APEX TECH 2024: Day Two Content Panel Sessions, in Brief


All photos: Adam Robertson

The second day of APEX TECH 2024 at the Sheraton Gateway in Los Angeles included three panel discussions centering on in-flight entertainment content. Topics included “AI-assisted Smart Metadata in the Content Delivery Supply Chain” along with Edge Caching and “Optimizing Passenger Journeys with Data.” Below is a round-up of the main points from each of the sessions. 

AI-Assisted” Smart Metadata in the Content Delivery Supply Chain

Pictured (left to right): Andre Valera, VP Business Development at TOUCH; Sam Allen, Managing Director at Stellar Entertainment; Juraj Siska, Co-Founder at IdeaNova Technologies, Inc.; Michael Valdez, Manager of Strategic and Quality Initiatives at Panasonic Avionics Corporation; Hollie Choi, Managing Director at EIDR; and Rob Delf, CEO at FabricData

This panel discussion focused on which roles artificial intelligence (AI) can realistically take on within the content delivery supply chain and explored existing barriers to enhancing efficiencies, whether AI-related or not.

Panasonic Avionics’ Michael Valdez revealed the company is looking at rolling out a premium feature as part of its Metadata Management Application (MMA) for content service providers (CSPs) wherein an API would allow CSPs to provide an EIDR value for a piece of content, for example, and then automatically fetch the associated metadata. The goal would be to reduce manual Excel or .CSV uploads, with Valdez estimating it would increase efficiency by around three times.

“Airlines have different programs and these can each provide technical constraints on images and capacity. Through this API, we can predict the system’s capabilities [depending on the airline], so we can automatically truncate the synopsis with an ellipsis, or have AI generate a custom synopsis based on what’s pulled from metadata providers,” Michael explained.

FabricData CEO and panel moderator Rob Delf said that he’s heard examples of manual metadata preparations taking 45 minutes per title, so he agreed the feature had huge potential. Andre Valera also saw the value in it, citing a Nielsen study claiming there were 800,000 individual titles available in the US alone, an amount which is “impossible to curate,” but that AI can help with.

“[When it comes to AI], the risk tolerance [of the airline industry] needs to be discussed”

Andre Valera, TOUCH

The issue in creating features like this is the lack of standardization in terms of content identification and the use of platforms like EIDR. Hollie Choi, EIDR’s Managing Director, said that one antidote to this is the fact that “[CSPs] don’t have to wait for a content creator to register something,” and can do it themselves. In relation to this, she mentioned the registry is already using AI to help with deduplication so that there’s one listing for all possible edits.

In terms of its own strategy to grow the number of parties using EIDR, Choi said it “is working with data aggregators in different territories, and is tackling networks language by language to get most data into the registry.” It is buoyed up by the fact that uptake is growing outside of the US, with ITV and the BBC having joined last year, as well as networks in South America and South Korea.

Interestingly, Choi noted standardization is an issue that affects studios, as well as airlines, which is something studios are becoming aware of now they are merging and having to merge their data models. She said this is especially the case in terms of genre categorization. Valdez was buoyed by this, saying that an eventual goal would be to be able to “dynamically change what’s not being watched onboard and replace it with something else [in the same genre], for example if no-one is watching Superman then to automatically switch it for Wonderwoman.

In terms of AI’s use when it comes to things like translations, where Stellar Entertainment’s Managing Director Sam Allen says “cultural sensitivities don’t move over,” and even sourcing metadata, the panel agreed the number one issue is data quality, with Valera opining “that the risk tolerance needs to be discussed.” He highlighted that while the data is there, CSPs and OEMs have to comply with service level agreements, so the quality check (QC) process, and the human touch, will remain strong for the foreseeable future.

The Integration of IFE & C: Edge Caching in the Content Delivery Supply Chain

Pictured (left to right): Esdra Lamy, SVP at Warner Bros. Discovery; Estibaliz Asiain, SVP Media & Content at Anuvu; Sigfried Luft, Co-Founder & CEO at Netskrt; Jeremy Desmauts, Director of Sales & Engineering in North America, Broadpeak; Jim Nelson, CEO at Siden; and Phil Watson, Chief Systems Engineer at Panasonic Avionics Corporation

Panelists during this session agreed that with a storage capacity of one to two terabytes, airlines could use edge caching to provide a very compelling user experience, with fast startup times and no buffering on streaming content, but identified possible issues with licensing and the implications of moving away from airlines having control over IFE content – both in terms of entertainment and advertising – in favor of providing content directly from OTT suppliers via in-flight connectivity.

In practical terms, Siegfried Luft, Co-Founder and CEO at NetSkrt, used his company’s work in the UK rail market as an indicator of what could be achieved and how. “COVID was interesting because on trains, which used to block all video traffic, when passenger levels dropped to 10%, they allowed streaming and it worked,” he explained. “So, If we can shave off 90% [of streaming with the cache], then we can support that 10% and it’s a good compliment to the [other uses of] connectivity.” In the rail market, Luft said NetSkrt is achieving a 92-94% cache hit rate. 

Finally, he revealed that NetSkrt is working together with Thales and an OTT provider and will have an announcement in this space later this year. 

In terms of what to cache when it comes to OTT content, Jeremy Desmauts, Director of Sales and Engineering in North America at Broadpeak, highlighted that just 20% of titles from a subscription service would potentially take up too much room. In response, Jim Nelson, CEO at Siden, said it is easy to predict what people will watch and stick to that. “We worked with an Asian content provider with a 10,000-strong title catalog, but just 17 of those titles accounted for 90% of streaming content,” he said. “When they released new episodes [of those titles] we [refreshed the cache] over the LTE network because we knew that’s what people were watching.” 

“We worked with an Asian content provider with a 10,000-strong title catalog, but just 17 of those titles accounted for 90% of streaming content”

Jim Nelson, Siden

Desmauts emphasized that cache hit rates are always higher for live TV content, and that enabling the caching of live sports events, like the SuperBowl for example, just requires extra software. At this point, moderator and Chief Systems Engineer at Panasonic Avionics Phil Watson highlighted that you could stream the SuperBowl on the ground if you had a Paramount+ subscription, so if an airline has partnered with Paramount+ on streaming in-flight, the cache would be an incredibly useful thing in that scenario.

Estibaliz Asiain, SVP Media & Content at Anuvu, raised some issues with defaulting to streaming OTT content. “In large territories like the US, the rights issue isn’t so big, but this is complicated in Europe, where you have different release dates in different countries. There are also cultural sensitivities to consider, and things like airline accidents [that wouldn’t be removed], we need to think about that.”

“Rights are the billion dollar question,” added Esdra Lamy, SVP Warner Bros. Discovery. He also said that the “curation” element of the IFE business – “narrowing thousands of titles down to 20 titles,” – will never go away. “Passengers want to discover.”

Asiain and Lamy posited the benefits of dedicated OTT-branded IFE channels, of which Lamy said HBO had 26 at one point. They believe this partnership could be complemented by edge caching, which would allow passengers to stream more content from the airline’s OTT partner to their own devices. For rights purposes, Asian noted “not all airlines will be able to work with all streaming channels.”

From Data to Destination: Optimizing Passenger Journeys with Environmental, Personal, and Behavioral Insight

Pictured (left to right): Vincent Campana, Chief Revenue Officer for Crew & Passenger at HRS Group; Kate Groth, President at West Entertainment; Richard Kroon, Director of Technical Operations at EIDR; Paul Colley, CTO at Spafax; Benny Retnamony, Founder & CEO at Neuron; and Haley Meidell, Principle Analyst at zeroG

The final panel session of the day, moderated by Principal Analyst at zeroG Haley Meidell, looked at how airlines and suppliers can harness data to improve the passenger experience. Each of the panelists agreed this was a central focus moving forward, but pointed out various challenges in making use of the reams of readily available passenger data airlines already have at their fingertips. 

From an IFE perspective, “There’s no shortage of data, it’s getting the data [that’s the issue],” explained Paul Colley, CTO at Spafax. “I would love to see the data coming off aircraft about what passengers watch in-flight be a first-class requirement from airlines.” Paul said that “data isn’t used to procure content,” and instead content “is bought and licensed on predictive methods,” which is something that needs to change. “At the moment there’s no straight line delivered between what’s being watched on the plane versus what somebody is paying for it.”

Taking the discussion one level further, Meidell commented, “ I think there’s also the question of what data exactly we’re collecting, because we’ve talked a lot about what people watch, but there is some really interesting behavioral data you see, for instance, like the browsing journey. Arguably very important is  what you didn’t choose on your way to choose the things that you did.”

Colley responded, “Yes, the negative is often just as critical as the positive. In certain configurations and systems, we can see if someone goes into the details page of a TV show and then double clicks to play, for example. And there were some interesting habits we saw around people quite often going into TV and not watching it, but when they’re going to a movie’s details, there’s a much better conversion rate.”

“At the moment there’s no straight line delivered between what’s being watched on the plane versus what somebody is paying for it”

Paul Colley, Spafax

But to work on a large scale, Director of Technical Operations at EID RRichard Kroon said the data needs to be standardized, because otherwise analyzing it can’t be automated and will only create more work for people like content service providers. 

For Founder & CEO of Neuron Benny Retnamony, the data is only so useful on its own. “We focus more on the digital experience, but what we see is silos. So there’s the entertainment silo, then there’s a connectivity silo, then there’s a whole app team and silo. What happens if a passenger comes onboard, tries to sync his phone with the seatback screen and it fails? You’re not aware of it. When it comes to experience, monitoring and management, there is a data silo problem to be solved. I think that will help airlines understand what passengers really want and unlock a whole new set of use cases.”

For Kate Groth, President at West Entertainment, the marrying up of different data points would really help to personalize the passenger journey, but acknowledged, “that gets tricky because airlines are very, very protective over their frequent flyer details.” By bringing these bits of information together, Groth said it would be “very easy to predict tastes really quite accurately across different domains, whether that’s travel, hotels, music, etc.” and therein airlines could “serve the right, meaningful ads to people at the right time, whether it’s for duty free sales or attractions at an upcoming destination.”

Vinny Campana, Chief Revenue Officer for Crew & Passenger at HRS Group, took a step back from the smaller details and said, “Technology scares people. Change management is the biggest barrier in the industry. Even if technology can take away friction, people don’t want to upset the apple cart.” He implored the aviation industry to accept and embrace change for fear it may become “a dinosaur.”

Find out what happened during Day One of APEX TECH 2024.