Blizzard’s annual fan convention, BlizzCon, took place this past weekend in Anaheim. All images via Blizzard

Signal Lamp Entertainment made waves at BlizzCon 2018, introducing members of the commercial aviation industry to the world of e-sports, online gaming and their growing tribe of loyal followers.

Blizzard Entertainment loyalists know all too well the value of a timely alliance: In Battle for Azeroth, they venture to distant lands to recruit new allies; in Overwatch, they combine characters’ unique abilities to devise failsafe defense strategies; and at BlizzCon, they join (on-site or via an online stream) by the millions – 12 million, to be exact – to share in two intense days of spectatorship, community art and all out geekery.

This year’s BlizzCon saw the arrival of another such pairing, between Blizzard Entertainment and newly formed Signal Lamp Entertainment (SLE), an offshoot of two-year-old private equity investment firm Signal Lamp Partners (the brainchild of David Villarreal and Jerry Dietrick). Together, SLE and Blizzard aim to bring “epic” content experiences to the skies – something they are confident will be achieved by January 2019.

At the helm of SLE is Neil James, the company’s chief commercial officer, who, having worked in the in-flight entertainment (IFE) industry for 25 years, claims it’s ripe for change. “The way the industry has traditionally been doing things is having a load of hammers running around looking for nails. They’re trying to solve technical problems, only to find out their solutions don’t make any business sense.”

SLE’s strategy is to start with the desired outcome – in this case, connecting airlines to Blizzard’s stalwart millennial fan base – and then proceed to remove the barriers that usually arise in the industry. It helps, too, that SLE, through its technology arm North Coast Technologies, claims to have already solved some of the IFE industry’s major challenges: an overly complex supply chain leading to protracted lead times and the struggle to deliver monetization.

“We’ve saved money in the supply chain so that airlines can choose to spend more on better experiences.” — Neil James, SLE

Drawing on Signal Lamp’s prior investments in the medical content field, North Coast Technologies has created Seven Seas, a solution that James says can move content from origin to end user in minutes, with auto encoding, real-time content selection and near instantaneous uploads. “We’ve taken a bunch of the non-value-added technology costs out and saved money in the supply chain so that airlines can choose to spend more of that on better experiences,” he says.

Blizzcon 2018With the addition of its agnostic ad-serving solution Ad Republic, SLE claims packaging that content with advertising, brand sponsorships and other e-commerce opportunities will be seamless. “We don’t want this to be a situation where the airline says to be able to have Blizzard content, I need to jettison something else because my budget is set. We want to be able to say, ‘We can save you money on the technology side and we can help you get funding, too.’”

Such pragmatism is what attracted Blizzard to SLE in the first place, after having surveyed the airline space for some years. “Back in 2016, we started going down the path with a major IFEC player, but we realized how complicated it was, and thought, ‘We just can’t do this,’” Marc Dion, business development manager, explains. “Fast forward two years, and we got in touch with David [Villarreal] who made it very clear that their goal was to understand where we wanted to be and make sure they could fit perfectly with that because the truth is we needed hand holding. We have great content, but we needed somebody to take us from soup to nuts with a turnkey solution.”

What these in-flight Blizzard experiences will look like is still anyone’s guess, but SLE says the possibilities range from Blizzard-themed aircraft liveries and safety videos, to a multilayered content ecosystem including everything from cinematic shorts, live streams of eSport events, pro-gamer and developer profiles and even access to a game like Hearthstone Fireside Gathering.

“We have great content, but we needed somebody to take us from soup to nuts with a turnkey solution.” — Marc Dion, Blizzard Entertainment

SLE’s proposition to rejig the supply chain, in step with technological advancements and an eye to adjacent industries, may indeed be disruptive, but James and Villarreal insist they want to work in concert with the existing supply chain – and they seem to actually mean it. They hosted close to a dozen CSPs, hardware and software suppliers, connectivity providers and airlines at BlizzCon this past weekend, giving them a behind-the-scenes look at the gaming community, which, according to Newzoo, comprises more than 2.3 billion active members generating an estimated $137.9 billion in 2018.

“The content service providers were skeptical and the IFEC providers were a little bit reticent,” James says. “But everyone left the show saying, ‘Right, so on Monday, let’s go talk to that airline. Let’s just get this done,’” suggesting that the industry may be tuning into the power and pull of eSports and game-related content among the millennial cohort.

“Gaming and eSports, as forms of entertainment, already have a seat at the table, but over the next five to 10 years that voice will only get stronger,” Villarreal says. Dion and James nod in agreement, the latter adding, “People will be looking forward to World of Warcraft ads, not Super Bowl ads – and they’ll be watching them in flight.”


*Stay tuned for more on the rise of gaming as a spectator sport, gamer demographics and how airlines can get in on the action in issue 9.1 of APEX Experience magazine.