Birds and small woodland creatures don’t flitter around her when she talks and she doesn’t whistle while she works, but Ruth Walker, VP of Non-Theatrical Commercialization for the Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Non-Theatrical is probably one of the happiest Hollywood content providers you’ll meet at this year’s APEX show.
And while that might have something to do with Disney’s slate of stellar upcoming inflight releases - Cinderella and Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie debut in December, followed by Pixar’s Monster’s Inc. in January and Steven Spielberg’s epic Daniel-Day Lewis-starrer, Lincoln, in February – make no mistake about it, Walker is definitely a woman on a mission and she has an important message for the airlines.
“One of the messages that we’re trying to get out to our airline clients is to really make sure you do you due diligence [when dealing with service providers],” says Walker. “Given that there’s a proliferation of new systems that are trying to break into the inflight entertainment market, given the rise of the tablet in the last couple of years, the cost of entry into, what, on the surface appears to be an easy niche market to get into is very low. [So], a lot of these entrepreneurs who I think are very excited and very much want to break into this space are, unfortunately, misrepresenting that they work with all studios before they’ve actually done the due diligence necessary in order to service this market.”
“[Disney] has 20 systems that are in varying degrees of approval with our security team because we have issues of safety, we have content licensing and rights, it’s actually rather complex, which is why this is a fairly concentrated industry as it is.”
And while Walker says she is sympathetic to the pressures – both externally and internally – put upon the airlines by the rapid-fire changes in the IFE realm, she is quick to caution carriers to look before they leap.
“I think a lot of times airlines have other groups within the airline, whether it be product development folks or CEOs that read a lot of the press about: ‘Well, why can’t we just bring on an iPad, why can’t we just bring on a Samsung tablet?’ And you know, they listen, and there are a lot of these new system providers and some of them are very legitimate … so, I don’t mean to paint them with a broad brush, but, there are [many] who haven’t done the due diligence,” says Walker.
“And so, I really want to encourage airlines to be careful and to make use of their existing content service providers, or even contact the studios directly, if that’s the route they’d like to take, because we’re very happy to explain who we work with and who we don’t.”
That said, Walker insists that one of the greatest things to come out of ‘the rise of the tablet’ is that it’s brought loads of new business models that help inflight entertainment go to [airlines] who perhaps couldn’t afford a lot of the traditional embedded systems.” Says Walker: “And I think there’s a lot of great innovation happening in the embedded systems as well and that’s great to see, and it’s really positive for our industry. But, it also invites, unfortunately, a lot of confusion. And at Disney we only want to work with the system providers who are going to take care of our content [and] make sure there is ample security not only on the device, but, also, in the process of how that content gets onto the device.”
In fact, Disney is so concerned about security, that Walker states: “Starting in 2013, we are actually not going to be servicing any system that includes content as part of their system price unless they make a long term agreement with us. The only exception to that is if, of course, [is] if they are booking their content as an addition to an embedded system relationship through a CSP … somebody that we’ve already worked with.”
And while she doesn’t rule out working with newer content service providers down the road, for the moment, Walker feels that “the risk is too high to work with these small[er] providers who aren’t going to be careful … our brand is too important.”
And in a world of rapidly changing technology, Walker cautions the airlines, especially the smaller ones who are new to the IFE world, to be careful. “Essentially, consumers and companies are going to continue going down the path of wanting more portability and flexibility in how they [view] content, and I think anything that enhances the ability to deliver content to a variety of different airline models is something that we need to approach seriously and thoughtfully.” Because, even at 30,000 feet, content is still king.
“Content is not a commodity,” explains Walker. “It’s something that means something to people, and can impact the inflight experience and I think it’s a great ROI for how customers view your airline.” And that goes double for a company with content like Disney’s.
“Disney, for a lot of people, is about their childhood, and then when they have children, it’s important for them to share it as well … and [inflight entertainment] is just another opportunity for us to do that and we’re excited to be a part of it.”
Spoken like a true Mouseketeer.