Inflight connectivity ready to fly outside the US

Just as in stadia and in cinemas where audiences expect to be able to enjoy the same connectivity on their second screen as they enjoy at home, so the airline industry is waking up to the potential of in flight broadband. Airlines want to enable their passengers to have access to this connected environment within the aircraft, allowing them to interact with both social media, email and, increasingly, on-demand and even live TV at 35,000 feet. While domestic flights in the US have long had this advantage, given the size of the territory for content licencing deals and air to ground WiFi transmission, the market is now being opened up globally making Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity a market to watch.

Global Eagle Entertainment (GEE) is the largest In Flight Entertainment content provider in the world with worldwide rights to content and digital media technology experience. Here, Chief Technology Officer and SVP Engineering, Aditya Chatterjee talks about the opportunities outside the US.

What are the market conditions and technologies that seem to have opened up Inflight TV as a viable business opportunity?

Chatterjee: Delivering inflight TV outside the US can be a complex undertaking on two dimensions: Technology used to enable live TV and content licensing. The technology used to deliver IPTV is common in the US with millions of IP connected devices accessing steaming content, live and VOD, on a daily basis. GEE has adopted this traditional IPTV digital media workflow and paired it with our satellite connectivity solution to deliver live TV to aircraft in the US. This same workflow can be adapted to deliver international IPTV as well since GEE’s sat based solution works over water, however the content licensing must also be adapted to allow for delivering TV content across international borders.

What business models around Inflight connectivity are proven?

Over recent years, the number of aircraft offering satellite-connectivity, particularly using Ku band satellite services, has increased significantly which enables not only live TV but other rich and engaging digital media solutions. GEE is uniquely positioned to provide international IPTV solutions as the largest IFE content provider in the world as well as having worldwide rights to content and digital media technology experience. GEE currently has the largest install base of curated IPTV content delivered to IP connected devices and we are seeing a significant increase in requests for international IPTV not only from our global airline customers but also from other IFE service providers who look to GEE to supply this service.

The passenger connectivity sector has evolved to a point where there are various models in operation. While costs from hardware, installation time, data and fuel burn can be significant, the revenue potential of inflight connectivity has increased as suppliers offer more sophisticated services. As a result, inflight connectivity can enable new business models and revenue generation including advertising, sponsorship deals, and digital media solutions that enhance the inflight connectivity experience. Building on top of these connected passenger experiences is the opportunity to partner with the airlines to create a high relevant and personalised inflight entertainment experience for passengers and can responsibly monetise IFEC (Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity).

GEE CTO and SVP Engineering, Aditya Chatterjee

GEE CTO and SVP Engineering, Aditya Chatterjee

How big an opportunity is live-streaming of TV? Is the business model sustainable?

IPTV is still a unique differentiator for airlines today, however GEE believes it is a valuable part of the connectivity offering and we expect the number of aircraft equipped with Ku band satellite connectivity services to double over the next three years. As such there is a substantial and rapidly growing base for live inflight television services including not only live linear content, but also truly live TV such as sporting events, concerts and news. There are different business models for providing live inflight television services from advertising and sponsored offerings to pay-TV models. These have allowed airlines to defray or offset entirely the costs of delivering an IPTV solution. As more compelling content is licensed for inflight television, including worldwide or regionally specific live TV content, IPTV solutions offer increasing value to airlines looking to gain a competitive advantage and generate incremental revenue.

What further challenges does the industry face in spreading inflight connected services?

IPTV is just one of the many engaging digital media scenarios that can be enabled by combining compelling content and satellite based connectivity. In addition to IPTV, airlines can enable real time, in flight activities ranging from curated shopping experiences to destination deals with social media elements. Combine those scenarios with data and advertisers, and IFEC becomes a rich, relevant and high personalized experience for passengers that enables new business models and monetisation opportunities, increasing ROI across the board.

Regarding near term challenges, the licensing of compelling live television content is key and likely a bigger challenge in developing a robust and compelling line-up of live TV rather than the technology used to deliver IPTV. This is more challenging outside of the US where international licensing can be complex as aircraft move across country borders vs intra-country flights. Additionally, airlines have to consider whether to deliver live television to passengers' devices and/or seatback screens as passenger behaviour evolves with more and more bringing their own devices.

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