Some hotel brands raise the profile of their technology to set themselves apart. Some differentiate the technology by price: Where one might offer free high-speed Internet access, another might offer tiered HSIA, delivering more bandwidth at a higher price.

By now, many brands feature high-definition televisions. or at least flat-screen TVs. Also, many offer free Home Box Office, the dominant premium channel, at times along with competitors like Showtime or Starz.

Sheraton Hotels and Resorts has taken a different approach, mandating that its U.S. hotels carry Showtime as its premium channel. To underline that, the Starwood chain celebrated the second season of Showtime's series, “The Tudors,” by providing a sneak preview for its guests March 16, followed by a world-premiere screening event for the series' second season at the Sheraton New York March 19. Sheraton even “wrapped” the iconic hotel so it resembled a castle.

“The major brands are looking at in-room entertainment as a differentiator,” says Scott Young, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, LodgeNet Interactive. “Some folks work with us to create different technical experiences and feature sets. For example, Hilton has created the Sight+Sound Room, designed to create a more homelike experience,” with a plasma TV, surround-sound speakers, extended DirecTV channel lineup and a “guest connectivity” panel into which guests can plug their personal devices.

The majority of brands develop different packages to communicate their image, Young says. Starwood might present a video about itself over a dedicated channel, or there may be a “menu system with a special thematic look.”

HBO, meanwhile, has differentiators of its own, says Joe Snee, vice president of lodging and special markets. Not only is it a standard in Marriott, InterContinental, Hyatt and Motel 6 brands, it also is the preferred premium channel for Choice, the Wyndham Hotel Group and Carlson. HBO “is exploring some opportunities with chains,” Snee says, refusing further detail. Last May, he notes, Starwood auctioned off tickets and an autographed glove to the controversial Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather fight (a pay-per-view HBO special) to its Preferred Guests.

Bypassing What's Cookie-Cutter

Lalia Rach says that Sheraton uses Showtime to distinguish itself in in-room entertainment, which in hotels is “as cookie-cutter as it gets.”

Many Showtime series — ”Dexter,” “Weeds,” “Californication,” “The Tudors” — are “not at all mainstream,” says Rach, the divisional dean of the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management at New York University. While HBO is “an amazing channel that offers incredible programming,” Showtime's “a little more edgy, and it pushes boundaries.”

Although “The Tudors” is about the distant past and “a king people don't know that much about,” it has created a loyal following among 30-somethings and the younger 40-somethings, a “very desirable market segment.”

The Sheraton brand “has gotten a bit antiquated,” Rach says. “This allows it to say it's partnering with a brand that is cutting-edge.”

Hoyt Harper II, Sheraton's senior vice president, says Showtime approached Sheraton to join in an effort to set itself apart; its attitude and its “list of critically acclaimed series” led to the alliance, he says. The partnership will expand; other premieres and special events are planned, along with promotional activities like trip giveaways.

“It's our way of demonstrating, time and time again, that we are innovative and differentiated from our competition.”

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