In his 1954 short story, “Sales Pitch,” sci-fi visionary Philip K. Dick envisioned a future with invasive, omnipresent ads that “glittered and gibbered, like ghosts of distant video-stations” all around us. If that sounds a bit like your last experience on an airplane, you’re not alone.
Airlines and content providers may not have perfected the art of zapping “visual ads” into our brains, but in a world where practically every touchpoint of our travel experience is branded by corporations, is it any wonder that the trend would extend to the content of our in-flight entertainment (IFE)?
Hollywood studios and TV networks have long been airing branded content on dedicated IFE channels, and British Airways’ recent launch of a dedicated HBO channel has even introduced the concept of “binge watching” award-winning HBO series like Girls and Game of Thrones to passengers throughout the UK. But lately, edgy internet-era upstarts like Virgin’s Boing Boing TV and Funny or Die’s slate of “Mile High with Funny or Die” clips are joining the fray as well.
Some branded channels, like GoPro Network, have performed so well in the air that they’re now pursuing traditional, ground-based distribution.
Though the trend seems to be growing, and the financial upside for airlines is vast, the potential for passenger backlash from viewers who feel they are being sold to rather than entertained is an ongoing concern – especially in today’s social media-savvy world where authenticity rules.
“As with other digital media, there is always the danger where branded IFE may alienate [passengers] by providing … too much advertising,” says Stathis Kefallonitis, founder and president of branding.aero. Kefallonitis cautions that “brand-over-information” can create a “noisy, unpleasant experience” that is often reflected back on the airline brand.
One of the surest ways to combat that problem, Kefallonitis says, is for content providers to focus on generating top-notch, original material.
Michael Garrity, the Senior Sales Manager at National Geographic Channels Network International says he couldn’t agree more. “Having original content is definitely important to keeping your branded offering fresh and relevant to the airlines and I would agree that it extends to the passengers as well. The potential to turn passengers off is definitely a risk of having a branded presence and that is why working closely with the airline on what goes in to it is important.”
“Our approach is to offer airlines as much of a National Geographic presence on-board as an airline would like. We let the airlines tell us about their passengers and what they are looking for,” adds Garrity. “We’ve done packages for airlines with a concentration on family entertainment and others that were geared towards males who are adventurous thrill seekers. Some of these include custom intros with Nat Geo on-air talent or unique branded products for giveaways and other promotions onboard.”
But at the end of the day, both Kefallonitis and Garrity agree that the trend towards branded IFE channels is all about standing out in a crowded marketplace.
“From our experience it seems airlines are using brand affiliations as a way to differentiate their IFE content,” Garrity explains.
“With the volume of content available onboard aircraft, well known entertainment brands are another way for passengers to quickly find content they want to see … [and] instantly get an idea of what a program will be like just by seeing the brand associated with it.”
And in today’s global economy, cool, unique brands know no boundaries. In fact, Kefallonitis says that in most cases, passengers actually prefer watching branded IFE content from brands they perceive as being different.
“Passenger choices demonstrate resistance to widely available media [with] the majority of passengers show[ing] preferences to novel, innovative options and personalized channels,” explains Kefallonitis.
“Whether branded IFE channels will continue to be popular relies on their ability to stay current,” Kefallonitis cautions, adding that it’s important to remember that “the viewer is in the position of control [and] he/she can easily switch or turn off channels!”