Licensing for inflight entertainment
December 2, 2014 3:44 PM   Subscribe

How do airlines pick, buy, and/or license inflight entertainment?

I'm curious about the ways that movies, TV shows, music, and games get selected for inflight entertainment.

Are there certain groups that negotiate licenses for multiple airlines or does each airline do their own media licensing?

Are airlines ever allowed to air movies the same day it's launched in cinemas worldwide?

How do indie artists get inflight play? (I know Darren Hayes's self-released album This Delicate Thing We've Made is on Virgin's various airways playlists, but not his other work which are on major labels)

I just got off a flight that had a specific YouTube collection with a small selection of YouTube channels - who negotiates licensing for those, YouTube or the individual channels? Do the channels get any pay?

How about games? In the 90s and 00s you could play Nintendo games on Singapore Airlines, but not anymore - why?

Any other insight on inflight entertainment is greatly appreciated!
posted by divabat to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'll preface this by saying that literally the only thing I know about this is that, for one of the features I once worked on, we had a folder in our production files (which I was in charge of maintaining) for "Airline Rights", with some paperwork in it.

Are there certain groups that negotiate licenses for multiple airlines or does each airline do their own media licensing?

It's something that is handled at the studio level, so most likely what happens is that airlines* work with the major studios to decide on a slate of films they want to carry as well as the specifics of dates, length of run, which specific routes, etc. So it's definitely a "Big Corporation A talks to Big Corporation B" kind of thing.

As for how the airlines choose, it's probably a complicated mix of different things. My guess is that there is market research on this sort of thing. The movie I worked on where I found the airline rights paperwork in our files was... well, the kind of movie you wouldn't rush out to see in theaters, but which you'd probably be down to watch on a plane. To the point that I wondered if selling the in flight rights wasn't part of what got it green lit in the first place.

Are airlines ever allowed to air movies the same day it's launched in cinemas worldwide?

I'm going to say no, though I suppose it could happen, or could have happened at some point in the past. Probably not, though, because I'm pretty sure that would detract from box office numbers.

I do, however, remember Jet Blue negotiating the rights to air certain new fall TV pilots before they officially premiered on the networks, a couple years ago. Which is sort of comparable? It's worth noting that TV doesn't have the level of box office hype that film does, and leaking one episode to a small segment of the public isn't going to do much to affect the neilsen ratings aside from maybe creating positive buzz.

It also seems like it could be beneficial to release video games this way, though I don't know enough about the video game industry to know whether it's happened or not.

How do indie artists get inflight play?

They largely don't, unless it was an indie project that became a breakout hit and was acquired for distribution by one of the major studios.

who negotiates licensing for those, YouTube or the individual channels? Do the channels get any pay?

Probably YouTube, though a lot of popular YouTube channels are corporate owned or closely affiliated with YouTube itself, anyway. I highly doubt that, for example, my YouTube channel has a snowball's chance in hell of ending up as in flight entertainment. Most likely the channels do get some form of compensation, yes.

How about games?

I was on a Jet Blue (or maybe Delta?) flight recently that had PopCap games licensed, so this is definitely still a thing. As to why not Nintendo, welp, presumably because the license expired and either Nintendo or Singapore Airlines decided it wasn't in their interests to continue.

* and keep in mind a lot of airlines are part of huge airline conglomerates, so it's like someone in the head office of the ur parent company, not literally like some dude from Frontier Airlines or whatever
posted by Sara C. at 4:38 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

It looks like airlines would contact with a company like IFE Services who provides in-flight entertainment. IFE Services is a wholly owned subsidiary of Global Eagle Entertainment, a content service provider. That's all I got. Thank you for flying Air Rob.
posted by Rob Rockets at 5:13 PM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

A major movie studio is unlikely to window a title day-and-date with theatrical. Box office is a crucial metric for any other downstream revenue (e.g., sales to premium, broadcast and cable channels). Additionally, there is not a lot of money in airline licensing - even less now that most flights don't do the one movie via the overhead screens and instead have access to multiple video-on-demand titles via seat back sets and sometimes linear television (which is provided by directv or dish network). The airline internet providers also now provide entertainment for your device and some airlines do the same.

Each studio has a person who sells content to airlines and other commercial distributors (like hotels and bars). The market used to be just the major airlines, who had buyers dedicated to purchasing movies for in-flight viewing. That still exists, but you are also selling to directv and dish network (which is a different person at the studio handling those accounts) and possibly a company like gogo air that sells internet in-flight (likely another different person).

As a result you might notice that each studio has a slightly different set of content available at any given time (the market is changing rapidly, is less lucrative and more promotional in nature, and different people are working with the various distributors).

An indie might work with one of the sales agents listed above, or just go to a trade show and meet with airline reps and others to sell a movie etc.
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:08 PM on December 2, 2014

This overlaps with rainydayfilms info about the studios, but back in the stone age when I worked in film distribution this was part of the sales department's job, just like selling the films to the movie theatres. At least back then, everything other than exhibitors fell under the ancillary market umbrella.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:25 PM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

One data point that might be useful. Back in 2001, Rush Hour 2 was premiered on a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, alongside a marketing campaign focusing on UA flights in the lead-up to its premiere in cinemas -- because of its international cross-cultural story.
posted by laumry at 6:34 AM on December 3, 2014

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