Iain Kemplay

Image: Greg Verville

In a conversation last week at APEX TECH in Los Angeles, music licensing expert Iain Kemplay highlighted many reasons why travelers might be avoiding in-flight audio. But his proposal to resolve them proved the most surprising part of the session.

The commonly accepted industry take rate for airline-provided audio during a flight is around 10% according to Iain Kemplay, a London-based consultant and music licensing expert. Kemplay rattled off a list of challenges the industry faces, from rights management and licensing costs to the dated GUI experiences most in-flight entertainment systems deploy for audio collections. Indeed, the broader (and theoretically better) the music options, become the more cumbersome the interface experience is. Even the low quality, disposable headphones made the list. Getting the newest music on to planes is also difficult, owing to technical, physical and licensing challenges. As Kemplay noted, “It is old music by the time it gets anywhere near an aircraft.”

To address these problems, Kemplay suggested bypassing the in-flight entertainment systems completely. “It makes me wonder if there’s not a better way to deliver music in flight which doesn’t involve using the existing systems and capability. Airlines should be delivering music directly to the passenger’s smartphone,” he said. Similar to the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model some airlines and IFE suppliers are pursuing for streaming video content, the audio selections could be streamed on a personal device. Assuming the solution is embedded in an airline app, this could also extend the consumption window for users. Getting access to the audio from when you check in for a flight, rather than only while on board, makes the airline a more integral part of the entire travel experience. Touching more points on that extended travel ribbon is a goal many airlines are pursuing and this is one way to get there.

“Airlines should be delivering music directly to the passenger’s smartphone.” – Iain Kemplay

Just as there are companies working to deliver streaming video solutions in flight, so are there vendors trying to help the in-flight audio market recover from its slide. The InProdicon Air offering, for example, can deliver a fully licensed white-label solution for airlines to integrate into their app. Much like Kemplay describes, the solution can be available on the ground or in the sky, with content cached in advance through a user’s data connection or a subset of the collection stored in an on-board server. Airlines can curate content and playlists or let passengers browse the collection freely. There’s even an ancillary revenue option if the traveler wants to upgrade the account to retain access to the collection on a subscription basis rather than only when flying.

In many ways this is technology racing ahead, moving much faster than the music licensing and content companies are comfortable with. But some vendors are already helping to bridge the gap between airlines, content providers, record labels and consumers. How the industry adjusts in the next few years will determine the future for in-flight audio tracks over the long term.

Read more coverage from APEX TECH January 2020.