Image: Marcelo Cáceres

APEX Insight: As more airlines bring live television on board, isolation from breaking news stories is becoming more of a rarity – and viewership numbers are rising to unprecedented levels. Panasonic Avionics shares the most-viewed news stories in flight in 2016.

It used to be that boarding a flight meant you’d be disconnected from breaking news stories as the world turned below you. A lot can change in the span of a flight: This year, for example, a British woman landed to discover that her country was no longer part of the European Union, Americans disembarked to learn Trump had been elected president and, more tragically, holidaymakers arrived in Berlin to learn of a devastating terror attack. But as airlines bring live television on board, disconnection from world events is becoming more of a rarity – and viewership numbers are spiking.

“Now passengers can watch news in flight as anyone on the ground is seeing it,” says David Bruner, vice-president of Global Communications Services for Panasonic Avionics. The company’s eXTV global television service delivers live programming to 11 airlines, including Emirates, Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa, over its eXConnect Ku-band satellite communications service. In addition to channels from global news networks such as BBC World News, CNN International and Al Jazeera, the network also includes two live sports channels, Sport 24 and Sport 24 Extra, through its exclusive partnership with IMG Media.

According to Bruner, this year, in-flight news viewership went up in unprecedented numbers. From May to June, news events such as the Brexit vote, the Orlando nightclub shooting and the terrorist attack at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul contributed to a doubling in the number of viewers, compared with the preceding period. Audience size continued to grow through to October and November, when the US presidential election led to another jump in viewers.

“What we’re seeing now is sustained news viewing.” — David Bruner, Panasonic Avionics

Passengers also dwelled on news channels longer. “This was so different from last year, where we’d see a lot of people pop into the news channels, stay 20 minutes or even less, and then go watch sports,” says Bruner. “What we’re seeing now is sustained news viewing.”

Bruner partially credits more awareness of live in-flight television with contributing to its mounting popularity, but also points to a general consensus that 2016 was a very bad year. As early as July, publishers such as The Telegraph and Slate were already asking, “Is 2016 one of the worst years in history?” citing Brexit, the spread of the Zika virus and terrorism among the evidence. Based on correlations between viewership numbers and minutes allotted to story coverage, Bruner says that 2016’s top in-flight news stories included the Brussels Airport attack, conflict in Syria, the coup attempt in Turkey, the massacre in Nice and the US presidential campaign.


On the ground in the United States, cable news enjoyed its first ratings bump in the past three years. Pew Research Center’s analysis of Nielsen Media Research data shows that the prime-time uptick was largely thanks to CNN, which saw a 38-percent rise in viewership between January and June. In November, Fox News Channel surpassed CNN and MSNBC’s combined total viewership numbers, earning its best month in ratings since 2012.

In flight, Bruner thinks the popularity of live news will continue to grow, driven by the demand for local news channels. Last week Panasonic announced that it would uniquely provide its customer Turkish Airlines with TRT World Turkish News Channel, a channel from Turkey’s national public broadcaster. Improved economics, new satellite capacity and new modem and compression technology will allow Panasonic to offer more localized services such as these, along with more channels, says Bruner.

Top In-Flight News Stories of 2016:

Brussels Airport Bombings

On March 22, three coordinated suicide bombings, two at Brussels Airport and one in a metro station, left 32 dead and more than 300 injured. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attacks.

War in Syria

The ongoing civil war in Syria, which has drawn in the participation of major global powers, has led to a death toll of more than 450,000 people, including 50,000 children, and has led to a worldwide refugee crisis.

Terror Attack in Nice

During France’s national celebration, a terrorist ploughed a 19 tonne cargo truck into crowds along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, killing 86 and injuring more than 400.

Turkish Coup Attempt

More than 300 people were killed in Turkey and more than 2,100 injured as a result of an attempted coup of state institutions on July 15.

US Presidential Campaign

Observers have called the 2016 United States presidential election, which saw Republican Donald Trump elected on November 8, one of the most contentions in national history.

Katie is a writer for APEX Media, based in Toronto, Ontario.