Cover Story: Will Netflix’s Personalized Content Artwork Be a Draw For Airlines?

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Image: Gabriel Ebensperger

Netflix uses an algorithm to offer up highly personalized content artwork to subscribers online. Could the concept take flight?

Anyone who’s ever binge watched all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls on Netflix and then found themselves inundated with suggestions for 1990s rom-com shows and movies about sisterhood and traveling pants can tell you that Netflix is keenly aware of what, when and for exactly how long subscribers view its content. Since 2017, the company has even had an algorithm that determines which content artwork individual users might find most appealing, and then switches up the image on their homepage accordingly.

Are airlines – many of which still struggle to leverage the wealth of passenger data – prepared to tackle this level of next-generation entertainment personalization? According to Massive Interactive’s chief creative officer, Derek Ellis, the answer is… almost. “The ability to turn this into reality in the airline space is wide open, and is almost within airlines’ grasp, with advances in connectivity and passenger perception,” says Ellis. “The benefit to passengers is huge, but needs to be carefully considered to ensure that what’s offered is relevant and targeted, and not just ‘noise’ like they experience in other digital channels.”

Jerry Thomas, director, Strategic Marketing, at Thales InFlyt Experience, seems to agree. “Netflix uses techniques like this to encourage people to consume more content on its platform, with the idea that the more they use the service, the more likely they are to keep paying for a subscription. Thales believes these techniques are also applicable to the in-flight entertainment (IFE) and connectivity space,” he says.

“The ability to turn this into reality in the airline space is wide open, and is almost within airlines’ grasp.” – Derek Ellis, Massive Interactive

Thales is currently developing new interfaces and recommendation engines that would allow passengers on the same plane to be presented with different content recommendations and artwork choices. Thomas adds that “to ensure the effectiveness of these recommendations, our InFlyt360 digital platform incorporates a dynamic test-and-learn environment, allowing the airline to compare many different recommendations and artworks across the fleet to determine which is most effective.”

According to Thomas, airlines have been receptive to these concepts, but some barriers remain. “A lot of data needs to be collected, analyzed and actioned, and IFE systems are not powerful enough to perform this service effectively on board,” he says, adding that a cloud-based platform would be more suitable.

“InFlyt360 digital platform incorporates a dynamic test-and-learn environment, allowing the airline to compare many different recommendations and artworks.” – Jerry Thomas, Thales InFlyt Experience

Ellis is quick to point out that personalizing IFE content artwork is just one aspect of the engagement equation in flight: “I believe there are more important things to tackle first, like offering strategies around content discovery. Personalization can always be layered on top as a value add to passengers once the basics are taken care of, but good content strategy and discovery form the foundation of any good IFE experience.”

Parallel Picture

Netflix personalizes the user experience by using a class of online learning algorithms known as contextual bandits, which essentially determine the strongest personalized artwork selection for a member based on their previous viewing choices and other variables like favorite genre and even actor. For example, horror and sci-fi fans who watch Stranger Things would be treated to much darker and scarier artwork than fans who tend to favor teen programming and might be drawn to a less sinister cover highlighting the show’s young cast.

“Cover Story” was originally published in the 9.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.

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