Panasonic Avionics recently obtained international in-flight rights to Sport 24 and Sport 24 Extra, channels owned by global entertainment company IMG. Airlines that sign up can offer customers a wide variety of live sports content which, according to Richard Wise, SVP at IMG Media, has a “wow” factor that can’t easily be matched.
Picture this: a cabin full of passengers experiencing the exhilarating highs and lows of a live football championship. Whether it’s American or British football being watched is irrelevant, as IMG has broadcast both the Super Bowl and the World Cup Final to fans in the sky. Richard Wise, SVP at IMG Media, believes such content provides a unique addition to an airline’s in-flight entertainment (IFE) offering. “Anecdotally, we know that people book their flights to ensure they can still watch their teams and sport’s biggest events, live,” he said. “Live sports still has a ‘wow’ factor and you feel that you’re not missing out if you can enjoy a game while in the air.”
The numbers seem to support that argument. According to a 2019 BBC Global News survey, 62% of travelers are more likely to choose an airline if live TV is available. And in an era when on-demand, non-linear content is king, live sports remain an exception to the rule. In 2014, Panasonic Avionics reported that 90% of all viewing hours in-flight were spent watching Sport 24. A few years later, American Airlines reported that take rates for the IMG broadcast of the 2018 World Cup reached 50%.
IMG launched Sport 24 with Panasonic in March 2012 after two years of development talks; the channel was initially made available to a limited number of Gulf Air jets. Trust and commitment are typically by-products of multi-year relationships like the one between IMG and Panasonic. As a result, both parties did not flinch when the coronavirus pandemic hit, choosing instead to extend and expand their partnership. “Despite knowing this was going to be tricky period for the airline industry, both parties were totally committed to getting this deal renewed,” said Wise. The arrangement, which allows Panasonic to market Sport 24 to any connected airline rather than just those with Panasonic systems, is expected to bring Sport 24 to millions more passengers in the years ahead.
It was literally game over during the early days of the pandemic, when sports leagues around the world canceled games and IMG had no live content to show. “We maintained a full service throughout this time with coverage of some of the best sporting highlights from our archive, which still proved popular with passengers.” But Wise conceded that there is no substitute for live sport, which was “eagerly welcomed back.” Passengers in all cabin classes receive Sport 24 channels for free on equipped aircraft, and Wise notes that they can still expect the very best content. IMG used the pandemic downtime to negotiate in-flight media rights deals with sports federations. It is now the exclusive in-flight distributor of the UEFA Champions League, Premier League, NFL, NBA, NHL, Tennis Grand Slams, Golf Majors and the Ryder Cup, the NRL and more. Excitingly, travelers flying during this summer’s Olympics can follow proceedings live at 30,000 feet too.