Looking at the future of in-flight entertainment industry

Most major airlines will offer connectivity at some point in the next ten years.


IMS Research (acquired by IHS, Inc.)Less than a month ago in Hamburg, the annual Aircraft Interiors Expo and conference concluded after the usual announcements of product launches and new partnerships. Part of the focus for this year continued to be the benefits of connectivity and wireless IFE. Some of the topics have been about how airlines can further reduce weight through going paperless, by using the capability provided by a connectivity and/or wireless IFE system; or how to improve operational efficiency through data exchange between the aircraft and the ground while in the air or at the airport.

One of the big announcements came on the first day of the Expo with news of the new partnership between Gogo and Thales. This will no doubt help to expand Thales’ connectivity product offering, while bringing Gogo closer to new clients outside the US. The new partnership was not the only major development Thales had to show, as its Crystal Cabin Award-winning hand-gesture and eye tracking user interface was also demonstrated at its booth.

Although using passengers’ hands and eyes to control a screen might not be seen as the ‘latest’ breakthrough in the history of technology, a trail blazed by Microsoft’s Kinect or even the Samsung Galaxy S4, it was probably one of the most visible hints that such innovations could be flying within five years rather than ten. However, with the limited pitch between the seats, and the fact that not every passenger wants to spend their time learning to use a new device, I don’t expect to see such systems coming to your favourite carrier any time soon, especially if you’re flying in economy class.

The general stance remains that most major airlines will offer connectivity at some point in the next ten years; and that wireless IFE could be either an add-on option alongside connectivity, or a less expensive IFE solution for low-cost airlines. This seems to have presented an opportunity for both small and new companies to enter the content market, estimated to be worth well over $600 million last year, by offering special apps that can be installed onto portable electronic devices (PEDs). These apps can provide a wide range of services, such as facilitating in-flight shopping (as seen from Allegiant), viewing various forms of content, or offering new ways for airlines to communicate with their passengers.

Interestingly, a media company called Ocleen TV also announced their version of a ‘free’ IFE solution to airlines where the hardware is funded by advertising. Obviously, not all airlines are looking to dilute their brand with ads; but, for low-cost airlines in particular, the possibility of offering some form of entertainment with little airline investment could prove to be a hit. It also wouldn’t be a surprise to some in the industry that any successful new solutions will soon be adopted and offered by the larger suppliers, especially with the likes of Panasonics and Thales already doing a fair chunk of the content integration work for their large client base.

With the emergence of new partnerships (e.g. Gogo and Thales) and acquisitions (e.g. Zodiac and The IMS Company), the IFE industry will continue to get more competitive as more forms and packages of IFE solutions are introduced. For IFE managers at a range of airlines, it will be an increasingly daunting task to select a multi-million dollar system for their fleet that can meet the demand from their target market now and in the future. In the short term though, most industry sources seem to agree that wireless IFE in some form, along with connectivity to the internet, will continue their current impressive growth.

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