In-Flight Entertainment: From silent screens to streaming skies

2024-06-13
/
/ New Delhi
In-Flight Entertainment From silent screens to streaming skies
In-Flight Entertainment: From silent screens to streaming skies

One of the most important aspects of travelling by air, for any passenger, is the inflight entertainment (IFE)

In the fast-paced world of aviation, technological advancements have reshaped the passenger experience, not only in terms of comfort of aircraft or their speeds, but has also revolutionised in-flight entertainment.
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In August 1921, 11 passengers onboard an aircraft of Aeromarine Airways watched Howdy Chicago, a promotional film about the Windy City even as their plane circled over Lake Michigan.

That promotional flight marked the birth of inflight entertainment, which over the decades has become one of the defining factors and appeals of any self-respecting airline in the world.

Indeed, today, besides comfortable seats and good meals, one of the most important aspects of travelling by air, for any passenger, is the inflight entertainment (IFE) available on the aircraft and definitely more so on longer flights, which today are far longer film exhibitor. It was on July 19 1961, that TWA showed its first inflight movie, By Love Possessed onboard a Boeing 707 while on a transcontinental flight.

So popular was the experiment for TWA that reportedly, to watch a certain movie, sophisticated international travellers deferred departures and even switched destinations, according to an article by Alan Levy in Life magazine. He also said that according to research, TWA gained at least 6-8 passengers per flight only because of IFE.

In the last six decades since TWA’s move, as the aircraft have become more modern and even spacious, so has IFE, which has moved from communal screens to personalised touch screens and offers a variety of entertainment options such as movies, music, games, news as well as live feeds. IFE also provides valuable information on travel routes, onboard menus, and safety procedures.

For a long time films were projected on a common screen, which were multiplied as aircraft became larger, but it was not until late 1980s that an individual passenger could choose what she wanted to watch.

In 1988, American carrier Northwest Airlines installed 116 seatback screens across business and economy class on a Boeing 747 operating mainly between Detroit and Tokyo. The screens were made by Airvision, a joint venture between Dutch electronics firm Philips and American film studio, Warner Bros.

According to surveys by Warner and Northwest over 70 pc passengers preferred personal screens to overhead units and within months, British Airways and Qantas had both decided to follow Northwest.

Airlines now offer personal televisions, on-demand streaming, and internet access for long-haul flights, providing a variety of entertainment options, despite initial concerns about speed and cost. In-flight entertainment now includes movies, music, radio talk shows, TV talk shows, documentaries, magazines, stand-up comedy, culinary shows, sports shows and kids’ shows. Some airlines offer personal televisions (PTVs) with customised channels for each passenger. The system can also provide subtitles and language translations for those with hearing difficulties. It also provides passengers with real-time updates on their journey, including position, altitude, airspeed, temperature, distance, elapsed time and remaining time, enhancing the passenger experience.

In response to the evolving demands and preferences of modern travellers, numerous airlines are eagerly planning to introduce the option of streaming content directly to passengers’ personal devices, marking a significant leap forward in in-flight entertainment technology. This innovative approach not only provides travellers with greater flexibility in choosing their entertainment but also reduces the need for costly hardware installations on aircraft, thereby streamlining operations and potentially lowering costs for airlines.

Maria Sathasivam

Maria Sathasivam

“IFE is an integral part of our offering as a full-service carrier. Our carefully curated selection caters to the diverse preferences of our passengers, featuring Western, international as well local selections of movies, TV programmes, and audio content. We are also in the process of introducing the option of streaming content directly to passengers’ devices for added flexibility and convenience during their journey,” Maria Sathasivam, Manager

Product Development of SriLankan Airlines tells India Outbound. With this new option, passengers can enjoy a vast library of movies, TV shows, music, and more, all at their fingertips, further enhancing their journey experience while catering to their individual preferences.

“We have a good understanding of passenger requirements based on feedback and usage reports. This information helps us curate the right mix of IFE content for our flights. Additionally, we receive regular insights from our content service provider, such as ratings and reviews, which enable us to offer the best selection of movies and music. Inbound visitors will also find content about Sri Lanka, showcasing the many exciting sights and experiences that the country has to offer,” she adds.

With growing demand for enhanced passenger experiences, technological advancements enabling more sophisticated IFE systems, and the increasing prevalence of long-haul flights worldwide, this market is set to grow further. Moreover, as airlines vie for competitive advantage in a crowded market, investing in state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment solutions has emerged as a strategic imperative, further fuelling market growth.

At the forefront of the IFE market stand prominent industry leaders, including Gogo, Global Eagle Entertainment, and Thales Group, a French electronics giant. These key players command significant market shares, with Gogo holding 14.78 pc, Global Eagle Entertainment 12.97 pc, and Thales Group 11.32 pc.

The global landscape of IFE is characterised by distinct regional trends, each offering unique opportunities and challenges for market players. North America currently leads the pack, boasting the largest market share attributed to its widespread adoption of advanced IFE systems and the region’s high disposable income levels.

Meanwhile, Asia Pacific is a hotbed for future growth, fuelled by the region’s rapidly expanding aviation industry and the surging number of passengers traversing its skies. In Europe, a mature market prevails, characterised by a strong demand for cutting-edge IFE solutions driven by discerning passengers. South America presents itself as an emerging market, witnessing a gradual uptick in the adoption of basic IFE systems as the region’s aviation infrastructure continues to develop. The Middle East & Africa region represents a growing market with significant potential for future expansion, as airlines increasingly prioritise enhancing the passenger experience to remain competitive in this dynamic landscape.

IFE has changed so dramatically, that none of the 11 passengers in the Aeromarine Airways flight would recognise it, if they were alive today. But the evolution is far from over. In fact, IFE could undergo a revolution with the arrival of technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), combined with Artificial Intelligence.

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