In 1961, an entrepreneur who once famously said that flying was incredibly innovative, yet also so boring revolutionized the industry by bringing movies onboard aircraft.
It was a huge task. It took four years and a number of rejected prototypes. Ultimately, his groundbreaking work irrevocably changed the airline industry: Video inflight entertainment has become a basic expectation on even the shortest flights.
In the decades since, inflight entertainment changed according to the technology of the times. Drop-down screens came along; then, individual seatback screens. All of a sudden, people could choose what they wanted to watch. Kids could watch the latest animated movie while their parents watched the latest action or comedy flick. Then came TV programming.
Right now, it’s all about video streaming.
Gone are the days of the one-size-fits-all approach to media programming; streaming platforms contain rich libraries that prove there really is something for everyone. The more people watch or listen, the better trained the platforms become at recommending other things we might like.
Personalized, on-demand streaming services are the new consumer norm.
That fact presents airlines with an interesting challenge. As we’re seeing more and more, many consumers view multiple screens as different portals to the same, centralized experience—and IFE screens are no exception. Consumers like consistency, whether they’re on the couch or in coach.
Who’s got the rights?
Many airlines want to offer streaming through their own proprietary apps, either by having customers queue up content before takeoff, or by offering inflight Wi-Fi to passengers so they can stream content on their personal electronic devices.
But partnering with a streaming company to integrate their content into an airline’s companion app is presently choppy territory. This is where the issue of rights comes into play. APEX published a blog post about this issue, articulating that because the inside of an aircraft is technically a “public performance venue,” that entertainment provided by the airline must be properly licensed. In brief, an airline couldn’t just integrate Netflix into its IFE system without first securing the rights to each piece of content that could be viewed.
Unfortunately, acquiring those rights isn’t an easy task. Sometimes streaming providers don’t own the rights. It’s for this reason that these services can’t be fully integrated into airline companion apps.
This means many airlines will have to continue working with existing content service providers, which do all the work of securing distribution rights to content for inflight viewing. But another solution also exists: Offering better connectivity options at price points travelers are willing to pay.
“Panasonic is continually investing in and developing new satellite partnerships to extend seamless, high-speed inflight internet access around the globe”
Solving the bandwidth puzzle
If the colloquial meaning of “connectivity” describes the experiences we have with the internet, bandwidth is what determines the level of access to those experiences.
Getting an unlimited bandwidth internet connection on the ground is less challenging than in the air; there’s Wi-Fi and cellular network coverage nearly everywhere today.
But this is still not true for aircraft. Some companies haven’t introduced connectivity to their fleets at all, while others have the challenge of limited bandwidth.
These are billion-dollar problems Panasonic and other satellite communications providers have been working doggedly to resolve. Panasonic is continually investing in and developing new satellite partnerships to extend seamless, high-speed inflight internet access around the globe. For instance, with our open SATCOM network architecture, we can increase capacity in areas where it’s needed most.
But we shouldn’t underestimate just how bandwidth-hungry these streaming services are. Some reports suggest that streaming providers consume a lot of the world’s bandwidth. This insatiable appetite continues to pose unique challenges in the inflight environment and it is not going away. We are looking at everything from improved hardware to software solutions.
It’s a work in progress—and we’re doing it with renewed determination together, as an industry.