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Get ready for more in-flight fun

June 15, 2006 13:08 IST
It was Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher Airlines that set the trend. A year ago, in-flight entertainment or IFE as the more tech-savvy ones like to call it, was the exclusive domain of international carriers.

But then came Kingfisher Airlines that decided to give the high-flying Indian population a taste of some affordable indulgence and introduced them to in-flight entertainment.

Says Girish Shah, marketing head, Kingfisher Airlines: "IFE is good value addition for our customers. We were already providing good service, with IFE we have raised the bar a notch higher."

So what's in store once you board the flight? Five video channels, 10 radio channels and an interactive map that traces the course of your flight. All this served on individual screens mounted on the back of the seat in font of you in the airline's economy class.

First class has a little more: the more being English and Hindi movies and video games with a multi-player gaming option.

The screens in the first class are swankier too - 8.4 inches LCD swivel screens with stereo headphones are fitted on the hand rest of each first class seat to provide the complete audio-visual experience.

And the best part is that these "frills" come for a ticket that's priced at a "slight" premium to what the other airlines charge.

The airline on its part claims that IFE doesn't really cost too much. Says Shah, "The installation cost is less than 5 per cent of the aircraft acquisition cost and our annual outflow for content is around Rs 10-20 lakh."

The airline has an exclusive tie-up with Matrix Publicities and Media India to take care of its in-flight entertainment and marketing needs. Matrix, in turn sources content from NDTV, Ten Sports, Hungama TV and StarOne.

Hollywood movies are sourced from Buena Vista, while Hindi films come from producers who have procured the required rights to screen films on air. The music played on Kingfisher Radio is sourced from Banyan Tree by Matrix.

Says Rajiv Beri, GM, content and entertainment, Matrix Publicities: "The tie-ups are generally valid for a year and some are barter deals - for example, the content providers are given tickets in exchange for the content that they provide."

The airline gets feedback on its IFE through its "good times monitor" - its feedback form - and changes the video content every week and the audio content every 15 days.

Though Kingfisher Airlines looks set to benefit from its first mover advantage in IFE, it's not that its competitors are light years behind. Jet Airways doesn't provide IFE on its domestic flights yet, but plans to start doing so in the next three to four months.

For now, its six aircraft that fly to London, Singapore and Malaysia do sport a state-of-the-art IFE. The fare includes Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi and English films, sports features, business shows, children's programmes and even sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond.

All the seats in the three Airbus A340-300E aircraft are fitted with a Panasonic 3000i AVOD (audio video on demand) entertainment systems.

All first class seats in the three Boeing B737-800s have a PEA (personal entertainment appliance), a handheld device that delivers audio and video on demand.

The economy class in the Boeings has dropdown screens that provide route-specific entertainment that changes depending on the direction of travel.

The airline has been sourcing international content from Germany-based Atlas Air and Indian content from Fair Deal for a little over a year.

Meanwhile, the old lady in the Indian skies, Indian Airlines, plans to install IFE on the new aircraft that it's acquiring from Airbus though the first aircraft that is due to arrive in November, will not come equipped with IFE.

But it's hoping that IFE will be installed in all its aircraft by 2007. V Trivedi, CMD, Indian Airlines says the "new aircraft will be fitted with the latest in-flight entertainment system. We are also looking to provide satellite TV on board."

How's the entertainment industry looking at this new source to showcase its output? Savio D'Souza, general secretary, Indian Music Industry says: "The industry is still in the nascent stages and only one airline is providing IFE as of yet. So it will be another three to four years before we can look at IFE as a revenue source."

Drawing an analogy with the mobile market, he adds, "Though videos are available on mobile phones, only two per cent have the technology to use it. Similarly, airlines need to equip their planes with technology to provide IFE. So in a year's time, when new aircraft arrive, we should start looking at providing music to airlines in a big way."

So the next time you ask for cotton just to fade out the dull muzak playing on board, you can tell yourself that it's just a matter of time before all that will change. By the next World Cup, you may get to see some matches live!

Geetanjali Shukla in New Delhi