Aircell Rebrands as Gogo and Launches Free In-Flight Portal
This year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the in-flight movie, first introduced on regularly scheduled TWA flights in 1961 using 16 mm projectors. Yesterday, in-flight Wi-Fi provider Gogo unveiled its new multimedia platform, which portends the next generation of in-flight entertainment systems.
To mark its evolution from an internet provider to an in-flight entertainment brand, the company has officially changed its name to Gogo. It will continue to use its former name, Aircell, in reference to its business aviation group.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the death knell of embedded IFE, but let’s say this: in twenty years, IFE will have completely migrated to personal devices,” said Michael Small, Gogo president and CEO, at a July 14 press conference at Gogo’s Chicago headquarters.
The new platform, which was presented to journalists in mock-up form at the press conference, expands Gogo’s current in-air portal into a Yahoo-style entertainment portal offering online shopping, destination services, flight tracking, and news and information. The page also includes a customizable “canvas” for each airline to display its own content and services. While social networking services were not a part of the mock-up, they will, according to executives, be a crucial element in the final page. These and other services will be free to users, although they will have to pay for Wi-Fi connectivity to surf the Web freely.
The new portal will make its in-air debut on Delta Airlines flights beginning in the fourth quarter of 2011.
The new portal integrates with Gogo’s video service, currently in beta testing, which will allow travelers to rent movies and TV shows and should be available in the fall on American Airlines. Executives said they are testing different pricing for the video streaming service.
Gogo’s entrance into the in-flight entertainment arena comes as some airlines are gradually phasing out their embedded IFE options, typified by seat-back screens. US Airways has yanked in-flight movies completely from US domestic flights, citing the costs of the systems including added fuel costs due to their weight. In June, American Airlines announced that it will replace 6,000 in-flight entertainment systems with Wi-Fi-enabled Samsung Galaxy Tablets in premium cabins on select transcontinental US flights.
According to Ash ElDifrawi, Gogo’s chief marketing officer, the advantages of transferring IFE from a centralized cabin system to personal devices are great for both the passengers and the airlines. “The platform will offer passengers an engaging – and customizable – travel experience; it will allow the airlines to customize in-air, online experiences to reflect their brand and will cost them less than traditional IFE,” ElDifrawi said.
But Gogo’s plans face a potentially serious obstacle. The service’s relatively low bandwidth currently keeps users from streaming video while in the air. Gogo’s video service gets around that problem by storing the content in an in-flight library on the plane’s server. Even so, it is an open question whether all passengers on board the plane can simultaneously stream videos from the in-flight library.
Asked about this at the press conference, Small said: “It will take some additional technical work over time, but we see the ability to do the full plane.”