The Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX), and indeed its WAEA predecessor organization, has for decades brought together airlines and vendors from around the world to discuss and address collective challenges in industry. But in recent years, significant advancements in satellite technology, satcom hardware, 5G architecture and cloud computing — coupled with changing inflight entertainment (IFE) and inflight connectivity (IFC) business models — have not only unlocked new opportunities to entertain, engage and connect passengers, but have also created a fresh set of challenges for airlines and their content and hardware partners.
“Airlines today are faced with more IFE and IFC choices than ever before,” notes APEX’s Technology Committee, which works within the larger APEX organization to develop best practices for inflight entertainment and connectivity. At the same time, says the committee, “the line between IFE and IFC products and suppliers continues to blur, and the business models for each are changing along with the technology.”
For instance, the vaunted IFE Early Window — which enabled airlines to offer Hollywood blockbusters and other new movies to passengers immediately after their theater run — is now weeks later than the direct to consumer (D2C) window. The Covid pandemic certainly played a material role in this shift. As many theaters closed or limited occupancy during the crisis, studios bolstered their OTT streaming services, even adopting day-and-date release strategies in certain instances.
Some airline content service providers took the opportunity presented by the pandemic downtime to quickly innovate with the cloud, in a bid to streamline and speed up the time it takes to get newer run titles in front of airline passengers’ eyeballs. And innovative airline-studio promotions demonstrated the art of the possible in rapid content delivery. Even so, content integration practices presently seem to be too slow for the IFE Early Window to gain parity with the D2C window.
Now, as the world fleet gets connected, and some broadband systems can support a streaming class of service, industry faces a crucial question, according to the APEX Technology Committee:
Once the sole domain of a few IFE suppliers and Content Service Providers (CSPs), does D2C/IFE — and streaming — make airline curated content a thing of the past?
BYOL or Bring Your Own License is certainly not a new concept for IFE. Nor indeed is the notion that an airline would partner with an OTT service provider to help offset the cost of providing free Wi-Fi while promoting and connecting passengers to said OTT service. Ten years ago, JetBlue famously took this approach by offering a Viasat-powered, OTT-sponsored streaming class of Internet service on board, on top of providing in-seat IFE. This in turn facilitated a multi-screen experience for passengers. Under the guidance of JetBlue director of product development Mariya Stoyanova, the airline’s multi-screen IFE and IFC experience is evolving again, melding more fully into an IFEC model aimed at maximizing engagement and revenue for the airline.
Among the factors stymying airlines’ widespread adoption of the D2C/IFE model, however, is that the supply and cost of bandwidth constrains delivery via satellite. But what if thousands of new satellites increase bandwidth, decrease costs, and this is combined with the ability to cache content delivered via satellite after the first viewing and deliver it from the server for subsequent use? A powerhouse lineup of speakers will tackle these and other pressing PaxEx questions about the rapidly evolving inflight entertainment and connectivity sector at the APEX Technology Committee’s APEX TECH conference on 21-23 March in Los Angeles.
Joe Leader, who is CEO of APEX and its sister organization, IFSA, confides to Runway Girl Network that he’s most looking forward to JetBlue’s Stoyanova “sharing their story” at APEX TECH “of how they have gone from the first US airline with free, fast connectivity to their implementation of personalized, interactive IFEC with food and beverage selection.”
“JetBlue went from being the first US airline to implement a streaming partner to now being the first to switch streaming partners. And the airline continues to show an incredible leadership spirit in IFEC that should be informative for airlines around the world about how to constantly do more for airline customers,” says Leader.
More broadly, Leader reckons that the three-day APEX TECH conference will be nothing short of “a transformative, must-attend event for our inflight entertainment and connectivity industry”. It features four key themes for this post-pandemic environment: the convergence of connectivity, faster content windows, remote loading of new entertainment content, and the effective monetization of the connected passenger.
“For example,” he says, “one of America’s largest airlines has stealthily migrated to satellite loading of all inflight entertainment content. Another leading airline has figured out how to pay for connectivity via increased adoption of their loyalty program. From a connectivity perspective, APEX TECH is so central, our friends at Seamless Air Alliance have gathered all of their airlines and board members with us in Los Angeles.”
Indeed, the work being undertaken by the Seamless Air Alliance to bring industries and technologies together to make the inflight internet experience simple to access and delightful to use, is tracking alongside APEX’s own work to improve the passenger experience.
Seamless CEO Jack Mandala tells RGN: “We are excited to see APEX TECH back in full swing this year and including panels on inflight connectivity and new products and partnerships ready to transform service performance. APEX events are one of the most efficient ways to get public and private updates from across the industry all in one place. I am grateful for the relationship that we have built with APEX and the hospitality that has been shown to us.”
“As for Seamless,” he continues, “we continue working heads-down with over 200 resources from our member companies now participating across the five current technical working groups. The level of participation and effort that goes into the work that we are doing is remarkable. Each of these groups meets monthly and sometimes more frequently as needed. We also run quarterly face-to-face meetings that rotate between the US and Europe. To ease participation at our face-to-face member meetings we try to run them in parallel with other industry events. Normally our 1Q meeting is at the SATELLITE show in DC but this year the [mobile network operator association] GSMA is running a conference in Vancouver at the same time and we’ll need to be at the GSMA event to get our new cooperation activities off the ground (PDF).
“We are thrilled at the opportunity to run our 1Q members meeting alongside APEX TECH this year. I have been in touch with Joe Leader several times over the past couple of weeks and we have a good lineup of our members participating across the APEX panel sessions so this will be a win-win for both organizations.”
The APEX TECH schedule can be accessed here, and registration is now open.
- Delta hones install plan as it preps for free Wi-Fi across full fleet
- Panasonic sees industry adoption of free Wi-Fi model by end of decade
- Airbus and Boeing drive IFC interoperability via Seamless Air Alliance
- Warner’s Esdra Lamy on paradox of choice and its impact on IFE
- HBO Max, LATAM and Touch showcase the art of the possible in IFE
Featured image credited to APEX