In January 2016, the popular television streaming service, Netflix became a truly global TV network – simultaneously, the service launched in 130 new countries around the world. It was a massive expansion on the 60 territories Netflix was previously present in and brought original Netflix content to a whole new audience.
“Today you are witnessing the birth of a new global Internet TV network,” explained Netflix co-founder, Reed Hastings at a keynote speech to launch the expanded network. He continued: “With the help of the Internet, we are putting power in consumers’ hands to watch whenever, wherever and on whatever device.”
Although, there was one place where that bold claim wasn’t quite possible – at 35,000 feet. But now, Netflix is planning on transforming in-flight entertainment with its own vision. For years, the films and TV shows you watch on the tiny seatback screen have been controlled by expensive licensing agreements, dominated by just a few companies.
On the most part, airlines keep their entertainment selection deliberately limited – striking a balance between offering passengers what they will consider a good selection but keeping costs to an absolute minimum.
Netflix, however, wants to introduce a completely different model of in-flight entertainment and its already successfully managed to sign up several major airlines. And at this years, APEX Passenger Experience expo in Longbeach, California the company signalled it was time to extend its reach to many more airlines with Netflix inflight 2.0.
Back in 2015, Virgin America became the first airline to trial Netflix inflight and since then Australian carriers, Qantas and Virgin Australia have introduced the service as well. Qantas was only able to start providing the Netflix system earlier this year when its first domestic aircraft was fitted with broadband quality in-flight wifi.
And that’s because unlike traditional in-flight entertainment systems which store the content onboard, the Netflix inflight system streams all of its content live. Netflix says its state of the art system uses a much lower bandwidth than traditional in-flight web browsing. This, they claim, makes the system fast, reliable and very cheap for airlines to operate.
“By partnering together, we think we can create a win-win-win for Netflix, airlines and customers because combining great internet connectivity with Netflix can improve passenger satisfaction,” explained Spencer Wang, Netflix’s VP Finance and Investor Relations.
It’s unclear how much Netflix wants to charge airline’s to use its content but expect a deep discount. The benefit for Netflix isn’t in charging airline’s for the service but gaining more customers once the flight has finished. As per Wang:
“Our in-flight program extends the benefits of a Netflix membership and drives more viewing, which helps our customer retention.”
There are also big benefits for passengers – even those who are already Netflix subscribers. Now, there’s no need to select and download a selection of shows to watch onboard. And you won’t have to buy an expensive in-flight wifi package to stream content live.
Of course, Netflix original content isn’t everybody’s cup of tea and their Hollywood film selection can be dubious at the best of times, so the service might not entirely replace traditional in-flight entertainment. But on flights without seatback TV’s, this could be a gamechanger.
So far, the only airline’s to use the service are Aeromexico, Qantas, Virgin America and Virgin Australia. Expect more to follow soon.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.