For the past few decades content service providers (CSPs) have played a pivotal role in bringing entertainment content to IFE systems on board aircraft. Yet even though CSPs provide essential services in the value chain – working directly with Hollywood and other content providers to curate engaging movies and TV programs for airlines, as well as editing, duplicating and encoding the content to ensure it works across a variety of IFE platforms – their work, and indeed the entire CSP sector, has been largely clouded in mystery.
This paradigm began to shift a couple of years ago when Global Eagle Entertainment set about to consolidate the sector through the acquisition of a number of high-profile CSPs, and then went public. Suddenly, analysts were asking, “Who are these CSPs and why have we never heard of them before? How does Global Eagle compare to the competition?”
With an estimated 65% market share of the CSP industry, and with its shares publicly traded on Nasdaq, Global Eagle is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the industry. But as it ambles through the lengthy and arduous process of restructuring – a process that includes employee terminations and facility closures, as we learned today – and as it grapples with several lawsuits over audio licensing involving airlines and record labels, there is a clear opportunity for other respected names in the CSP space to exercise their agility and innovate for the world’s airlines and their passengers. Spafax – the number two CSP in the world with about a 25% market share – is among the CSPs aiming to do just that.
Part of Sir Martin Sorrell’s WPP Group, the London-headquartered firm already boasts offices across the globe, including Orange County (where most IFE hardware companies are located). It counts British Airways, Air Canada, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Lufthansa and even Bombardier Business Aircraft among its many clients. Its services range from traditional CSP work to publishing inflight magazines to arranging Air Canada’s enRoute film festival each year.
Now Spafax is further upping its game, with the launch of a “best-in-class” facility that aims to become the go-to HD post-production lab for the digital age. Located at the iconic Sunset Gower Studios Lot – Hollywood’s oldest independent film lot and the original West Coast home of Columbia and Warner Bros – Spafax’s aptly named ‘The Hub’ lab aims to ensure “flawless content delivery to any platform, including IFE, wireless, streaming, mobile, and social media”.
The Hub is equipped with a fully automated digital workflow through to file delivery plus editing, subtitling, captioning, and video and audio encoding and duplication. It will also provide Spafax’s technical services team with access to additional world-class production amenities within the lot, including 23 stages and over 700,000 square feet of production support space, recording studios and viewing theaters, says Spafax.
Identifying as an international content marketing agency – and not just as a CSP to airlines – Spafax recognizes the importance of reaching consumers at every touch point of the passenger experience, and its launch of The Hub is very much part of serving brands and passengers end-to-end. “Spafax aspires to be at the forefront of innovation when it comes to content on-the-go, hence we are locating our new facility at the heart of the world’s content capital,” explains CEO Niall McBain.
Speaking to RGN in advance of the announcement, Spafax chief technical officer Tony Taverner said, “We saw a lot of consolidation in the market over the last year or two and we saw an opportunity, and decided we should be moving forward and making our presence felt and seen and extend our services. We had a long hard think about what we should do and decided we should make a go for it and compete more as a full service representative and provide a customized experience to airlines and airports, and their passengers.”
Because Spafax is part of WPP, the company can leverage the expertise of other companies in the group – companies that have their fingers in “every area of digital”, such as Kinetic, which identifies as the world’s largest planner and buyer of Out of Home media. “So we see ourselves now more working and aligning ourselves with other companies in the group, and working on the applications for airlines,” says Taverner.
The Hub is set to officially open on 6 October and will become home to all of the company’s US-based technical services by April 2015. Spafax’s technical services team of 25 will be moving up from Orange County, where the client services, administration and agency teams will continue to be based. “Some people think you need to be near the hardware companies [in Orange County], but we deliver content to them electronically; we deliver to them all over the world, and we don’t have to be near Irvine or Lake Forrest. Rather, it’s important for us to be more in the creative center of California with this lab,” says Taverner.