Can the most popular show in the air – the moving map – make money for airlines?

May 3, 2013

Ambiance, Multimedia, Services

AI Ink1 Can the most popular show in the air   the moving map   make money for airlines?It’s a generally held belief that the majority of airline passengers who are exposed to inflight entertainment view the moving map at some point during their flight, making it the most popular show in the air.

“Evidence [shows] that passengers get a great deal of comfort out of knowing where they are,” Airborne Interactive CEO Ian Walberg told attendees at a recent APEX educational event in London. “Maps answer the question: ‘Is the torture complete?’” he quipped.

The public generally perceives maps to be free. Whether offered on a personal electronic device (PED) or via IFE, maps have become “a commodity and delivery channel that appears to have no charge associated with it”, says Walberg. Of course, he says, that perception is misplaced, which is why industry stakeholders are exploring ways that airlines can more fully drive ancillary revenue and advertising dollars from moving maps.

“Duty Free advertising on the Airshow boxes has been around for some time, but I definitely think the moving map has been under-utilised for advertising,” says Walberg. He points out that airlines are not necessarily adverse to moving map advertising, “but for some reason this one doesn’t have [a high] profile at the moment. In the past, it was expensive and difficult, but those [technological] problems have broadly been resolved, and they are going away in the future…that’s all just starting to come together.”

Indeed, Thales is working to marry “connected” inflight entertainment with its interactive moving map (the next version of the map will be Android-based and multi-touch for the main monitor, as well as available on a touch control panel in the seat). “We see the map application as a platform to add layers of additional content onto that so once you connect to the Internet, it really opens up the possibilities to anything. You’re no longer limited to the capacity stored on the onboard server,” says Thales senior product line manager Jeff Goodman.

Thales map 300x206 Can the most popular show in the air   the moving map   make money for airlines?Passengers could zoom in to a location and book a hotel room or schedule a car rental. An Inmarsat L-band-supported SwiftBroadband connectivity link would be sufficient for these activities, says Goodman, “but obviously the more bandwidth you have, the more applications you have.”

“When I mention connectivity with the map, I don’t mean just giving someone Google Earth. We’re targeting your destination area, but you can really personalize that experience, and tie it into people’s frequent flyer numbers and filter in content in a smart way,” he says.

Additionally, notes Goodman, you could “perhaps overlay weather maps with [moving] maps. I think that will expand the amount of time you use the map application, whereas now you look at the map, and see how much time you have in the journey, but as we add additional layers like weather, points of interest, local things to do, I think people will spend more time in the application itself, and we see it as a platform for building more things on top of that.”

Panasonic Avionics product manager Peter Hong says Panasonic is also challenging itself to make the moving map “much more integrated so that it becomes another touch point as part of the passenger journey. So if the airline wants an advertising solution you can have that as a customer touch point, and integrate that.” Considering Panasonic’s recent acquisition of AirDat – whose patented TAMDAR sensor collects extremely sophisticated weather data from the atmosphere during the flight of an aircraft - it is, perhaps, well within the realm of possibility that the company will find clever ways to present this information to passengers (and crew).

Advertising can obviously offset the cost of providing geo-entertainment to passengers, but could it make the map completely self-funding? David Dyrnaes of Thompson Aerospace is very optimistic, noting that “the [advertising] ways we’re seeing on the Internet are the ways we have to adapt”.

Airborne Interactive’s Walberg warns, however, that when adding data layers to a map – be they simply to inform and entertain, or to go further and generate revenue -  one must think seriously about the usefulness of the content to passengers. A mash-up of Wikipedia and Google info won’t necessarily cut it, he says. “I think we presume that everyone wants to do everything everywhere, and that’s not the case.”

FlightPath 3 Can the most popular show in the air   the moving map   make money for airlines?

On this issue, we can turn for answers to NASA, which has done some interesting analysis on consumer behaviour, suggests Betria Systems CEO Boris Veksler (who also presented ideas for adding content to maps during the conference; see above). “[NASA] has world map servers that they host and allow people to look at that imagery. When they look at the logs of the servers, most people go to the same places.”

As it turns out, says Veksler, people are really interested in fewer places than you might imagine. When NASA looked at the numbers people were interested “in high-level overall geography and when you started zooming in, people were interested in large cities”.

(Main photo courtesy of geo-entertainment firm Geo Radio.)

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About Mary Kirby

Editor in Chief - APEX Media Platform | Previously Senior Editor at Flight International where she led the magazine's coverage of in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) and aircraft interiors | Former proprietor of the highly-regarded Runway Girl blog, which focused on the passenger experience | Regularly speaks at industry conferences about airborne communications, ancillary revenue opportunities for airlines and social media | You can connect with Mary on Twitter, LinkedIn

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