By 2018, airlines are expected to spend $900 million on in-flight entertainment (IFE) content — up from $660 million in 2012.
IFE has been bolstered by innovative technologies that deliver more and better entertainment for passengers, along with more convenient ways to pay for those pleasures. On top of that, another major drivers for these offerings is the increasing competition between airlines.
Companies across the space are adopting new IFE products and services to differentiate themselves for competitors, according to a new TechNavio report.
No wonder the options are expanding rapidly, including in-flight video-on-demand, fancier fare for foodies and Wi-Fi access, either from the seatback or on your own smartphone or tablet.
With that in mind, let’s take a peek at some of the hottest innovations from five big players in the space:
Delta Air Lines
Last week, Delta Air Lines (DAL) inked a multi-year deal with AT&T (T) for custom mobility services, including support for Delta’s new, in-flight, mobile point-of-sale application.
AT&T will equip more than 19,000 Delta flight attendants with Nokia (NOK) Lumia devices, which run Microsoft’s (MSFT) Dynamics mobile point-of-sale platform on Windows Phone 8.
The solution enables near real-time credit card processing for on-board purchases, eReceipts that can be emailed to customers and the ability to read coupons displayed on a customer’s mobile device.
Flight attendants began testing the Nokia Lumia 820 during flights in June.
Next up, Air Canada (AIDIF) announced a deal last week with retail technology provider GuestLogix (GUESF) to enable processing across its full range of premium in-flight entertainment offerings.
With the launch of Air Canada’s Rouge — a new leisure airline — passengers will be able to stream stored movies, TV shows and other entertainment content to their personal devices using Panasonic (PCRFY) Avionics’ wireless in-flight entertainment solution eXW.
Passengers will be able to access services through a personalized portal on their own Wi-Fi-enabled laptop, tablet, smartphone or other device. This is a big deal since the aircraft used for rouge are not equipped with seat-back entertainment players.
Don’t have a device? You can rent an Apple (AAPL) iPad on board for $10.
JetBlue (JBLU) is working with satellite services provider ViaSat (VSAT) to launch in-flight Wi-Fi this year.
The airline’s LiveTV subsidiary will begin installing it on JetBlue’s fleet by the end of the year — a move that further enhances the company’s planned launch of a premium cabin (a first for the budget carrier) on transcontinental flights.
JetBlue is also offering premium in-flight entertainment options like a 15-inch touch-screen television with more than 100 channels of DirecTV (DTV).
Virgin America’s innovative “Red” in-flight entertainment platform boasts seatback touch-screen TV with more than two dozen films, live TV, Google (GOOG) Maps, video games, thousands of songs and an on-demand food and drink menu.
The airline’s most recent update to Red allows seat-to-seat chat — and snack or cocktail delivery — to other passengers. Passengers not looking for love at 35,000 feet may surf the web or purchase more than 200 items via the RedStore’s seatback in-flight shopping capability.
For the cherry on top, Virgin also recently introduced an “open tab” function on its seatback system that enables passengers to swipe their credit card just once per flight. The tab then stays open until a passenger either closes it or the plane aircraft descends to 10,000 feet.
Last but not least, Southwest’s (LUV) reputation as a game-changer extends to its IFE strategy. Last month, the airline launched a service with pay TV provider Dish Network (DISH) that for the first time brings live TV and 75 on-demand shows to passengers’ Internet-enabled personal devices. Dubbed “TV Flies Free”, the service eventually will be a revenue source for the carrier.
LUV offers passengers in-air access to live TV, on-demand programming and Wi-Fi connectivity through a partnership with Row 44, a subsidiary of Global Eagle Entertainment (ENT).
But Southwest still knows the value of supplementing leading-edge technology with a good gimmick: Last week, Gavin DeGraw performed live onboard one of Southwest’s Phoenix to Los Angeles flights as part of the “Live at 35″ concert series.
As of this writing, Susan J. Aluise did not hold a position in any of the securities named here.