Monday, November 26, 2007

HD Ready for the Masses, But Are the Masses Ready?

High definition home theater is not quite an option for every consumer, but it is getting much closer, according to a recent report.

HDTVs with the best resolution (1080p) now start at around $1,000, and HD DVD players start at $299. As with all consumer electronics, the prices will continue to come down.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that almost 10% of American adults plan to buy a flat-panel television this Christmas season, and 8% more said they'll go for HD during the holiday hangover clearance sales.

Here's the problem: Everyone wants a fancy new high-def television, but few people actually know how to hook them up or get HD channels on the screen.
Consumers aren't even aware of what they don't know. One survey shows that about 20% of HDTV owners in the U.S. mistakenly think they're watching high-def programming when they're not. As the Dallas Morning News reports:

Often that's because they went into a store, bought a fancy television, went home and plugged it into their regular cable outlet and assumed they were now watching high-definition programming.
"People are very interested [in HD], but we also find that people aren't quite sure what that means," said a spokesman for Panasonic. "They're not really aware of what they need to get high definition."

TV makers and retailers are working to reverse that trend, because unhappy customers generally lead to returned televisions and lost sales. Your video service providers should do the same ... education about HD services can often lead to sales of premium channel packages and other digital services.

For multifamily property owners, the key is to understand that HDTVs, and particularly flat-panel TVs, are here to stay. Help residents find a way to recycle that old tube set. Work with your service provider to let your residents know what equipment they'll need to get the services they expect.

In new buildings, plan your unit layouts accordingly -- flat TVs mean that units can potentially get smaller. In the living room, reinforce the wall at the TV location, and consider adding an extra outlet higher on the wall so residents can hang their new toy.

It looks like it's going to be another busy holiday shopping season, and electronics are at the top of many wishlists ... What else can you do over the next few months to ensure that your residents are watching the big game in style come February?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Traffic Jam: Another FCC Ruling to Watch

A company called Vuze -- a cool online video site similar to Joost -- has filed a complaint with the FCC, asking the agency to stop broadband Internet providers from blocking or slowing peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic. Depending on how this ends up, this is a bigger deal than you would think for apartments ... more on that in a minute.

Vuze uses the popular BitTorrent P2P service to distribute its videos. Their petition asks the FCC to set rules restricting 'network management' by ISPs. Vuze's filing follows recent reports that cable broadband provider Comcast is slowing some P2P traffic, including BitTorrent.

Vuze rightly claims that ISPs like Comcast sometimes slow access to P2P services like their's. One Vuze executive said, "They say that they're engaging in reasonable network management, but what they're doing is slowing down some traffic."

Here's my question: Have you ever been driving in traffic and not had to slow down at some point during your trip?
The fact is, some traffic management is necessary in multifamily communities to ensure that all residents who are trying to get online will have a reasonably good connection speed.

If the ISP doesn't manage the traffic coming and going from a building, then all of the bandwidth to that property could potentially be consumed by a few heavy users -- effectively choking off others' connections by downloading a lot of music, photos, vidoes and other large files. I wouldn't do business with an ISP that didn't have a strategy for managing P2P traffic in a densely-populated apartment community.

(While we're at it ... This is another good reason to keep security systems, surveillance cameras and other IP-based in-building communications systems off of a shared resident network. Do you really want your monitoring systems choked off by the guy upstairs downloading the complete first season of 'The Office'? Probably not.)

ISPs should not decide by themselves how to treat access to any website, including Internet-based file-sharing services. However, while I agree that large-scale content blocking should probably be prohibited, properly administered network management by the ISP is a necessary and good thing for property owners who want to ensure that everyone has a quality online experience, not just the heavy users. We'll keep you posted as this story develops...

Do you know your ISP's policy regarding peer-to-peer traffic?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Do You Reflect Your Residents' Values?

According to the Conscious Consumer Report from BBMG, consumer prefer to buy from companies that reflect their own values ... amazing stuff, I know.

Almost 90% of Americans say the words "conscious consumer" describe them well, and they are more likely to buy (if price and quality are equal) from companies that:
• Manufacture energy efficient products
• Promote health and safety benefits
• Support fair labor and trade practices
• Commit to environmentally-friendly practices
One BBMG partner says, "... conscious consumers expect companies to do more than make eco-friendly claims. They demand transparency and accountability across every level of business practice... "

Americans readily self-identify as: "conscious consumers", "socially responsible", "environmentally-friendly", and "green".

While price and quality are still paramount (and I'd add location in multifamily housing), convenience has been edged out by more socially relevant attributes ... how energy efficient a product is and its health benefits are becoming integral to consumers' purchasing decisions.

Jeffrey Pollock of Global Strategy Group sums it up: "Americans think before they buy... they tend to prefer to buy from companies that reflect their values."

What are you doing to reach, inspire and motivate values-driven residents? Do you start with the design of your community? Are you incorporating values and values-based design into your marketing plans?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fast Stat: They're Into Tech More Than You Think

Don't think your residents are a tech-savvy crowd? Check this out:

88% of men and 82% of women describe themselves as being interested in consumer electronics products, according to market research conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association.

Source: CEA, "The Truth About Women and Consumer Electronics," July 2007.An electronics tower during move-in

Friday, November 02, 2007

Dallas in Review: Emerging Technologies

Day Two of last week's Apartment Technology Conference started with a packed room anxious to hear about "Emerging Technologies."

Web 2.0:
Mike Mueller of VaultWare focused on the sharing and collaboration opportunities presented by 'Web 2.0' sites -- such as Facebook -- and SMS text messages. (Personally, I think Facebook and now Google's OpenSocial are huge opportunities for the apartment owners who get them right...)

Mike talked about viral marketing and the importance of making your online marketing interesting and easy to share. As an example, he used the most popular landlord in the world -- Pearl from FunnyorDie:

Pearl is a viral success ... Over 48 million people have met her in the last seven months!

There are all kinds of places online where your apartments should be listed: MySpace, Craigslist, Facebook, Google Maps, Google Earth, and so on. Mike asked the question: Is your apartment on Web 2.0? I'll take it a step further: Are you controlling the conversation about your community? In addition to these websites, a property blog gives you a great place to drive all of that traffic and show prospects what your community is all about.

Steve Winn of RealPage talked up his company's latest offer: IPTV. Steve calls it a "potentially disruptive technology," especially considering the fact that the average consumer spends over 27 hours per week watching TV.

Already available throughout Europe, IPTV presents the possibility to offer some completely new services: converged platforms, place-shifting, and two-way TV for gaming and video conferencing. Steve made the point that residents don’t go to the property portal online, so IPTV could be used to integrate community services into the TV channel guide.

The RealPage IPTV solution looks promising, but it will be interesting to see if gains any traction in a multi-provider environment. Steve did note that bandwidth needs are inevitably going to grow, and many existing networks will not support the bandwidth necessary for tomorrow's services.

Dynamic Bandwidth:
Dave Daugherty of Korcett talked about the need not only for more bandwidth, but also for better bandwidth management to improve network performance. Money quote: "Kids don’t practice safe Internet."

Dave's company enables service providers to offer dynamic bandwidth services and give residents online tools to edit their account and handle their own issues. Residents can turn services up or down as you need to, and property staff can utilize a private messaging platform that's built into the system (ex: “Pay your rent now.”).

Korcett's next plans are to extend messaging to campus-wide events via email or text messaging, and also to enable more two-way communication opportunities between residents and staff.

In the panel Q&A, property infrastructure became a clear concern. Steve encourages a flexible network that enables expandable bandwidth needed as technologies evolve. Wi-Fi is also a requirement, as residents don’t want to be tethered to a desk. Dave would like to eventually see "dynamic provisioning" of service providers, and Mike pleaded for property managers to make it easier for residents to find properties and interface with staff.

Final Thoughts:
I'm a software and 'Web 2.0' guy, but I think that there's way too much focus on software as the savior. In an industry that is focused on building community and increasing resident retention, it's counter-productive to focus entirely on TV and Internet services that keep residents cramped in front of a screen in their units.

While these guys are all clearly experts in their fields, it's disappointing that an hour-long talk about 'emerging technologies' didn't offer a single mention of any opportunities to incorporate technology throughout the common areas of a community … and maybe more surprising, there wasn't any mention of sustainable technologies.

What are some unique 'emerging technologies' that you've seen recently in apartment communities?