Airline entertainment increasingly shown on passengers’ own laptops, tablets

Wireless in-flight entertainment is forecast to be on around a quarter of the global commercial fleet in just six years’ time, according to new research.


IHS has acquired IMS ResearchNew research from IMS Research (recently acquired by IHS Inc.), shows that wireless in-flight entertainment (IFE), a relatively new form of IFE delivery, is forecast to be on around a quarter of the global commercial fleet in just six years’ time. Airlines are looking to take advantage of the myriad of personal electronic devices that passengers are taking on-board by turning them into an entertainment system, possibly complementing existing systems or in some cases replacing them.

“However, in most cases it won’t be for several years,” commented Rose Yin, market analyst with IMS Research. “There are still a few obstacles that wireless IFE needs to overcome in order to pose a real threat to seat-back IFE systems, which are still the dominant form of entertainment system on long-haul flights and will remain so in the short to mid-term.”

View on wireless IFE and connectivity (Q23B) - Airline survey. Source: IMS Research (IHS Inc.)One of the major issues cited to be slowing uptake is the number of passengers bringing an electronic device with a sizeable screen and Wi-Fi capability on board. Despite the rapid growth of tablets, not many passengers own one, and at the same time laptops can be seen as a hassle to carry around unless you are travelling for business. Airlines don’t want to rely solely on consumers’ own devices so have opted to complement their wireless IFE service by renting out iPads or other tablets, with the downside being more cost to the airline.

“For the next few years, most installations are likely to occur in aircraft with limited or no entertainment systems on-board, with the aim being to sell access as a value-add service. However, as more and more passengers start bringing their own tablets and smartphones into the cabin, it is expected that some airlines will just replace a portion of their seatback systems with wireless IFE to help save weight,” said Yin. “Furthermore, wireless IFE with internet access is a powerful combination; airlines can offer both streaming of content as well as allowing passengers to stay connected to the internet, almost mimicking the offering of what is available on the ground.”

Wireless IFE access might be offered for free in the future, particularly if the airline already offers free IFE on a particular flight. However, the cost of installing and operating an internet connectivity service is still high. Therefore, only one third of wireless IFE systems are expected to come with internet access in 10 years’ time. 

Fixed IFE is still the dominant form of entertainment on many aircraft. However, it is clear that the growing use of portable connected devices and in-flight internet access is fuelling a revolution in the way passengers stay entertained. 

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