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Netflix Takes to Skies, Pitching Airlines on In-Flight Streaming Tech

Netflix is taking a 40,000-foot view in its next strategic initiative to expand access to the streaming service.

Starting in 2018, the company will extend bandwidth-efficient technology built for mobile devices to airline carriers across the globe — in the hopes that more airlines will partner with Netflix to offer low-cost or free Wi-Fi entertainment to passengers.

According to Netflix, using the mobile-encoding technology, passengers can watch Netflix in high quality while airline carriers save up to 75% in bandwidth costs.

In 2015, Netflix inked a deal with Virgin America (which is now part of Alaska Air Group) to offer free, in-flight Wi-Fi on select aircraft. Since then, Netflix has launched similar partnerships with Aeromexico, Qantas and Virgin Australia.

On partner carriers’ flights with next-generation Wi-Fi access, such as those equipped with Ka-band and Gogo’s 2Ku internet access, passengers are able to access Netflix from their carry-on devices and watch the streaming service at no extra charge. Non-members can sign up on-board for a 30-day free trial — and Netflix sees the airline deals also as an incremental customer-acquisition avenue, as well.

Netflix launched in more than 190 countries in 2016. Late last year, it debuted an offline-viewing option for mobile devices, which was designed for users in countries with still-developing broadband infrastructure (where most people watch video on cellular networks). Netflix says the more-efficient mobile encodes it developed can deliver DVD-quality video on mobile devices at 250 kilobits per second — overall, delivering equivalent video quality while using up to 36% less bandwidth than its conventional encoding techniques.

The benefit to airlines is to build “a sustainable model” around low-cost or free in-flight Wi-Fi, according to Netflix. It also claims that teaming up with Netflix can result in a brand-halo effect, generating awareness of an airline’s investment in next-generation Wi-Fi and potentially improving customer satisfaction.

Netflix announced the new in-flight initiative for airline carriers Monday at the 2017 APEX Expo.

Broadly, it’s part of Netflix’s push to let customers access the service on thousands of devices, including connected-TVs, tablets, set-top boxes, and even via hotel-entertainment systems. Worldwide, Netflix is available through 40 pay-TV providers, including Comcast and Dish Network.

Pictured above: Virgin America’s “House of Cards”-wrapped plane promoting the Netflix partnership in 2015.

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