In Perspective: Niall McBain On Future-Proofing IFE Services

By March 28th, 2016

The annual Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) kicks off next week in Hamburg, Germany and in case you missed it, Spafax will be there. AIX is aviation’s largest and aircraft interiors event – reeling in 14,000 delegates and 500 exhibitors in 2015.

Given the importance of the event, we felt it the perfect time to debut our Spafax Perspectives series, where leaders from across our global network share the latest on topics that have our industry talking.

Who better to start than our CEO, Niall McBain, who discussed the ever-evolving in-flight entertainment (IFE) landscape, the increasing importance of IFE content to passengers and how Spafax maintains an edge in an industry where clients are constantly looking to the future.

How will growth in in-flight connectivity services impact airlines’ existing IFE business models? Is there an ideal approach to integrate connectivity and entertainment?

I think a lot of the industry sold the impact of connectivity on IFE as a way of concealing inadequate connection speeds. For me, connectivity and wireless delivery of IFE on board are two separate things. Connectivity is really a way of people being able to do the things they expect to do on the ground; email, social media and web browsing. They don’t expect to pay for it, which is where a content model starts to come in either to encourage paid take up or to provide product placement and supporting revenue. Neither sufficiently supplants IFE, but they do provide strong alternatives on previously non-IFE-equipped aircraft and interesting activation features on existing IFE flights.

The case for wireless distribution onboard rests on costs and comfort factors associated with the brand and the expected customer experience. Paid for services on the ground like Netflix have to maintain their online delivery integrity if they are to avoid exceeding geo and commercial boundaries which could potentially lead to rights issues over third party content. Generally I believe that speeds for connectivity should be devoted to connectivity services and bundled with entertainment that is delivered in the most practical and secure way, either paid for or free, depending on brand objectives.

IFE is becoming more and more important to passengers in their choice of airline. How will IFE continue to drive passenger loyalty?

I think IFE is becoming more important, as is content in general in the communications and information of an increasingly digital journey experience. I think the loyalty aspects of the customer relationship are equally interesting and are ready for a shake-up as we look at the different modes and modalities of the customer. I would like to see Spafax lead in developing new concepts around airline affinity marketing.

“We are great believers in using real customer feedback in the planning and development of services.”

How does Spafax manage the fact that airlines are always looking 5-10 years out?

We have to maintain a wide-span perspective, being able to continue to support legacy systems and services whilst focusing on the implications of future choices and possibilities. We place emphasis on innovation and planning, meeting suppliers, learning about new products, modeling services and anticipating how we would accommodate or build in change. It is time-consuming but seldom a waste of time.

There’s a trend in the industry to offer passengers more IFE options than ever before. Research by Spafax however shows that over a third of passengers find it difficult to navigate a high volume of entertainment options. How can airlines and CSPs enhance this aspect of the passenger experience?

We are great believers in using real customer feedback in the planning and development of services. We are fortunate to be part of a global marketing and communications conglomerate and so have many resources we can draw on for our clients. But, ultimately, listening to the voice of the customer and testing ideas with them helps to properly establish the different components and needs for success.

Please join us at Stand 2E60 as we make our Aircraft Interiors Expo debut in Hamburg April 5-7, 2016. Come see our latest creative content concepts along with exciting new developments for our ICON family of digital products.