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Delta Takes In-Flight Entertainment Beyond the Seat-Back Screen

Free programming will include videos from Variety and Variety Latino

Delta Air Lines wants to give the captive audience on its planes more to do during flights.

As entertainment plays a larger role in filling seats, Delta has become the latest carrier to step up its in-flight offerings, and this month started providing free access to movies, TV shows, games and music on all of its domestic and regional flights lasting longer than one-and-a-half hours.

How it’s distributed will also change. In addition to access to its Delta Studio content through new seat-back screens, passengers can now also stream content through the Fly Delta app on laptops, tablets and smartphones on Wi-Fi equipped planes.

While Delta will still charge for select movies and TV shows — typically $6 for a movie and $1 per TV episode — the airline claims it offers more free content than any other carrier.

Considering that streaming services like Netflix have provided TV shows a ratings boost, providing projects with exposure among the nearly 165 million customers that Delta flies each year on more than 15,000 daily flights, could have a similar impact.

Delta currently offers 18 channels of live satellite TV on select aircraft and up to 250 movies, hundreds of TV shows, 2,300 songs and games on select planes.

This month, available movies include “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “Frozen,” “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” “Chef,” “Need for Speed,” “Million Dollar Arm,” as well as TV shows “House of Cards,” “About a Boy,” “The Middle” and “Game of Thrones.”

But the carrier’s recently made frequent trips to Hollywood to curate more video content, securing deals with TED, Pivot and Cool Hunting for short-form programming. In November, it will start offering ten-minute videos from Variety and Variety Latino on board its flights.

In addition to offering more content through its Delta Studio, it launched Delta Artists Spotlight as a new music discovery platform in June, kicking off with Sam Smith’s debut album “In the Lonely Hour,” and a partnership with Billboard, in July, to provide complimentary ear buds to most passengers. Customers in domestic economy or economy comfort can purchase the ear buds for $2.

Delta’s move to expand its in-flight entertainment options comes as the company is in the midst of spending $3 billion to update the interiors of more than 1,000 of its aircraft.

“Delta continues to be driven by customer feedback which has consistently placed the desire to be entertained at the top of the list of ways to improve our customers’ time in the air,” said Tim Mapes, senior VP, marketing, Delta.

Gogo provides Wi-Fi service on board Delta’s domestic flights, charging $18 for a day and up to $479 for an unlimited annual pass. It also operates its own Gogo Video Player to stream entertainment.

For international flights, Delta is installing high-bandwidth Wi-Fi service on most of its long-haul flights by the end of 2015. Pricing starts at $24.95 for laptop users and $14.95 for mobile users.

“Our customers want to remain productive in-flight and that does not stop as they fly over U.S. borders,” Mapes said.

A number of domestic airlines have started to embrace onboard Wi-Fi services to expand their entertainment offerings, including United, Hawaiian and Southwest, with some also providing iPads on flights. International carriers like Air New Zealand also have made the switch to mobile devices as more passengers bring their own devices on board and airlines look for ways to curb the cost of installing expensive seat-back screens.

An updated to Delta Studio now also provides free, unrestricted access to in-flight entertainment on all of Delta’s international flights to first class, business and economy comfort passengers, and limited free content to economy class customers.

In the U.S., economy passengers will have access to most titles for free.

The Fly Delta and Gogo apps must be downloaded before flights.

Delta currently has 140 domestic aircraft with embedded in-flight entertainment systems, and will add the seat-back screens to 156 new jets by 2016. One hundred new Airbus and Boeing aircraft scheduled for delivery to Delta through 2018 will also be equipped with the screens.

Delta completed installation of seat-back entertainment systems on its international fleet in 2013.

The airline operates the largest fleet of Internet-connected aircraft available to more than 400,000 customers on more than 4,000 flights daily.

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