Entertainment is subset of new connected airplane: Gogo


Smugly saying you got rid of your TV ages ago really means nothing in an era where an old-fashioned high-speed Internet connection will take care of any binge-watching needs. According to Procera Networks, approximately 670,000 Netflix subscribers watched the entirety of House of Cards’ second season during its opening weekend (no word yet on who tossed out their TVs first for intelligentsia cred).

Between video games like Diablo III that can’t be played without an Internet connection, “TV everywhere” services (basically what you used to stream the World Cup games on your PED through WatchESPN while you’re at work), and interactive broadcasts where audience opinions show up onscreen, the model here on the ground is shifting from one where the Internet is a subset of entertainment to one where entertainment is intimately tied to, if not predicated on, connectivity.

This is a model that is slowly but surely finding traction in-flight. Seatback IFE systems are notoriously expensive to install – almost prohibitively so on low-cost airlines that still want to offer a good passenger experience. With the number of PEDs brought on board rising, so is the number of firms scrambling to take advantage of the entertainment possibilities.

During the Aircraft Interiors Expo, we covered Arconics’ new CloudStore system, which utilizes wireless access points to distribute content. One of the big draws here, aside from the targeted advertising data and spots, was that the airline could control what content would be available to the passengers, even in real-time if a broadband connection to the aircraft existed.

Compared to traditional IFE systems, this lightweight solution seems to deftly negotiate the ever-changing #PaxEx landscape, and competitors to Arconics have stepped into the ring.

Facilitating 70,000 sessions a day, Gogo is the dominant provider of inflight connectivity in the United States right now, and is growing its footprint overseas. It self-identifies as the only “aerocommunications service provider with the complete package”, according to CEO Michael Small. Though it faces competitive threats (including AT&T’s forthcoming 4G LTE connectivity service in the US), Gogo doesn’t plan on being dethroned. A company designed for global growth from the get-go, it’s committed to keeping an eye on all emerging technologies, ready to adapt to whatever its myriad clients might need. This includes any IFE needs.

“We don’t discount the entertainment component, we just think it is a subset of the new connected airplane,” Small said in an interview during Gogo’s All Access Day, and also expressed the view that while onboard entertainment is beloved, connectivity – not IFE – is what’s going to change aviation.

Log onto a Gogo inflight session and you could very well experience Gogo Vision – Gogo’s answer to the IFE question. For a few bucks more, you have the option to watch a movie on your smartphone/tablet/laptop and mentally escape the ever-shrinking confines of your seat (seriously, let’s talk about those BTK measurements out there). Hollywood still disallows the streaming of early window movie content to passengers’ own devices, but if you’re a Netflix addict, this might not be a deal-breaker.

Live television isn’t supported via Gogo’s air-to-ground network in the US, but it is expected to be introduced with Gogo’s new satellite-supported connectivity. The only question is: Will it be in time for the 2018 World Cup?

It’s worth noting that this is a future that may be barred to the handful of high-end luxury carriers. Slapping a passenger paying several thousand dollars for a roundtrip transatlantic jaunt with a six dollar fee to watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on a smartphone is – and I’ll say it here and now – a good way to diminish the effect of any charming, friendly flight attendant offering a bowl of roasted cashews and a glass of champagne.

While luxury carriers will have to do the math on whether their reputations will survive a change, low-cost carriers can look forward to a more democratic future wherein passengers looking for a good deal won’t have to sacrifice a good experience.