APEX in Profile: Peter Nissen

Peter Nissen, President of Gotham Studios, with his dog Goji

Image: Peter Nissen

Peter Nissen
Gotham Studios

Fast Facts:
Now reading: Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, Douglas R. Hofstadter
Now listening to: Tank and the Bangas
Favorite aircraft: Douglas DC-3
Passport stamp you wish you had: Seychelles
The future of flight will be: Geo-triggered

Peter is an Emmy-winning TV producer with three decades at networks and shows, including Today, National Geographic, E!, History Channel and Pee-wee’s Playhouse. He’s a dad, Broadway actor, a cappella singer, dog owner, Yale grad, software engineer and inventor. Peter married an Eastman-educated composer who’s now also his patent attorney. His company makes the GojiBox in-flight entertainment server.

When and how did you get involved with in-flight entertainment (IFE)?
About a dozen years ago, I was flying back and forth between the coasts a lot. I love the window seat, and I’m always wondering what that is down there – that city, that river, that mountain. And it struck me, as a professional storyteller: What if every time you passed a place, you could hear a story about it? Surely, every place has a story to tell.

So, with my writers and producers, and some outside engineers, we started to develop GeoRadio. Our goal was to cover the map with audio – to turn the landscape into a soundscape. And as we listened to our first tests, we were excited: This seemed so immediate – it connected us to the world as we had never felt before. We started calling it “geotainment,” and brought it to the airline industry. It wasn’t until this year that we decided that in addition to software, we needed to make hardware: the GojiBox IFE server.

“What if every time you passed a place, you could hear a story about it? Surely, every place has a story to tell.”

The portable wireless IFE business is becoming ever more competitive. What makes your product different from other solutions out there?
We have two buttons that no one else has: GeoRadio and geo-triggered points of interest. In 2007, we invented geotainment – that’s audio, photos and video that appear according to your location. And thanks to our substantial patent protection, we will remain the only mapmaker with this unique offering.

Once you realize that the map itself can be a source of ongoing entertainment, why would you want one without it? I think this approach comes from the fact that we are entertainers first, who hired engineers. Where other shops might have rooms full of coders, we have rooms full of writers, audio editors, music editors and photo editors, as well as the engineers. Here, creative ideas, both technical and aesthetic, are always percolating.

How can GojiBox help airlines generate ancillary revenue?
It’s a fact that the moving map is the number one most-viewed item on an airplane – more than movies, more than magazines. That makes it a powerfully desirable platform for advertisers. If ads were directly on the map, they would have a huge viewership, and brands would probably pay out the nose for the opportunity. But have airlines offered up that real estate to advertisers? Not so much. I’d guess it’s probably because it might appear crass (“Don’t clutter my information-only map with ads.”). But now, enter Goji.

Our map has entertainment embedded right into it, both visual – a pageant of points of interest – and aural – geo-triggered radio shows. Within an entertainment environment, people are used to the occasional banner ad over a photo, or a 15-second audio spot or sponsorship of a point of interest (“The state of Minnesota is brought to you by Land O’Lakes.”) or a whole route (“This trip to Paris is brought to you by Chanel.”).

How did you come up with the name “Goji”?
A few years back, my wife and I were at a café in Alexandria, Virginia, with, as usual, our miniature wirehaired dachshund resting by our feet. About two drinks in, we started talking big ideas. We had a problem: A client wanted visual points of interest, not audio, but our product’s name – GeoRadio – didn’t fit. What should our new name be? Perhaps an evocative, inclusive word, not too specific, or a nonsense-sounding name that sounds friendly. I looked down at the dog. “What do you think, Goji?”

“APEX in Profile: Peter Nissen” was originally published in the 8.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.