Panasonic details live television plans for the in-flight crowd

Panasonic Avionics dropped a number of gems into my lap yesterday. As reported here, the company intends to trial its in-flight connectivity service eXConnect on a 737 Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) in advance of commercial launch.

Phil Condit.jpg

One avid reader rightly points out that Connexion by Boeing (CBB) was also trialled on a BBJ testbed. Indeed, wasn’t it former Boeing chairman Phil Condit’s own BBJ that served as said testbed?

Yes, it would make a sweet – slightly ironic – story if these were the same birds. But enough of that tangent….

More importantly is the revelation that the Panasonic Airline Television Network – offered as an extension of eXConnect – has been selected by some of the firm’s five-strong eXConnect customers.

As you no doubt recall, the Panasonic Airline Television Network is a proprietary broadcast TV distribution network that includes a selection of broadcast television channels specifically licensed by the firm for worldwide distribution to aircraft in-flight.

Internet protocol (IP) is the data delivery method for the programming but the experience “is much more in line with traditional DBS (direct broadcast satellite) in that we’re not targeting the laptop or passenger device as the display device”, says Scott Scheer, manager of programming and media services within Panasonic Avionics’ global communication groups. “Rather we are integrating it into IFE systems.”

Multi-year deals with five major television news groups have been announced, including Al Jazeera, BBC World News, the Bloomberg Television network, euronews and France 24. However, Panasonic intends to launch the service with seven to eight core channels, including some sports programming, and build from there as the market demands, says Scheer.

Scheer made some other truly interesting points not found in the article so let me urge you to read on.

Because Panasonic IFE systems – award winners across the world - offer tons of cached content, the company’s initial focus for the live television product is news and sports. 

Says Scheer: “Where we see this ultimately going is we start with the 24/7 linear feeds, such as news and sports. We basically control all access of content acquisition, aggregation and redistribution. We can provide individual events, or one-off type programmes either to an airline or all of them in total. We could put out a high demand live sporting event. We’ll have the infrastructure; it’s just a matter of making the economics work. Live events is the killer app!”

Once this is in place, then Panasonic will look at “subsets like weather and finance – programming that is the most appropriate for delivery via satellite”, adds Scheer.

Okay, so if you’ve flown on Virgin America (or Delta), which offer Panasonic’s current live television offering, you know that it isn’t perfect. Don’t get me wrong, I love Virgin America’s IFE, and frankly I feel that any free entertainment kicks butt, but I have found that signals get easily lost over certain geographic areas.

Scheer says Panasonic designed the new television network to address “most of the shortcomings and challenges faced by the legacy (TV) offerings”.

The Panasonic Airline Television Network “is a core set of channels that are meant to be serving aircraft in-flight”. Other television services are meant to serve home markets. Those licenses are specific to geopolitical regions.

“In our case, we went directly to the providers to establish what in essence are global licensing rights. We are licensed to offer the channels as the aircraft transitions from region to region,” says Scheer, adding that Panasonic will be defining a single encryption format across the network.

TV service “will be available anywhere eXConnect will be available”.

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