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Lack of Seatback Screens Not Stopping Airlines from Offering Inflight Entertainment

Wi-Fi services become a growing revenue stream and platform for airlines looking to offer entertainment to passengers

No seatback screens? No problem.

Dish Network has inked a unique deal with Southwest Airlines that will get the satellite TV service provider’s channels in front of the airline’s passengers for free for a limited time.

Southwest does not offer seatback screens on its flights and has instead been brokering deals with digital content providers for programming that can be easily accessed on mobile devices using its Wi-fi service on board more than 400 of its planes. Deal is the first time Southwest has offered live TV programming on its flights.

To do that, Southwest uses inflight Wi-Fi provider Row 44, a subsidiary of Global Eagle Entertainment, managed by former MGM topper Harry Sloan and Jeff Sagansky.

SEE ALSO: Harry Sloan, Jeff Sagansky Powering Up Inflight Business

The Dish deal will enable Southwest’s passengers to access live TV and up to 75 on-demand shows using their smartphones, tablets and laptop computers.

The live-TV lineup currently features Bravo, CNBC, FOX 5 New York (WNYW), Fox Business Network, Fox News Channel, Golf Channel, MLB.com (when games are available), MSNBC, NBC 4 (WNBC), NFL Network, Food Network, HGTV and Travel Channel.

But the free-TV offer will also enable Dish to promote its satellite service and DVRs to a group of captive customers with every Southwest flight.

Passengers need to use Dish’s apps on their devices to watch live TV programming.

To launch the effort, Dish’s “Boston Guys,” who have been promoting its Hopper DVR in commercials, surprised passengers aboard a Southwest flight from Boston to Baltimore with a free iPad 2 on behalf of the two companies. As part of the agreement, Dish is also offering 12,500 frequent flyer points for new customers that sign up for Dish’s Hopper Whole Home DVR and a qualified programming package.

Southwest began selling music, TV shows and movies through Apple’s iTunes store via website InAirtainment in 2011.

SEE ALSO: Southwest Takes to Skies with Inflight Entertainment

Global Eagle’s Row 44 first launched its live TV platform on Southwest last summer and the technology is now on over 425 aircraft, or about 75% of Southwest’s fleet. The design of the satellite network that supports the ‘TV Flies Free’ program, stems from an engineering and technology collaboration between Hughes Network Systems and Row 44.

The alliance with Southwest comes eight months after Sloan and Sagansky’s Global Eagle acquired two companies — U.S.-based broadband service Row 44 and Germany-based content supplier Advanced Inflight Alliance — in a transaction valued at $430 million.

Southwest isn’t alone in turning to Wi-Fi to bolster its inflight entertainment options. In fact, it’s become a new revenue stream for airlines, including American Airlines and other major legacy carriers, looking for ways to generate additional coin from the digital sale of entertainment. At the same time, the addition of more Wi-Fi connections will enable content owners to turn airlines into a growing distribution platform for their programming.

JetBlue, this week, also said it will launch a faster inflight Wi-Fi service in the third quarter. Branded as “Fly-Fi,” the service, powered by ViaSat’s Exede, will be faster than similar Wi-Fi services offered by Row 44, Gogo, and Panasonic, used by other airlines.

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