Hybrid IFE models emerge to meet airlines’ varying requirements

Nobody doubts that ‘bring your own device’ on board aircraft is a movement that is here to stay (until perhaps we enter a Minority Report-type era). But if you think BYOD has stopped airlines from distributing tablets to passengers for inflight entertainment, think again.

Bluebox Avionics, one of the leading providers of portable IFE to airlines, has deployed over 14,000 devices in the market, and shows no sign of slowing down. One of the reasons why the company continues to thrive is that Hollywood disallows the streaming of early window movie content to passengers’ own devices, which limits the selection available via wireless IFE alone. This constraint has created an opportunity for Bluebox to offer a hybrid IFE solution, whereby it wirelessly streams content to airline-provided tablets.

“There is a real interest at this particular point in time to complement an airline’s wireless IFE solution by providing devices that have the ability to show early window content”, says John Howe, managing director at content distribution specialist Dawson Media Direct, which runs Bluebox as a joint venture with aviation IT provider AviT. The firm’s device of choice is the iPad because Android devices “are more open”.

“We have a couple of deployments of hybrid now – one in North America, and one that is about to roll out in Asia. That’s using another supplier’s streaming solution but with Bluebox units, and early window content made available. We see that as quite an interesting area.”

Five out of six studios are okay with streaming content to airline-provided portables, according to Howe. “You don’t have to store content on the devices, so it gives you a lot of capacity for the early window.” But will the studios ever relent and allow streaming to passengers’ own devices? “Never say never about early window, but I don’t see it in the near future,” says Howe.

Though wireless IFE provider Lufthansa Systems recently unveiled a semi-embedded IFE solution that represents a hybrid of wireless IFE and portable IFE integrated into a Recaro seat, Bluebox doesn’t envisage going down the same road. “Our view is the devices we provide will remain portable; that’s not to say there won’t be developments, but at this point in time our real [focus] is on hybrid offerings,” says Howe.

It’s clear that Bluebox won’t be boxed into a single model for IFE. “We can stream to airline-provided portables, but there’s also streaming to passengers’ own devices (without early window content) and also providing just portables,” says Howe. Offering multiple solutions across classes is plausible as well. In a two-cabin environment, for instance, airlines could distributed a set of pre-loaded devices for the business class cabin, but then simply stream to passengers’ own devices in business and economy.

“The whole basis of Bluebox – a JV between a CSP and software developer – is that we are keen to focus on providing interesting, useful, reliable, cost effective solutions, and we’re very keen that the hybrid solution be precisely that.” Meanwhile, though Bluebox hasn’t partnered with an inflight connectivity provider, it continues to talk to various stakeholders about possibilities.

Bluebox demonstrates its hybrid schematic in the video below.

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