More media is now free on flights across North America. Announcements from United Airlines and American Airlines this morning will bring complimentary live television and streaming music to millions more passengers each year.
Free Live TV on United Airlines
More than 200 of United’s 737 aircraft feature in-seat screens offering live television from DirecTV. That was a paid service when it was introduced by Continental Airlines and remained such until today. Effective immediately all of the live television content is complimentary on United’s flights. The move comes with a cost – United must pay Thales as the provider for the service. But the carrier believes it is a smart investment in improving the passenger experience.
Moreover, it is not the only near-term change United plans on the passenger front. “This year, we will be introducing a series of innovations and improvements designed to help build a great experience for all our customers,” said United’s Chief Customer Officer Toby Enqvist. “Offering free entertainment, whether it’s on seat back TV or on personal devices, is one example of how we are placing our customers at the heart of what we do and helping them to relax and enjoy their flights.”
In addition to the now complimentary live television United also offers hundreds of movies and TV shows available for streaming on personal devices through the United Private Screenings collection on the United app, delivering thousands of hours of programming to passengers.
Free Apple Music Streaming on American Airlines
As of 1 February 2019 American Airlines passengers can stream their Apple Music subscription complimentary on the bulk of the carrier’s domestic aircraft. The deal between the carrier and Apple, enabled on the planes configured with the Viasat Ka-band satellite wifi connectivity, allows for existing Apple Music customers to stream without paying for a wifi connection. Passengers new to Apple Music can sign up through the capture portal for a three month free trial of the service.
“Our customers want to make the most of their time when flying with us. That’s why we’re investing in high-speed Wi-Fi, the newest movies, live TV and now Apple Music,” said Janelle Anderson, Vice President of Global Marketing at American. “Providing customers with more ways to stay connected throughout each flight is one way to show we value their business and the time they spend with us.”
Covering the costs
One challenge of the new American offering is the split across the fleet of connectivity providers. In addition to the Viasat system American also offers connectivity through Gogo and Panasonic Avionics. Passengers on those flights will not have access to the complimentary streaming offer. This is understood to be tied to the cost of that bandwidth for American and the sponsorship business relationship. PaxEx.Aero understands that work on expanding the offering to those connectivity providers is ongoing.
The deal between American and Apple is similar to that of JetBlue and Amazon, also running on the Viasat Ka-band network. In that case all online services, including streaming video, is complimentary on board. The bandwidth costs there are significantly higher and necessarily the sponsorship must also increase in size.
Industry executives all want to see the market move in that direction, reducing the personal out-of-pocket cost for getting online to increase take rate and passenger satisfaction. And connectivity revenue. With the inflight wifi providers all struggling today financially increasing the revenue via third party payer options is a critical aspect of delivering a successful solution.