Virgin America, Netflix and ViaSat bring streaming over IFC on board

Rotation

Earlier this month the conversation was about Netflix trying to put its content in a box on board aircraft to allow streaming of the company’s content in flight. This week at the APEX Expo saw Virgin America and Netflix announce a partnership where the medial library will be available on board certain flights via live connectivity, and free for everyone to access. The deal hinges on the carrier’s recent shift to fly the ViaSat Ka-band satellite service rather than Gogo’s ATG-4 product on its newest aircraft.

The free Netflix arrangement runs through 2 March 2016. Passengers with a Netflix account can use their existing credentials while other travelers will be prompted to create a free 30-day subscription to the service. And, similar to the sponsorship deal announced between JetBlue and Amazon Prime, the media company will help cover the cost of the content streaming. Which is to say that it is not completely free; it is just that passengers are not paying for it.

For Virgin America the shift creates some challenges in terms of passenger expectations. The streaming will only work on a couple of aircraft (its past two Airbus narrowbody deliveries now carry the ViaSat system) and then only on flights over the mainland US where the service has coverage.

These planes are expected to support the carrier’s Hawaii operations launching later this year so there is a decent portion of these flights where streaming will not be available.

So, yes, streaming will be available and for free but also only for a small number of total daily flights. Other travelers who saw the news will have to settle for House of Cards, which being added to the free selection in the Red inflight entertainment systems installed in the seats.

Expanded options are good. Sponsorship deals that reduce costs for passengers are good, too. Inconsistent experiences are a bit more challenging but that’s just part of the fun in rolling out new products. And Virgin America still has some time yet before it has to make a decision about what to do with the other 50 aircraft carrying the older Gogo ATG-4 system.

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