Numerous venues are adopting solutions that stream TV audio over wifi to patrons’ smartphones. By downloading a free app, customers can hear any muted, live TV directly on their smartphone. Several companies now offer solutions to this classic bar dilemma: the inability to hear a game or show. Many venues have now begun adopting solutions that involve streaming this audio via wifi to the patron’s handheld device. Our recent survey has shown that 37% of bars have had someone leave because they cannot hear the sound on their desired program.
Over the years, several attempts have been made to solve the issue of muted bar TVs, including the creation of separate rooms and tabletop or directional speakers. Tabletop speakers have challenges with wiring, customer abuse and, occasionally, theft. Directional speakers sound like a decent fix, but generally end up working better in demo mode than in real world applications where hard reflective surfaces end up bouncing the sound all around the room. Also, people are a lot less inhibited about pouring beer on a venue’s tabletop speaker than they would be about drowning their own iPhone. Today’s mobile technology brings the simplicity of personal audio directly to the individual smartphone and tablet user.
According to our survey results, 67% of sports bars have someone request the sound for a particular game at least once a week. The segment of your patrons which this technology appeals to most is an individual coming to your bar for his or her favorite game. The other type of patron this often appeals to is the ‘out of towner.’ Often traveling alone with a spouse at home, their local team’s game is on, but without any sound, they’re much less likely to stay. In our highly mobile society, people are often in one city trying to watch a game that’s important to them, yet are unable to also get the audio because they are not in their hometown. In the regular season, the NFL typically plays six to eight teams at the same time, with college football playing even more. “We find that we’re able to attract more customers who end up staying longer when they’re able to utilize their phone as a personal listening device. They are able to switch back and forth between different games, which is especially helpful if they’re into fantasy,” says Alfred Anderson of Chaplin’s Sports Bistro in Union City, California. They’re also likely part of a league, in which case the players on their ‘team’ are spread among numerous different matches and will certainly want the option to switch quickly from one game to another. Therefore, systems and apps that enable easy shuttling between audio
from different channels from any of your venue’s audio sources tend to offer the hardcore fan the most freedom.
How does it work?
These systems tend to have three components. First, the application itself. Second, an appliance in the venue that essentially compresses the audio line out of the TV receiver, converts it to digital, and streams it out over a local network to your wifi access point, and then out to any phone. This keeps the transmission of the data local, placing minimal stress is put on your servers. Not setting this up in such a manner would mean you were transmitting rebroadcasting copyrighted content on what is essentially an unlicensed internet radio station. Other systems may also employ cloud management, enabling timely software updates as well as customization of the app by the venue owner.
Audio quality is also a main key to customer satisfaction. In many instances, the acoustics in bars and restaurants are so poor that even when the game is played over the bar’s main speakers, not much can still be heard. The quality of the streaming audio over wifi is the single biggest determinate of overall audio quality for the better systems. Wifi audio is popular in family-friendly venues as well. The best practice is to have one or more TVs with kids’ programming with a wifi audio feed. Then, parents can watch their games in peace while the kids are plugged into their own shows. Marketing Manager of Colorado’s Dillon Dam Brewery, Barb Richard says, “Everyone has a smartphone, but not everyone is as skilled with it. Whether they are six or sixty, no one seems to struggle with it.” Joe Kirley, one
of the pioneers of this industry, has a thesis that a bar’s largest opportunity is actually not sports, but rather narrative shows where dialogue is critical. Patrons certainly come to bars to watch big games, but this often only accounts for approximately 1% of the total time a bar is open. Kirley speculates that this is the sector where one can really utilize such a system to pay the bills, bringing in fans who would normally just watch these shows at home. Another implementation people often miss out on, is transmitting audio in more than one language. Wouldn’t it be better to transmit the World Cup audio in both Spanish and English simultaneously for all customers? All you would need is two TV receivers, one tuned to the first language, and the other to the secondary audio.
Branding and Social Media
Obviously, if people do not know about the system, or how to use it, then they won’t. Bars that promote and explain the service tend to feel its impact almost ten times more than those establishments that do not. Promotional methods can include posters, coasters, TV signs, napkins, table tents, digital signage and, of course, your own servers. Our experience is that usage of the system doubles when the waitstaff is properly trained in its usage. Such systems range from simple audio-only devices to those that offer robust opportunities for owners to upload their own logos and custom coupons or create pre-roll videos and scrolling in-app banners which customers can click through to other websites, creating a truly unique custom branded app. Smart venue owners will use the customization tools to promote specials and future events.
Solutions that offer live wifi audio streaming to patrons’ mobile devices are now being adopted at bars around the country more and more. These new solutions offer patrons an engaging and enriched video and audio experience, and can also provide new marketing and branding opportunities for the venue owner and can prove to be a big ‘win’ for your team.
By Lance Glasser, president and founder of Audio Everywhere, who supply high-quality wi-fi audio solutions to bars, lounges, restaurants and other businesses. He has been a CTO and Group VP at KLA-Tencor, Director of Electronics Technology at DARPA, and an Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. In addition to authoring thirty US patents, Lance co-authored the book The Design and Analysis of VLSI Circuits and is a prior recipient of the ASEE Frederick Emmons Terman Award for outstanding contribution to electrical/computer engineering.