Skin flicks soon will be stripped from all Marriott TV screens, but industry insiders say X-rated offerings are not likely to disappear from America’s hotel rooms.
While revenues from in-room adult videos are down for the hotel industry, mature content and the business traveler remain familiar bedfellows, experts say. The real shift: how most road warriors now feed their lustful habits — mostly via hotel Wi-Fi streams and their own laptops.
“Marriott sees porn as a rapidly declining source of income, so they [figure they] might as well get ahead of the competition and make this a good PR message,” said Glenn Haussman, editor-in-chief of HotelInteractive.com, which covers news in the hospitality world.
Marriott International last week revealed plans to phase out porn “over the next few years ... across our system” — the largest U.S. hotel chain to say it will no longer offer in-room adult movies. In a statement, Marriott said, “it is our practice to keep adult content out of the reach of children and unavailable to any adult who chooses not to view it.”
Dirty little secret
Beyond Marriott, an industry-wide expulsion of X-rated offerings is not looming, Haussman believes — in part because he estimates that mature menu purchases still comprise 85 percent of the money hotels collect from in-room entertainment. But if any hotel giants do purge porn, and cite moral reasons for doing so, “it would be disingenuous,” he added.
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“Adult content has been the industry's dirty little secret for decades,” Haussman said. “They have made hundreds of millions of dollars — $12.95 at a time — by providing this content over the years.”
Two weeks ago, probable Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney abruptly resigned from Marriott’s board. In 2008, family-values groups chastised Romney for failing to convince Marriott to de-porn its movie titles.
But Marriott's statement points to pure economics: “Changing technology and how guests access entertainment has reduced the revenue hotels and their owners derive from in-room movies, including adult content.”
Msnbc.com e-mailed Marriott 10 questions, including when and where its removal process will begin, why porn cannot be immediately deleted from all in-room screens, and what the company believes it gains by the move.
“Thank you for the opportunity to respond,” Marriott spokesman Jeff Flaherty replied in an e-mail. “At this time, our statement includes all the information we have to share.”
While Marriott sticks to its script, frequent traveler and mother Cindy Richards lauds the chain’s choice.
“Watching a movie in a hotel room with room service is one of those great family treats. I’m not a prude, but I always hated flipping through the channels and accidentally running across something less than appropriate for kids,” said Richards, editor of TravelingMom.com.
“It was no big deal when the kids were too young to know what they were seeing. But once they knew there was more than one meaning to the phrase ‘Debbie does Dallas,’ it led to much giggling,” she added.
Omni Hotels believes it was the first national chain to dump porn — and that decision was made in 1999, years before most hotel guests lifted their laptops for lascivious looks.
“This was never a business decision,” said Omni spokesperson Caryn Kboudi. “Our ownership at the time had younger children, and it just wasn’t a way as an organization that we felt we wanted to make money.
“I don’t believe,” she added, “there are any other large (hotel) brands” that have since gone porn-free.
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And Marriott would not be following that path if the income from in-room movies was rising or even flat, contends Quentin Boyer, spokesman for the adult entertainment studio Pink Visual.
Last week, USA Today reported that hotel-room movie provider LodgeNet — whose clients include Marriott and Hilton — suffered a 19 percent slide in its guest-entertainment revenue from 2008 to 2009. LodgeNet officials declined an interview with msnbc.com for this article.
Opting for laptops
Two factors are behind the decline in revenues from steamier film titles, Boyer said. First and foremost, travelers can pull up free X-rated snippets on their computers. “It’s also true,” he added, “that in many hotels the adult fare is highly edited and censored, while online content generally — well — isn’t.
“We’re not too upset by the trend of (travelers) migrating from pay-per-view content consumption to consumption via Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices,” Boyer said. “Not only do we keep a larger percentage of the purchase price when a customer comes directly to us, but as a company we’re complete tech nerds at heart ... The wise choice for producers of just about any kind of content is to embrace those new technologies with great gusto.”
Adult online providers also have proof that plenty of hotel guests are trolling their websites for hardcore peeks not long after they check in.
“Web analytics from adult sites routinely experience a bump in traffic from neighborhoods with large hotels, proving that it’s easier to click on to a free adult site via one’s laptop than incur a charge on the hotel bill that you may have to explain later on,” said Charles Anderson, spokesman for Pornhub.com, an adult content site.
“Don’t let Marriott lead you to believe that they’re performing a public service,” Anderson added.
Would some hotels attempt to block guests from using in-house Wi-Fi systems to stream porn on their personal computers? That, Boyer believes, is not likely.
“Even eliminating Wi-Fi access in hotel rooms — which would be an absolutely absurd and self-defeating business decision at this point — would not shut off the porn tap,” Boyer said.
“You’d have to entirely eliminate the option of guests going online from the confines of their hotel room, and I just don’t see any major hotel chain contemplating a move that rash.”
Bill Briggs is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com and author of the forthcoming book, “The Third Miracle.”