This is the kind of sponsored post that I really like doing. Global Eagle had me come down to take a tour of its entertainment division. The idea was to showcase all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into getting entertainment in front of you when you fly. Global Eagle didn’t press me on what to write. The company opted to just show me everything and let me break it down for you. You can learn more at globaleagle.com.
When you’re sitting on that airplane, scrolling through hundreds and hundreds of entertainment options, you probably don’t ever step back to think about how those all got on there. If you did, you may picture people at an airline paging through a list and picking the movies they want to show. Then, voila, they magically appear. If only it were that easy. The reality is much more complex, and I was able to take a peek into exactly how this comes together when I visited Global Eagle’s entertainment headquarters in Irvine, California, right in the flight path of John Wayne Airport.
Global Eagle hasn’t been around all that long, but it has grown by buying existing businesses in the IFEC (In-flight Entertainment and Connectivity) space. The company bought Row 44 for its connectivity solution, and it bought Post Modern Group (PMG) for its content services. Heading the latter’s team is Amir Samnani, Global Eagle’s SVP Content Services. With 30 years in the business, Amir was a wealth of knowledge as he showed me around the facility.
Our journey started in the studio. This isn’t just any studio; Global Eagle actually has a studio certified by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Why does that matter? Because Global Eagle is working with films and shows that are not out there for public use. Airlines often get to show content during an “early window” period which is after theatrical release but before home video/digital options are available. And to prepare content to be ready to go on those airplanes, Global Eagle has to have copies in its hands often when the movies are still in theaters. This is very sensitive for the studios, so Global Eagle has had to build trust over many years.
Why does Global Eagle need the content so early? Well, in some cases movies are dubbed or subtitled by the studios for international release, but not all get that treatment. Since Global Eagle has almost 90 airline content clients (and 150 total airline clients across its business), it needs an incredible amount of content to be made available in all kinds of different languages. So it’s in these rooms that Global Eagle actually handles dubbing of movies and shows.
Dubbing apparently is most common in the “FIGS” languages – French, Italian, German, and Spanish. There are separate rooms that handle subtitling for other languages. (Arabic and Hebrew, for example, are more challenging to dub properly because there’s not enough talent available, so they stick with subtitles to ensure high quality.)
This might sound simple, but it’s not. A standard film can take about 3 weeks to dub working a full day. It really depends on how many voices are needed as well as how much dialogue is involved. And it’s not just someone sitting in a room speaking. There’s a separate room where studio reps can sit and work through various issues as they go.
But before this happens, films have to go through edits. Amir kept mentioning Saudia, an airline that requires all of its content to be completely clean. That means that editing must be done to either cut or blur any racy content. There is some real art to this.
The editors are charged with making sure they don’t alter the meaning and story, so there’s a fine line on what they can and can’t do. Some big name producers won’t allow any editing at all, and that means Saudia passengers will never see those films. But this goes well beyond Saudia. Every airline and country will have different guidelines around what’s acceptable and what’s not. Apparently there are set guidelines with the studios so that Global Eagle knows what to do for each market.
Once all that work is done, the airlines need to actually get this content. This business used to be far more manual, as you can imagine, and some airlines still operate that way. That means a room like this is still necessary.
This room is filled with ancient technology because, well, airlines still have some old electronics onboard. For example, you will still find airlines with VHS and even Hi8 players.
Even though the business is about 85 percent digital now, they’ll still churn out a couple thousand VHS tapes a month to be sent to airplanes around the world.
This is no simple task. Global Eagle ends up scouring eBay and other places for Hi8 and VHS machinery so it can continue to provide service. It has its own shop to repair machines, because these things just aren’t built anymore.
Amir’s guess is that those will probably all be gone in about 5 years, but for now it’s an incredible throwback.
When it comes to digital distribution, there’s actually a lot more work that needs to be done. Though old technology is tougher when it comes to distributing the physical specimens, it’s pretty easy when it’s on the airplane. Just push play.
But with personal entertainment systems, when you click on the screen and see running time, a synopsis, actors, etc., that’s all filled out by Global Eagle’s metadata team. That information is usually uploaded through each airline’s portal. The movies themselves, however, are most often sent to the inflight entertainment hardware providers where distribution to the airline and aircraft is usually handled. But on some devices, Global Eagle can actually handle the information transfer itself. You can see where some of the testing is done here.
The cycle just continues like this month after month but with a lot of interaction with the sales team. There are people who are dedicated to working with the nearly 90 airline partners that Global Eagle serves through several offices around the world. Some airlines want to meet frequently while others are less involved. But with content changing on a monthly basis, it’s up to Global Eagle to craft a menu of which movies and shows will be made available. Then it works with the airline to ensure it’s doing it right. This is partially art but there’s also some science.
Assuming the airline shares the data, Global Eagle can analyze what content is most popular and then try to find new content that matches a similar profile. It doesn’t do this across airlines since the data is strictly confidential, but if United, for example, saw great luck with La La Land, then it might look for another musical. Also, if United starts a new destination, then Global Eagle needs to make sure it has the right content to appeal to people from that region. This can also vary by time of year. During the summer, when more families are traveling, airlines are looking for more family-friendly content than they might during other seasons.
Global Eagle actually does more than just inflight entertainment. It can do any sort of digital content. For example, it just finished a safety video with Oman Air, and it built the Oryx One app for Qatar Airways so people can interact with content on their own devices. The Oryx One app gives travelers access to some content before they get on the plane, everything while in flight, and some even after the flight. It’s no longer just about delivering content to the seat, it’s about providing content to the traveler at more places during your trip.
The next time you start flipping through options on that screen in your seatback… or on an app… you’ll know just how much work went into making sure you have some compelling to watch in your own language.
The dubbing/subtitles issue was interesting when I was in Argentina. Movies that primarily appealed to children were generally dubbed. Big Hollywood movies with appeal to both kids and adults (Spiderman, Simpsons, etc) were offered in subtitled and dubbed versions in theaters, while most adult-focused Hollywood movies (e.g., those with R ratings in the US, and some with PG-13 ratings) were generally subtitled.
Guess they would like some of the new blank video cassettes I have and don’t know what to do with, and be jealous that I still have two working VCRs…..LOL
Interesting post, thanks for sharing. I was a little let down as I started to read, as I only grazed the headline and saw the words Airplane and Movie, and was looking for some early morning hilarity. Nonetheless, still a quality post.
You didn’t really answer the question about how the content actually gets onto the airplane, assuming it’s digital. Is there some overnight download to each airplane’s hard drive? Or do they just swap out hard drives on the first of each month? Or is the content streamed live (doubtful because of bandwidth)?
Good point. Now that you mention it, I’m curious about this too.
Larry – Fair point. It’s actually usually not digital, and Global Eagle doesn’t handle itself. The airlines usually just swap hard drives (or something like that) monthly. But there are systems out there that allow it digitally.
Hey Cranky! I wanted to suggest an idea about Wednesday posts. For those of us who come to your website manually each morning, may I ask for a little heads up on Tuesday posts letting us know when there will be a Wednesday post? Luckily I checked today but I don’t always. So if I knew when I read Tuesday’s post that there would be a bonus post the next day, I would for sure check. Something to consider. Thank you!!
Hov – I’ll try to remember if I can. The easy alternative is to sign up for the email whenever a post goes live or take the RSS feed. It’s all available on the right sidebar.
Interesting side of the business. When I’ve flown DL vs AA I’ve been a little disappointed that the movie selection is, well, the same. Guess it makes sense since it’s flights within the same market. That said, I’m more interested in why they pick movie A over movie B. The families in summer is kind of obvious, so why Disney A vs Disney B?
A – That is all done by the airline, and Global Eagle couldn’t (or wouldn’t?) give any insight on that since each airline has its own methods.
They will even outfit your yacht! http://www.geemedia.com/latest/news/global-eagle-introduces-priva-the-new-ultra-high-end-brand-for-yacht-customers
Do they also provide the technology for the flight map on Delta screens? I choose that over movies.
Eric – Nope, that’s something that I think comes with the system at the time of ordering. There are different vendors, but I believe it gets coordinated by the manufacturer (Panasonic, Thales, etc). Could be wrong, but I’m almost positive Global Eagle isn’t involved.
I have not flown Saudia for a while, and this is one of the reasons; they have a heavy-handed approach to censorship. Blurring includes alcohol (e.g. beer bottles), pigs/pork, and bare female arms/legs/cleavage. Also blanked out is dialogue relating to those things, and any religious references that are non-Islamic. Whole bar/restaurant scenes are deleted, leaving storyline gaps. It renders the movies unwatchable, and ironically, the blurring induces a “guess what is blurred” game which draws attention to that which is censored. So with a limited choice of western content, it makes for a monotonous flight, which is not helped by the suck-ey alcohol-less service. But it has been a few years, and maybe the new regime is less heavy-handed. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has flown them recently.
Loved the behind the scenes. Used to live next to Post Modern Group on Alton for years, always wondered what was behind those walls.