Are we approaching an era where in-seat entertainment screens are a relic of the past? Has the time come for airlines to rip them out and save the carrying costs, leveraging customers own devices at the new core of the in-flight entertainment passenger experience? United Airlines arguably believes the answer is a resounding yes, at least for the short-haul/regional market.
The carrier is investing in wifi-based streaming media solutions with partners Panasonic and Thales/LiveTV offering stored content available to watch on a properly equipped (i.e. DRM-compliant) device for its entire fleet. And United is even going so far as working with LiveTV to get the DIRECTV product into the streaming solution, allowing for any of the 100+ channels currently on the in-seat TV systems to be available via a BYOD streaming app on its 737 fleet of 200+ aircraft. Delta and American Airlines are similarly in on the game, investing heavily with their in-flight connectivity partner Gogo to offer a broad selection of content via streaming.
So the in-seat screen is dead, right? Not so fast says Glen Latta, president of Thales’ LiveTV unit. Even as the company works to build out a solution to meet United’s desired configuration of no in-seat screens Latta believes strongly in the future of the in-seat screen. Because, like in most business decisions, it follows the money. Latta explained his view of the market in a recent interview,
Why would a company not want to put a screen in the seat-back? It is always money or cost to carry. So if it was light enough and you generated enough additional ancillary revenue everybody would put a screen in the seatback. With this new technology that we’re using we believe we can have a last mile that is lightweight enough and low cost enough that no airline would refuse to put it in the seat.
Indeed, controlling costs is the main reason to not install the screens. They are not cheap to begin with and the cost to carry that weight around on every flight is very real. But at some point Latta believes that the ability to sell various services or products through the screens outweighs the carrying cost, assuming the screens can be made light enough and cheap enough. And, not surprisingly, Latta believes that his company has found a way to meet that cost point.
The ancillary revenue options are broad, ranging from pay-per-view movies and TV options to simply broadcasting commercials to passengers before the flight departs. LiveTV also has a new product out with JetBlue offering stored magazine content accessible via the screens. It is free on JetBlue today but that is another type of content which could be monetized.
The opportunities to make money off the in-seat screens are very real, but it does depend on having the cost side of the equation low enough to satisfy airline bean-counters; that’s rarely an easy task. Thales/LiveTV believes it has the right product to come in cheap enough to an airline. And, just in case the carrier still refuses, the streaming BYOD solution is there, too.
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