Tag Archives: in-flight entertainment

Channel Power

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!”

APEX in Profile:
Jackie Sayno

Sayno Jackie Sayno
Director of Acquisitions
Encore Inflight Limited

Jackie joined Encore Inflight Limited over three years ago to launch the English and European movies distribution division. She travels nine months out of the year covering festivals and markets, searching for the next best films to share with airline passengers all over the world.

Did you choose the airline industry or did it choose you?
The airline industry chose me. Four years ago, I was in Hong Kong attending an aromatherapy course, and Encore was a start-up company looking to extend their in-flight movie offerings to include English and European languages.

I have always been passionate about movies, from when I was really young, and it sounded like an exciting opportunity and a challenge I could not refuse.

Biggest challenge you’ve ever overcome at work?
Convincing European and English movie suppliers that Encore was a serious and stable company. Four years ago at my first Cannes Film Festival, I had to beg companies just to meet with me. The ones that finally agreed to a meeting time either ignored me when I got there or were no-shows. It almost made me quit the industry, but I am glad I hung on because now, at the recent Cannes festival in May, tables were turned and those same companies are chasing me down for meetings.

Fail-proof travel tip?
Travel with a smile and positive attitude: You’d be amazed how much easier it is to get an upgrade on a flight, a bulkhead seat, an early check-in, a nicer hotel room, the lovely perks. Everyone spends long hours behind a service desk; a smile and a compliment go a long way to make the work more bearable and even enjoyable.

One thing you wished people cared more about:
Customer service and accountability. We are all very busy individuals with hectic schedules and we should remember and respect that.

The achievement you’re most proud of?
Launching the English and European-language movie distribution for Encore Inflight. Coming from a completely different background, armed only with the love and passion for movies, I am proud of building up this new division.

I started with offering five titles to 10 airline clients in the first year to offering 50 titles to more than 70 airline clients today.

Top three films of all time?
There are too many to choose just three, but these would be a start: Star Wars, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Akira.

Best airline-industry acronym?
EATCHIP – European Air Traffic Control Harmonisation and Integration Programme.

You wouldn’t be where you are today without:
Curiosity and a quest for knowledge. Growing up in Hawaii it is very easy to allow yourself to be content with the island lifestyle, but I realized there is so much more the world has to offer.

APEX in Profile:
Martin Henlan

Henlan Martin Henlan
Managing Director
A Tall Order Limited

As managing director of UK-based distributor A Tall Order Limited, Martin facilitates syndication of long form programming to in-flight entertainment for an ever-growing list of clients including Bloomberg Media, Bloomberg TV Africa and renowned journalist Riz Khan.

How do you view the airline industry as a marketplace for your content? What are its benefits?
As in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems continue to become more sophisticated, with ever-increasing capacity, it will, in my opinion, become more important to offer an experience similar to what passengers expect to achieve at home. Of course that brings pressure to bear on airlines but I also feel strongly that there’s pressure on distributors to be more helpful in ensuring that the IFE experience is a positive one.

Yes, we do need to share our catalog with content buyers but it is as important to recognize the limited time those buyers have and give some insight as to what may fit a particular airline. The best analogy I can think of is the relationship a customer has with a personal shopper in a huge department store.

I should add that from my perspective as a passenger, I do consider the quality of in-flight entertainment when choosing which airline to fly with.

It’s one of the easiest ways to measure one carrier against another, particularly if ticket prices are similar. Even though I travel frequently, I still consider flying a luxurious experience so I tend to latch on to those airlines that reinforce that feeling.

How do you waste time at work?
I am a sucker for reading all e-mails, particularly newsletters, which sounds productive but sometimes it can be an easy way to avoid doing those tasks that we all would rather not do. I must be every junk-mail marketer’s dream. Saying that, because I travel so much, my time in the office is extremely valuable so I do endeavor to keep time-wasting at a minimum; that means the highest level of spam filtering on my work e-mail accounts, and careful time management that includes the occasional chunk of time for flicking through newsletters.

What’s the most efficient way to pack a carry-on suitcase?
Generally my carry-on consists of work-related stuff, however, I definitely subscribe to a “less is more” strategy. Laptop, tablet, mobile phone, passport, notebook, a book and The Week magazine is about as sophisticated as it gets, unless I’m traveling with my family in which case the most efficient way to pack is to simply accept instructions from Mrs. Henlan!

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had during a flight?
Hard to pick a single meal but I do have extremely fond memories of my first transatlantic experience in 1984 on British Airways. I was off to the US as a foreign-exchange student, on my own and scared witless of what was going to happen to me across The Big Pond.

I am sure that I’ve had far better meals since then, but I felt thoroughly spoiled by the crew, all capped off when they served scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam for afternoon tea.

Now, there may well have been nothing special about those scones but to an impressionable 18-year-old it was considered my first experience of fine dining! Even to this day, that experience and how it made me feel is the benchmark against which I measure the in-flight service I receive.

Default drink of choice?
I’m a huge tea drinker, but a fussy one, so when I travel my biggest complaint is dodgy tea – especially in flight. I gave up complaining about it years ago so, except on particular airlines, it will be water (sparkling) or wine.

Your top three films of all time?
Parenthood – in the days of VHS I used to pop this movie on as I settled down for my pre-game nap. It was part of that routine for all home games. Now that I have a family of my own, there are so many scenes from this movie that I can identify with and it still gets watched a number of times each year.

Toy Story 3 – but you have to watch the first two as well. I cry my eyes out every time…

Do the Right Thing – for me this is the ultimate Spike Lee joint! He may have made more critically acclaimed movies but I love everything about this one.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
I can honestly say that I don’t have the foggiest idea! I imagine I’d like someone who could identify with my “roots,” that is, deepest Birmingham. I am a proud Brummie, so the best candidate for that would probably be Lenny Henry.

The game you’re best at?
Basketball. I played professionally in Europe for 15 years, although nowadays I can barely jump over a sheet of paper. Mind you, growing up I dreamed of opening the bowling for England. Cricket was my first love and I still have a passion for the game but when basketball found me, my dreams of playing at Lord’s were replaced with aspirations of playing against or with Magic Johnson.

The person you can imitate?
Multiple bosses (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons).

July 22 [2009]: Five years later…

When I first started my job at Spafax, the iPhone was only two years old and the iPad was still a year away.   Nevertheless, the conventional wisdom was already in place that embedded in-flight entertainment systems were going to die, and that everyone would just enjoy content on their phone or laptop.  Perhaps fearing for my own job security, I posted this headline on my bulletin board as a reminder of the challenges we would face in the content service space.

reuteurs 2

Five years later, the conventional wisdom is still the same, and the ability of passengers to use their own devices has increased dramatically.  But we still see that well-chosen content can pull people away from their iPad/Galaxy Tab/HTC One/Thinkpad/Nexus/MacBook Air/Kindle Fire.  Will it last forever?  Of course not.  But airlines that continue to view their role as content providers, rather than “screen” providers stand a much better chance of not losing their customers to their own devices in the next five years.

APEX in Profile:
Shawn Rosengarten

Rosengarten.jpgShawn Rosengarten
Director of Sales
Just For Laughs

During his 15 years at Just For Laughs, Shawn has licensed over 100,000 hours of content to airlines and broadcasters from every continent, establishing Just For Laughs Gags as an in-flight favorite. He also brokered the production of Just For Laughs Gags Asia in Singapore with MediaCorp and has associate produced comedy specials for Comedy Central Africa, Paramount Comedy Spain, and CCTV. Shawn is a former member of the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Why do you think “silent” or non-dialogue content like Just for Laughs is so popular within the airline market?
Non-verbal hidden-camera comedy, like the Just For Laughs Gags and Just Kidding series, remains popular because it cuts across all cultural barriers, it appeals to all age groups and it works well on both main screen and dedicated comedy channels. It’s also entertaining! Wouldn’t you watch the screen if you saw a dog driving a van or a little old lady lifting a car?

How do you come up with fresh ideas after so many years in the industry?
Just For Laughs Gags has a devoted development team that thinks up the scenarios. They have the good fortune of being paid for letting their imaginations run wild. A vanishing elephant, an exploding toilet, a runaway jackhammer, an alien invasion and a flying lobster – we’ve done them all over the past 15 years.

Something that never ceases to amaze you in your industry of work?
Networking, understanding a client’s programming needs, and having a detailed rights management system are essential.

 What’s the one item you can’t travel without?
I always travel with a notepad.

Regular meal or specialty?
Regular, although one day I hope to get around to ordering the specialty meal. Either way, I eat lightly, rarely consume alcohol, and try to drink as much water as possible. On one of my first business trips, I sat in front of two passengers who purchased a bottle of scotch from the in-flight duty-free and drank it. They were flying!

Describe the view from your favorite window.
Nothing beats the view from a plane in flight.

The person you can imitate?
I can imitate Henry Kissinger pretty well. Please don’t ask why.

If a plane were a time machine, which era would you travel to?
I would like to travel to 50 years in the past and then 50.

APEX in Profile:
Jamie Martin

Martin.jpgJamie Martin
Director
Library Media Solutions Limited

Jamie Martin joined LMS in 2011 after more than six years heading up TV strategy and acquisitions for Spafax Airline Network. He has worked directly with many of the major airlines, including British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates, Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways. Previously, Jamie also worked in the UK broadcast market buying for Living TV and in the international TV distribution market with Minotaur International.

The scariest situation you’ve ever been in?
The first time I started work in the distribution industry I had a sales trip to Belgium via Eurostar. I turned up bang on time to the terminal in Waterloo without realizing that you need your passport to travel via Eurostar! I was young, not particularly gifted, and terrified. Thank goodness my lovely company at the time decided not to sack me.

Biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your work?
Dealing with outdated views on the airline industry. One of the big drivers of our business is spending time in the wider broadcasting industry “selling” IFE to broadcasters or producers who may have an outdated idea of what our industry represents, yet they can often be heard educating the broadcast world about the importance of ancillary rights revenues. (This doesn’t apply to any of our lovely broadcast/production partners who have obviously have the good sense to recognize a worthwhile industry when they see it!)

Old television shows that you can tolerate endless reruns of?
Magnum P.I. (what can I say? helicopter, ‘stache, Ferrari), old episodes of Wheeler Dealers – sorry, A&E, you’ll probably shoot me for that but I would love to restore an old motor. And Pawn Stars. You so want things to be valuable but it’s great when big expectations meet cold, harsh reality.

Favorite book as a child?
I think the one which has always stuck with me is The Talisman, a co-authored Stephen King and Peter Straub creation. I must have been 12 or so when it came out and it was dark, scary and kinda awesome. The plot saw powers bestowed on a kid of around the same age as me that I still wish I could master now.

Two things that you miss most about home when you’re traveling?
I have a wife and two lovely kids (nearly six and eight), so obviously they’re right up there. However, I have recently bought a totally sweet new Panasonic TV – does it make me a bad person to rank that on par? Of course, it does… TV first, family second.

Luckiest moment of your life?
My move from broadcast TV to IFE. I had the chance to go out and enthuse the very same people in the broadcast industry that I had previously worked with about a new sector that is changing so fast, they constantly need re-educating on what our market can offer. We’re not necessarily shaping the TV or movie industry, but we’re consistently offering better platforms. Come on, advertisers: Look beyond the movies and get involved!