Movies And Airlines – Strategies To Engage Customers And Drive New Revenue

British Airways 747 Interior - Movies on IFE

The 90th Academy Awards ceremony were held on March 4, 2018 at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles, USA.  The “Oscars”, as they are more commonly know, is the climax of the season and sets the stage for The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to celebrate the best in cinema over the past year. From the beginning, movies have played an important role in providing entertainment choices for passengers on board an aircraft. Find out more about their relationship and how studios can partner with airlines more strategically to engage and drive higher sales for both.


Movies and Airlines – Past and Present

The first movie shown on board was in 1921 in Chicago’s Parade of Progress Exposition. Attendees were whisked upwards 2,000 feet (roughly 610 meters) on an amphibious airplane operated by Aeromarine Airways for a showing of  “Howdy Chicago”.

First In-Flight Screened Movie
First In-Flight Screened Movie (Source: Motion Picture News, Inc.; photograph likely to be from Rothacker Film Company, which staged the screening – Motion Picture News, August 27, 1921 (page 1070))

Four years later, the first commercial in-flight movie was shown on a flight between London (Croydon Airport) and Paris (Orly Airport). Imperial Airways (pre-cursor to British Airways) screened “The Lost World” on board a de Havilland DH.34 in April 1925. It was a significant event at the time as the silent movie about an ape-man and dinosaurs found at an expedition was only released two months prior in the United States.

The 1920s paved way to overhead projectors, laserdiscs and video cassette players in the 1970s and 80s. While display technologies evolved over 60+ years, movie delivery being controlled by the airline did not change until 1988.  That was the time when the Airvision company introduced the world’s first in seat audio video on demand (AVOD) system using 2.7 inches (roughly 69mm) sized LCD screens in a trial on board Northwest Airlines (now part of Delta Air Lines)’s fleet of Boeing 747 aircrafts. The positive customer response began a move to this technology across the entire airline industry.

While AVOD technology on seat back screen still dominates the marketplace as the main delivery choice of in-flight entertainment for major network carriers’ international operations, it is slowly being replaced by streaming via an airline’s mobile application on personal devices (e.g. phone or tablet) or laptops within the domestic or regional operations. Movies are also competing with customers’ own media contents (e.g. offline Netflix downloads), live tv and Wi-fi internet connection (which allows for external video streaming sources like Vimeo and YouTube).


Movies and Airlines – Future

Movies will continue to play a major role in entertaining customers for flights longer than 2.5 hours with seat back screen options are referred over other options for flights great than 5.5 hours. The latter may be dictated by power sources (e.g. USB or AC Power) provided by airlines and tolerance for watching the movie by holding the device at an angle for a prolong period of time.

First rate movies are important to attract customers. Airlines spend upwards to US$20 million or more for movie rights that allow them to screen them for a period of time. Many work with content supplier like Golden Eagle in obtaining rights for movies that are still in theatre and have not been made available on streaming services or for sale on DVD/Blu-ray.

British Airways introduced the Award Worthy category to showcase movies that received nominations or won awards at this year’s BAFTA or the Oscars. Other airlines also publish monthly lists showcasing the entertainment choices for the month and into the future.

British Airways
British Airways

The goal in both instances is to draw more customer attention for higher viewerships. But is that enough? What do airlines or movie studios get out of viewerships? We will explore that in the next post.





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