Smartphones, tablets changing in-flight entertainment

Wireless Internet access on planes is helping make those long flights bearable, but so too are the influx of personal media devices such as smartphones and tablets. A BBC video report shows that the airline industry sees even more opportunity for both revenue and improved flying experiences through advanced in-flight entertainment that embraces these handsets and slates.

The BBC video can’t be embedded or shared, so you’ll have to click here to directly view it. But it’s worth it, as I learned a few new tidbits about this industry segment’s history and got a glimpse of the future:

  • In the U.S., 1,200 planes have Internet connectivity.
  • Only 100 flights outside the U.S. have it, which sounds low to me.
  • Old aircraft had multiple projectors with film that ran the length of the cabin; you could run to the back of the plane to view the movie ending again.
  • Fitting one aircraft with in-flight entertainment equipment can run up to $8 million.
  • Piping content over Wi-Fi in a plane eliminates wires and video equipment, which lightens the aircraft and saves fuel.
  • Airlines are moving away from centralized systems that control all screens to displays that work independently.

Ironically, the USB port may be the most innovative aspect for future in-flight systems. Why? Consumers can, and often do, carry their own media content on planes through their smartphones or tablets. Through USB ports, that content can be displayed on a larger screen built into the seat. There’s even more potential in the reverse direction though.

Airlines could sell or rent video content through the in-flight system that can be downloaded back to personal devices. That would allow flyers to pause the movie and watch it later, even once on the ground at their final destination. Airlines could then receive a cut of the movie cost, even though the movie may not be consumed on the plane.

Even with the influx of personal screens on flights, don’t expect airlines to stop adding displays in the back of seats. Not everyone has a smartphone or tablet yet, for starters. Plus, the addition of a connected screen in a seat back offers revenue opportunities outside media sales; instead of waiting for the cart of drinks or snacks, a personal touchscreen means your next food purchase is just a finger tap away.