heights no lower than 13 to 15 feet. They size of the property makes no difference.

Location is not an issue, so long as the hotel is situated within the satellite's field of vision or "footprint." Currently popular are airport, office park and conference center properties. New Revenue for Hotels

What's in it for the hotel? Put simply, new business-new revnue opportunities. At first, videoconferences will be short-lead business. The large point-to-multipoint events are usually booked no more than three to six moths in advance, and they are booked as catering functions. These will primarily generate meeting room and food and beverage revenues.

As meeting planners and productions houses learn to take advantage of its economies, videoconferences will bring in sleeping room revenues as well. This is already happening around the country. A Midwest production company. Meta Group, has been booking back-to-back videoconferences--and generating videoconference-related sleeping room revenues for hotels--for the financial industry for some time now.

Since extended travel is not required before and after videoconferences, they can be scheduled on any day of the week--on Mondays or Fridays to encourage people to come a day early or stay a day late to tour conference cities. This is a chance for hotel marketing departments to develop full weekend packages to fill rooms and bring additional business to hotel facilities during otherwise low-occupancy periods.

The cost of doing a videoconference varies with the complexity of the production, the number of receive sites, the length of the program, thenumber of attendees and other considerations. Each show is tailor-made and billed to the client according to his or her actual needs.

We can, however, generalize to this extent: The technical requirements--production, transmission, satellite time, reception, projection/display and interactive hook-ups--for a 30-site videoconference reaching 60,000 attendees (200 at each site) will cost in the neighborhood of $100,000, depending on the quality of the production.

While videoconferencing excels in many applications, it is not feasible in others, including:

* Incentive travel meetings, where just going is perceived as a significant benefit to participants. While a videoconference may be used to enhance or dramatize such meetings, it cannot replace this familiar and profitable segment of the meetings business.

* Unless the time of the individuals concerned is more important than the per-person cost of setting up this type of meeting, groups of fewer than 25 do not make cost-effective use of the medium. The strength of the point-to-multipoint videoconference is in its outreach--its ability to bring together large groups of people at many locations.

In summary, there is a growing realization among many hoteliers that, in order to be viewed as a full-service meeting center, larger hotels will need to offer a videoconference capability. Many conventions and larger meetings will in the future include a videoconference segment. Without the facilities to serve this need, a hotel may have trouble retaining some of its meetings business. A permanently installed satellite receiving station will be viewed as an essential resource, as significant in the benefits it offers as computerized reservation capabilities.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Black, J.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Feb 1, 1985
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