WASHINGTON -- Bell Atlantic Corp. took a baby step toward its goal of becoming a giant provider of video programming yesterday as it announced the commercial rollout of its "electronic Yellow Pages" in seven hotels in the Washington area.
The venture seeks to tap into the lucrative business travel market by providing information about local restaurants, shopping, transportation, tourist sites and essential services through television sets in 4,700 hotel rooms in the District of Columbia and Arlington, Va.
The service -- InfoTravel -- is not a technological breakthrough, but it does point to the changing identity of the the Philadelphia-based regional phone utility. In a turnabout from its traditional role, it will be providing the service over a network owned by another company, Bethesda-based Comsat Entertainment Group.
The service piggybacks on Comsat's On Command Video system, which provides movies on demand and other programming to more than 400,000 hotel rooms nationwide through banks of VCRs located on hotel premises.
Bell Atlantic described the relationship as a partnership but said Comsat will not have an equity stake in the new venture.
The Washington rollout of the advertising-supported service follows more than a year of testing at two sites -- one in Atlanta and the other in Santa Clara, Calif.
Executives of the Bell Atlantic Electronic Publishing subsidiary, based in Bethesda, said the trials were a success, with about 40 percent of the guests using the system and 41 percent of those customers actually using the advertised services.
Bell Atlantic said it expects to announce plans for a commercial rollout in New York and Chicago, as well as expansions in Northern California and Atlanta, by the end of the year. Robert A. Graham, president of Bell Atlantic Directory Services, said he did not know when the service might reach Baltimore hotels.
Based on the results of the trials, Bell Atlantic has priced the cost to advertisers at $200 to $1,000 a month, depending on how much audio and video the listing includes, said Pat Cantwell, vice president for marketing of Bell Atlantic Directory Services.