Michael Freedman is Executive Producer and Trudy Storey is Program Manager for Qantas Inflight Entertainment.
Disclosure: Qantas is a client of Spafax, the company that publishes Sparksheet.
In some ways, airlines are more than companies; they’re also ambassadors for their country of origin. What is uniquely Australian about Qantas’ inflight experience?
Qantas takes its ambassadorial role very seriously. Australians have a reputation for being open, friendly, honest and irreverent and we try to embody those uniquely Australian characteristics in our programming and design.
Our demographics are almost 50/50 Australian and non-Australian passengers so we try to program from an Australian perspective for an international audience.
One of the defining values of contemporary Australia is its tolerance and liberal attitudes. This means that we can be rather more adventurous in our programming choice. We are often among the few and sometimes the only airline to book particular mainscreen movies and we have a strict policy of playing PTV movies only in theatrical version.
We also have a TV channel called The Edge, which is designed to show challenging and thought-provoking programs that are on the edge of ideas, art, politics and social mores.
Being a small English-speaking country with a multicultural population we are well placed to select diverse programming from around the world. We are less hindered by tradition or history.
Australia itself has a very strong movie, television and music industry and we try to program roughly 30 percent Australian content in all our entertainment categories.
Airline passengers are a diverse lot. How do you ensure that Q’s content and design work across linguistic, cultural, age and gender divides?
We focus primarily on our Australian-based adult customers as they represent over 50 percent of our passengers on international flights and over 90 percent on domestic flights.
That said, our non-Australian customers and children are important too and our approach is to make everything we do simple, clear, intuitive and easy to understand irrespective of language, age and background. Our design brief is to develop navigation that doesn’t require language.
For children, our A380 IFE has a “Kids Only” GUI which gives young children access to G-rated content in a simple, child-friendly way.
We don’t think too hard about the gender divide. Our philosophy is that quality programming and content will cross gender preferences.
At Sparksheet we’re sort of obsessed with the idea that people in transit have very unique needs, habits and preferences. How do you take this into account when selecting movies, games and other content for Q?
At Qantas we share that obsession. We see ourselves as primarily offering “mood-altering” entertainment as people in transit are generally looking for a change of mood. How to achieve that is the hard part. Light entertainment has traditionally been the drug of choice and we ensure that there is no shortage of that.
However, as flying becomes more comfortable and IFE systems more flexible and controllable we believe passengers will increasingly look for richer, more engaging and challenging entertainment options.
All airlines have access to similar content and games so we put effort into the categories and styles of entertainment we offer, particularly with TV, and do a great deal of research in sourcing programs to fit those categories. We like to think of ourselves as the tailors of entertainment.
How do you take into account the unique Transumer mind frame in the design and navigation of Q?
The complexity of international travel means that mind frame for most passengers when it comes to entertainment is simplicity and ease of use.
I think the ever-growing range of GUI options and enhancements on offer is a two-edged sword. Every additional piece of functionality potentially carries with it additional complexity for the user.
We evaluate every idea for the value/complexity trade-off and try to ensure that the value always outweighs the increase in complexity.
Do you have any plans to introduce inflight Wi-Fi or do you think passengers view flying as an opportunity to “switch off”?
Qantas is considering Wi-Fi as well as other forms of inflight connectivity.
Our long-haul routes and vast ocean flight paths make satellite coverage even more complex than for other airlines but it is something that we need to continue to develop.
We see connectivity as complementary to our traditional entertainment offering. Those who prefer to “switch-off'” and stay unconnected will always be able to do that on board Qantas flights.
What opportunities are there for partnerships and branded content on Q? Are passengers willing to sit through pre-roll commercials, sponsored programming or other promotional material if it’s compelling and relevant to them?
We run advertising and promotions across our domestic and international programming but there needs to be a balance. Passengers are savvy media consumers and if there’s too much advertising – on the ground or in the air – they will switch off.
We offer branded content for children’s programming but otherwise we tend to keep our TV “clean”. On our eX2 platform we have branded third-party applications from Lonely Planet (an Australian company) and Deloitte. Our video news service is provided by and branded from the Nine Network and Text News by Nine MSN.
While Qantas is committed to providing customers with curated content, other airlines are focusing on syncing their inflight systems with personal devices like laptops or iPads. Why not simply invest in connectivity and compatibility and let passengers bring aboard their own entertainment?
Qantas is a premium airline and the full suite of in-seat entertainment will always be part of our inflight offering. We are happy to enable passengers who want to bring their own devices and programs. We offer in-seat power and will soon introduce USB connectivity into the IFE system.
What’s the next frontier in inflight entertainment?
Live TV. Broadband connectivity. Digital newspapers and magazines.