TVs in Marketplace and Tiger Cooler show ‘change is coming’ for the Occidental dining experience

Kyle Ahn (junior) eats breakfast while a TV plays behind him at the Marketplace at Occidental College, in Los Angeles, CA. Feb. 7, 2023. Eddie Dong/The Occidental.

Slime compilations and sports have become the new backdrop of meals spent inside the Marketplace (MP) and Tiger Cooler. According to Erik Russell, assistant vice president for hospitality services, the new TVs and the content they display have been hot topics among the student body.

Russell said he oversaw the installation of the TVs in dining areas across campus during the Fall semester.

“We partnered with a company called Atmosphere TV. The TVs are part of the agreement that we have,” Russell said. “The agreement is they give us the TVs and the streamers. And we stream their curated content.”

Atmosphere TV gives businesses TVs for free in exchange for streaming certain content. The service is designed for any setting including veterinary clinics, airports and restaurants. The TVs also offer content in sports, wildlife and soap-cutting or slime.

According to their website, Atmosphere TV advertises a lack of storyline and optional audio in their programming, designed to keep people off their phones and engaged with the businesses employing the service.

Andrew Levy (first year) said that the TVs are eye-catching.

“Whether we like them there or not, we are all attracted to screens,” Levy said.”And I think they are a good way of drawing attention to something, maybe for advertising [school-related things].”

A TV plays next to an empty booth at the Marketplace at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Feb. 10, 2023. Eddie Dong/The Occidental.

The TVs are a resource in numerous ways, according to Russell. He said the TVs are currently being used to create ambiance in the Marketplace and Tiger Cooler but will also be used for advertising school events and student programming in the future.

Will Petersen (first year) said he believes the TVs are a disturbance to the social element of meal times.

“I find when sitting at the tables in the MP or Cooler that people gravitate towards them and conversation will cut off and they will be staring at the videos they play,” Petersen said. “So I weirdly think they disrupt the social culture of the MP and the Cooler.”

Still, students have varying opinions. Raven Kilgore (first year) said the TVs have functioned as a security blanket for students.

“I like to go there [Marketplace] and watch the TV when I’m alone. When I have no one to eat with, it’s nice,” Kilgore said.

According to Levy, the TVs facilitate conversations among peers during meals.

“I think at times they can be distracting, but more often than not [the TVs] can foster conversation,” Levy said. “For people who are not as adept at starting conversations, it allows them a way into a conversation.”

According to Russell, some students have complained that the TVs can be distracting when studying in dining halls. However, Russell said, by his philosophy and from a hospitality services perspective, dining areas are nonacademic entities for social experiences.

“What we do is we create lasting memories,” Russell said.

Hospitality Service’s goal is to create a positive social experience for students in college and the college experience doesn’t have to all be academic rigor, Russell said.

“It can be fun, it can be social, it can be communal,” Russell said. “And that’s what we’re trying, it’s like that already, but we want to move that forward, we want to have ambiance.”

According to Russell, the dining program is going to look a lot different for current students by the time they graduate. Hospitality Services plans to rethink dining room upgrades, equipment upgrades, and an overall rethink of the business.

“There will be other upgrades to come, and it will be all incremental,” Russell said.

According to Russell, changes coming to the Marketplace will be a years-long transformation.

“My thought was that TVs would be a visual signifier to people that change is coming,” Russell said.