BETHESDA, Md.—The mainstream media is so lazy. They grab at the easiest story line and repeat it ad nauseam, especially when it has to do with porn. A perfect example of this is the Marriott story getting a lot of play in the current news cycle, which is about to end. By next week, the Marriott narrative—the hotel chain, realizing that traditionally delivered in-room adult entertainment revenue is in permanent decline, has decided to stop providing it—will be a dead story. Thereafter, the narrative will have survived as fact, along with the sub-plot that Marriott caved to both socially conservative and market forces.
I read the Marriott announcement very differently, however. Behind the presumed capitulation to changing consumer behavior—whereby people would rather call up a veritable glut of uncensored porn on their laptops and iPods rather than pay inflated prices for porn on the VoD menu—I see a far shrewder play by Marriott officials who mean to stake a claim to the future, secure in the knowledge that they still have complete control over the biggest entertainment asset in their hotel rooms: the big HD screen.
This is why neither Marriott nor any major chain will seriously consider restricting internet access in the rooms; it would be a kiss of death with customers. Instead, they will guarantee that in-room access to the internet is not only easy but also fast and cheap. (Current charges tend to still be in the $15-$20 range for 24-hour access, which may be too high going forward.) I think they should consider free access, but even if they insist on charging for wired or wireless internet, they would be truly foolhardy to give away the big screen for free.
Watch the little screens to your heart’s content—that should be Marriott’s refrain. But if you want to watch that internet-accessed hardcore porn on our awesome HD big screen, it will cost. Even better, we’ll integrate cutting-edge IPTV alternatives for you at great price points in order to maximize your in-room entertainment experience. Your choices have in fact expanded vastly.
That message was the one that I think Marriott delivered last week, and which, despite repeated requests from media outfits like MSNBC, it feels no need to embellish. I don’t blame them; no more need be said. They are reaping massive publicity and even kudos from anti-porn groups for having done essentially nothing but promise (albeit subtly) to upgrade their systems so that people will have more, not less, access to harder-edged porn in their hotel rooms.
Let’s take a look at the money shot quote from the Marriott announcement one more time. “We are working with in-room entertainment providers and technology vendors to transition to the next generation of in-room entertainment. This new platform of internet-based video-on-demand will facilitate our exit from the traditional hotel video systems that included adult content in the menu selection, and will also provide guests greater choice and control over what they watch across our system. As we transition to this new platform, adult content will be off the menu for virtually all of our newly built hotels. Over the next few years, this will be the policy across our system."
The italics have been added to denote key phrases in the statement that indicate Marriott fully intends to benefit from adult entertainment in the future, only in new, more indirect and yet engaging ways. Because they have actually made their intentions as clear as day, there is no reason why they would need to comment further, and every reason why they should not. The news cycle narrative is working brilliant for them already. They simply cannot lose. They're today's heroes for dropping porn, but tomorrow and every day thereafter, there will be porn aplenty.
Now, I could be wrong about all of this, but if I am it’s not because I am wrong per se but because Marriott is not actually doing what I think they are doing, and which they say they are doing, which is to prepare now for the “next generation of in-room entertainment” in order to profit from that big, beautiful screen. It sounds more confusing that it actually is.