PORTLAND, OREGON — The hot topic of the APEX Expo continues to be BAE Systems managing to secure early window content from two of the big six studios for streaming wirelessly in-browser to passengers’ personal electronic devices.
Major vendors — who are largely competitors, of course — have been calling foul on BAE’s announcement since yesterday. Many industry stakeholders, who spoke to RGN on condition of anonymity, say the major studios have denied they are the studios concerned.
BAE Systems is still keeping mum about the names of the studios, though it’s understandable that they wouldn’t say who they are. Leaving it open means that their first-mover advantage remains for as long as possible — having to beat down six doors rather than two keeps their competitors busy while they’re working on implementation.
So was it clinched by BAE or by its content service provider, Global Eagle Entertainment, whose WISE wireless IFE software platform is a key part of BAE’s system?
BAE’s director of cabin systems Jared Shoemaker told RGN, “It’s a joint effort. We have the solution — that is heavily dependent on WISE, but also has other aspects in it as well. We don’t disclose the details of that. But it’s really in concert with the CSP. They have the relationships, and we work very closely. It’s a three-way effort between the studio, the content provider and us.”
Global Eagle has been at the forefront of pushing for early window streaming for years, and Shoemaker brought his content service provider in to give assurances that this is indeed early window content, and that it is indeed happening. Global Eagle Entertainment’s Patrick Prefontaine, vice president of strategic partnerships, and Alexis Steinman, senior vice president of digital media solutions were prepared to sit down on the record with RGN and confirm that this deal is real.
And early window is still a big deal, even in the age of shorter flights, TV binge-watching and YouTube videos on the plane.
To get some outside perspective on the deal, RGN sat down with Jon Norris, vice president of sales at IFE provider Lumexis, one of the few industry veterans willing to go on the record with us.
“Early window content on a medium-long haul route, three hours plus, is still very important in terms of what passengers want to do. We see from the takeup figures that we know from our airline customers that at little as five percent of the content might be early window content, but it makes up fifty percent of the views,” Norris said.
The process to get early window content approval is neither revolutionary nor insurmountable, Norris explained. “You submit a white paper to each of the studios, which gives an overview of your architecture and what steps you’ve taken in terms of DRM protection for the early window content. You provide them all the relevant information they need, and there are Q&A sessions and feedback. The studio goes away, evaluates, and comes back to tell you whether you’re approved to use their early window content on your system. You go through that process with each of the majors.”
“All of the majors have very knowledgeable and technically savvy people who are reviewing these things. They’ll be able to read across what they’ve understood and learned from other systems — they don’t share that with you when submitting, but they’ll know what to look for. They will have worked with the particular DRM suppliers as well,” Norris elaborated.
“Typically, it’s a two to six month process,” Norris said. “It depends on the complexity of the system, what changes there’ve been, what the architecture is, and things move on. It’s not a particularly arduous process — it’s just that you be clear on what your architecture is and how you’re going to do it, they review it, and you get a yea or nay.”
That would seem to corroborate the six month timescale that BAE quoted to RGN, and Norris’ assessment overall matches what GEE’s Alexis Steinman and BAE’s Jared Shoemaker confirmed to RGN about the wireless side of early window content approvals. “Some studios have been more upfront as to some of the parameters that are required to enable that specific use case. In building the whitepaper, we try to align technological choices based on what they’ve advertised as the minimum requirements,” Steinman said.
Furthermore, “the studio’s not just approving the DRM. It’s the DRM used in the particular system and the architecture of the system,” Norris also noted.
In terms of architecture, the BAE solution uses the same Kontron wireless access point and Global Eagle Entertainment’s WISE streaming software, which includes digital rights management, as many other players in the industry that relative IFE upstart BAE beat to the early window punch.
Global Eagle lists BAE Systems alongside KidSysteme, Honeywell, OnAir and Rockwell Collins as wireless hardware partners for WISE. It would be a surprise if these companies were not also moving swiftly to follow BAE.
But is this really early window content? As one longtime industry insider told us, the actual size of the early window is shrinking significantly, with the window in some cases being under two weeks between the theatre and DVD.
“Each studio has a different definition, so an industry definition just doesn’t exist,” GEE’s Steinman said. “The studios define it, and we work with their definition.”
RGN asked BAE and GEE whether a studio would give the same definition of early window to all the content service providers and airlines it works with — could the studios be calling it early window in their dealings with BAE and GEE, while not in fact intending to provide what others might consider early window content? Steinman noted that he didn’t have enough data points to say either way about the studios’ methods, but commented that, “in their dealings with us they make a sharp distinction between the various windows as they define it, so we are playing by their rules.”
But will we be in a place in four months, where this early window content is released — and then immediately clear as to which studio is responsible — where the industry will throw its hands in the air and say “this isn’t early window”? “No, I don’t think so,” Steinman confirmed.
The bottom line: BAE Systems and GEE confirmed to RGN that this is proper early window content, that this is not a fudge of definitions, and that when the content is released there will be no surprises.
As surprised as we are, this does seem to be the real deal.