Will the Pandemic-Induced Comfort Content Trend Translate to the Skies?


The Goonies Reunion
The cast reunion of cult classic The Goonies on actor Josh Gad’s “Reunited Apart” YouTube series has garnered over 3 million views since it was published on April 27. Image via YouTube

With homebound viewers yearning for simpler times during lockdown, comfort content has made a huge comeback of late. Will the trend towards warmly familiar shows and films extend to the in-flight entertainment (IFE) space as well?

Classic reruns of SNL, The Dick Van Dyke Show and the return of CBS’s iconic Sunday Night Movie franchise (which aired everything from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Titanic to a Grease sing-a-long this past summer) have been filling prime-time network airwaves with retro-fueled nostalgia in recent months. Online, Zoom reunions with the homebound casts of Reagan-era hits like Back to the Future, Ferris Buellers Day Off and The Goonies have clocked 2 million-plus views a piece on YouTube.

“Retro and nostalgic content isn’t really a new trend. We have always tapped into [this kind of] content – ask any airline that has Friends or The Big Bang Theory on board how well it is performing,” said Andrea Whyte, director of Commercial Content Strategy at Spafax. “But I think during the pandemic it became about more than just easy viewing, it [became] true ‘comfort content,’ with people depending on the shows and movies they love to relieve their anxiety and distract them from the current situation. The cast reunions for fan favorites like Parks & Recreation and 30 Rock are tapping into this desire for connection and also offer content creators a new, virtual way to embrace their fans.”

While the data points to comedy and action films as the best IFE performers by genre, according to Whyte, when there is an outlier it is usually a title with nostalgic appeal. “I’ve seen Home Alone perform better than most new releases on one airline completely out of season in February,” Whyte said.

Airlines will likely run classic content to both maximize their IFE budgets and supplement a slimmed down new release slate coming from the studios in the short term, Whyte explained. But she also believes there will be a market for new content.

“I’ve seen Home Alone perform better than most new releases on one airline completely out of season in February.” – Andrea Whyte, Spafax

“So much has happened to the world in this past year, and not just the pandemic,” Whyte said. “There are so many new stories to be told. Content creators have had time to write and plan. Production companies have to think of new, innovative ways to film under new safety regulations. And more than ever there is a call for opening up the industry to diverse voices and finding ways to champion under-represented stories and creators.”

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