Wireless and portable IFE players gathered in Chile for an APEX education committee meeting to discuss their latest developments. In the second of a two-part series, Rockwell Collins, Thales, Gogo and Lufthansa Systems address content limitations (movie studios still prohibit the streaming of early window content to passengers’ own devices) and highlight key industry trends. Disney was kind enough to provide food for thought from the audience.
Mary Kirby: Rockwell Collins, can you explain how your firm is breaking into the wireless IFE market?
Jerry Thomas (Rockwell Collins principal marking manger Jerry Thomas): “We see wireless IFE as complementary to our existing products. We aren’t against the idea of wireless IFE [in standalone form], but it’s something we’re not necessarily entertaining right now. We have a launch customer, Thomas Cook out of the UK, [which is focused on] holiday travel in a niche market, and generating ancillary revenues. So we’re jointly designing the system together … to focus on offering their customers something unique when they’re on the aircraft, and something that will generate additional revenue down the road.
Mary Kirby: This is a question for Jerry of Rockwell Collins and Thales senior manager, media services, Chris Allirot. To date, standalone wireless IFE solutions have not been made linefit offerable by airframers on any aircraft type. Is it your expectation that your systems will ultimately be made linefit offerable?
Jerry Thomas: Yes eventually. We’re definitely focused on retrofit right now. We think the retrofit market won’t be as [difficult] for this type of product [versus traditional embedded IFE]. The supplemental type certification (STC) will still take time but the actual install – since there are small components – won’t take as long. [As such], the difference between linefit and retrofit of this type of product is not as big a deal. Linefit is still something we want to pursue, but right now our product is focused on retrofit.
Chris Allirot: [From Thales’ perspective], absolutely and actually we tried to build a modular STC so that the lead-time to certify on other aircraft types [beyond the Airbus A320 for LAN] is not too long. Currently, it takes eight months to get STC on any airline or aircraft.
Question from the audience: Is the early window for movie content shrinking? What are you hearing from the studios?
Michael Childers (Lufthansa Systems chief consultant): Early window is definitely shrinking. Nowadays if you have a 30-day advantage with early window over packaged media you may consider yourself lucky. There may be some cases were it’s longer than that. There may be some cases it’s shorter than that. The IFE industry sort of slavishly deals with the content loading once a month at the first of the month. Sometimes that may take a couple of weeks off your early window period and so you may find yourself down to a couple of weeks. There may even be situations where you’re licensing something that you thought was going to be early window at time you did the license, but then later on the package media date moves around and the delivery date moves around and it ends up not quite being [early window]. So yes it is shrinking and there are other changes in the industry. Even today – and this doesn’t necessarily deal with great big movies – but 27% of the theatrical releases in North America today are actually released day-and-date on packaged media and in theatres. These tend to be art house films but nonetheless you see there is encroachment on EW.
Question from the audience: Gogo, how many of your customers want early window content streamed to their own devices (via Gogo Vision)?
Anand Chari (Gogo senior VP and CTO): We don’t offer any early window because of the reasons mentioned [i.e. studios do not permit the streaming of early window to passengers' own devices] but we see a favourable trend. I have no visibility of when it will happen but I think studios are warming up to it. There could be “work-arounds” where we could make it available on a passenger-carried device. Airline-provided devices are less of an issue, and passenger devices are more of an issue for early window content. But we see a healthy demand even without it.
Question from audience: Is it possible that there is content available that does not require DRM in the future?
Anard Chari: Yes.
Michael Childers: And my answer to that is no. I don’t think that content providers – whether early, late window or classic – are going to allow movies to be released in IFE without some at least minimal form of DRM encryption or conditional access.
Anard Chari: It may not be limited to movies [but rather other] content.
Michael Childers: Some TV people have different attitudes than others; some will release over-the-air series’ without protection, while [others] still require some minimal form. That tends to vary on who owns the product.
Mary Kirby: Ruth Walker of Disney [in the audience], would you be able to contribute to this conversation and let us know what you think from a studio standpoint?
Ruth Walker (VP, Non-Theatrical, Disney): Well, each of the studios approaches it slightly differently. I think we all approach terrestrial DRM issues separately, which is why for these systems each studio validates it separately. But from Disney’s perspective, and we always tend to be more conservative, I don’t really perceive any time where movies…in any window or timeframe will be allowed on those systems without some form of DRM. Certainly there are other types of promotional content [that could]. A simple example is a trailer.
Mary Kirby: I recently had the opportunity to try Lufthansa Systems’ BoardConnect solution on Condor Airlines. I had a positive experience. The content was older, but that’s cool. There are lots of great old movies to watch. I did find it interesting that you had to download the plug-in or app in advance of the flight. How do airlines ensure that passengers know to download the plug-in or app before the flight? And is this an inhibitor going forward for wireless IFE when it does not have a live connection as Gogo does, for instance?
Michael Childers: That is a bit of a limiting factor, though something like 82% of laptops have Microsoft Silverlight built in them. And more and more devices that passengers carry on will have Silverlight. There are maybe those that don’t know that [their device have it]. And yes, an airline will have to be proactive in ensuring that their customers are aware they need to do this, and providing various alternatives, like the ability to download at home, or in the lounge, etc. At the present time, it is not a major inhibitor, but it’s fair to call it an inhibitor.