Just Like Home

by Katie Sloan

Providing student housing with familiar and comfortable elements is a plus for students and owners.

If the stereotypes about college students presented in popular movies and television shows were true, those creating and managing student housing would have much more straightforward jobs. Since college would be just one big party, if all of the closets were wide enough to fit a couple of kegs, and the carpet color matched the color of pizza stains, everyone would be happy. Of course, student housing professionals know that students’ expectations of their accommodations are just as diverse as the students themselves. They are faced with the challenge of creating spaces that accommodate the needs of the student who wakes up early to study chemistry as well as the student who stays up too late playing Halo with friends. Creating spaces that appeal to a broad range of students can be challenging, but there are ways to reach them.

Regardless of lifestyle, everyone wants to come back to a place that actually feels like home. While no one can replicate the exact comfort of home, providing some of the same amenities that students had at home can be a huge help. One key amenity is television service. While we may not think of students as having hours to spare flipping channels, they still watch an average of three hours, 41 minutes of television each day, according to a recent Nielson study. Also, having access to the same content they had before is key to creating a home-like space. Even if they only watch a few shows, discussing these shows among their peer groups is a way students relate to each other. The last thing one wants is students feeling out of the loop because the show they wanted to watch was unavailable to them.

Also, simply offering access to broadcast channels will more than likely not meet the needs of most students. By almost 2-to-1, college students watched more shows on networks channels than on broadcast local television channels like ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX. While there are certain networks that cater more towards younger audiences, many students follow shows on more obscure networks not necessarily available on basic cable.  Whether it’s True Blood on HBO or The Real Housewives of New York on Bravo or a favorite team’s game on ESPNU, basic cable simply cannot meet the needs of the average student.

So even if one understands the importance of an enhanced television offering for students, how does one go about finding the right solution? Many student housing professionals go about this process with a skewed viewpoint. They think that the provider is doing them and the property a favor by coming in and providing services, when actually it’s the other way around. Essentially, when one allows a service provider to come onto the property, it’s like handing them customers, for free. Why shouldn’t the provider offer some kind of compensation or special accommodation like free wireless hotspots to the property for this generous offering?

Also, it is very important to take the time to shop around for multiple providers in order to get the best offering for the property. By finding out what other providers are available in one’s area and leveraging offers against each other, often times better offers with higher levels of service can be found.

When considering the question of providers, one must also face the age-old question of cable versus satellite. There is no cut and dried answer, and there is a variety of offerings available from different companies. However, most residents prefer satellite for its all digital offering and frequently larger selection of channels and HD content. The most recent study from the American Customer Satisfaction Index found that despite recent gains, cable continues to trail major satellite providers in terms of consumer satisfaction rankings. Also most cable companies utilize traditional coaxial cable networks, which are inherently limited in terms of bandwidth.

As demand continues to grow for more HD, video on demand content, and other “bandwidth-hungry” television services, the limitations of traditional networks become more obvious. Since satellite service works by bouncing signals around a series of transponders, the lack of bandwidth available from coaxial-based networks is no longer a concern.

Given the current preference for satellite service as well as its ability to sustain the demand for future services, it seems as though satellite service would be the logical choice for your property’s television provider. However, the most obvious concern with satellite service remains with the satellite dish itself. Dishes within a multifamily setting create three key problems:  risk to residents, harm to property aesthetics, and their requirement of access to the southern sky.

While it may not seem the most dangerous of tasks, installing a dish on an apartment balcony can be quite risky. Most installations require the use of a ladder or stepstool. Combine that with the tricky angles of most balconies as well as the number of apartments located above ground level, and it’s easy to see how allowing residents to install and maintain their own individual dishes can become a huge liability.

Secondly, the look of a community can be significantly compromised by dishes lining the balconies. While it may seem inconsequential, one should consider how this image can affect a prospective resident’s initial impression of the property. When dishes are scattered sporadically, a community loses its ability to have a clean, consistent look.

Also, dishes require access to the southern sky, and unless the entire community is made up of southern facing buildings in a row, (or is located on the North Pole) there will be at least a few students who won’t have access to satellite service. No one wants to tell their residents that they don’t have access to a service that their friends in the next building over have.

Given these restrictions, it would seem as though satellite service has some pretty sizable disadvantages. However, there is a way around all three of these issues. There is a new technology solution that allows an entire neighborhood’s satellite service to be consolidated to just a handful of dishes in a single location, like a high rise’s rooftop or in a small, unobtrusive area on the property. This solution allows the satellite signal to travel from these few dishes on the property to each individual residence. Also, access to satellite service in your property is no longer limited only to residents with full access to the southern sky. Now everyone can enjoy satellite service without having to consult a compass first. The number of dishes is reduced from one per subscriber to one to two per property, eliminating the problem of dish-lined views of the community.

Installation of this solution is relatively painless and can take less than six weeks to complete. By utilizing this solution, managers may be able to greatly expand the entertainment options for the entire community.

Unfortunately, this solution is not often available from service providers themselves, but rather from companies who function as service provider managers. By working with a separate company, relationships among service providers can be optimized while gaining access to the best network infrastructure, like the solution that enables satellite service without individual dishes.

Another powerful advantage of working with a service provider manager is that services can be purchased in bulk by the property at an extreme discount. Additional revenue is then possible even when prices are still low for students themselves. Also, by purchasing services in bulk, television service can be conveniently bundled in with rent. These service provider managers can also negotiate similar options for high speed Internet and digital phone service as well.

Communities can even mix and match services. For example, one could offer high speed Internet with rent and offer subscription television service, all at the best possible prices, managed by a single contact. Working with a company who acts as the service provider manager allows one to find the best set of services that fit the needs of that particular community. Also, services are becoming more and more interactive with one another. With more and more student’s entertainment function shifting to on-line content from traditional television, stable, high-bandwidth connections will become ever increasingly important. There is even talk of data and video being one service in the next 10 years.

For example, the soon to be launched Google TV takes a regular TV set and spices it up with a bit of silicon logic and a layer of intelligent software. Standard features of Google TV include allowing users to browse the internet on their TV, scheduling the recording of shows from their mobile phones, push websites from other internet devices on to the TV, interact with applications from their Android phones, and other innovational functions.

Long gone are the days of incumbent providers dictating the rules of the game to properties. There are many choices when it comes to enabling services such as Internet, television and telephone for your residents. With more choices in the market comes more power for individual properties to get more benefits from their providers. Even though there is no way to perfectly tailor your community to fit the needs of every individual student, offering more choices, especially when it comes to television channels, is a great way to start.

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