Live TV may be the next hurdle in in-flight en­ter­tain­ment, but this tech­nol­ogy first emerged more than 50 years ago

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - CONTENTS -

Va­le­rian Ho traces the his­tory of TV broad­cast “real-time” in the air

T hese days the raft of in-flight en­ter­tain­ment (IFE) is vast. Sim­ply touch your per­sonal seat­back TV and you can se­lect new block­busters, en­tire sea­sons of your favourite TV show and mu­sic from Mozart to Justin Bieber. But it’s not enough! To­day’s con­sumers want to be con­nected in real time. On­board wifi and live TV are cur­rently two of the big­gest game-chang­ers in the IFE field, but the first at­tempt to stream live TV in the air ac­tu­ally came more than 50 years ago.

In 1959, US car­rier Con­ti­nen­tal Air­lines ad­ver­tised its pi­o­neer­ing new live TV ser­vice on board its “Golden Jet”, the brand-new Boe­ing 707 that flew from Los An­ge­les to Chicago, Den­ver and Kansas City.

One sin­gle tele­vi­sion set was in­stalled in the first class Ren­dezvous Room, a lounge where pas­sen­gers were in­vited to “sip cham­pagne and watch TV”.

How­ever, the ser­vice did not last long. Af­ter just one month of patchy re­cep­tion, with pro­grammes chang­ing as the plane moved over dif­fer­ent re­gions, the live TV ser­vice was with­drawn.

The prob­lem of live TV re­mained un­solved un­til 2000, when US low-cost st car­rier Jet Blue Blue, in part­ner­ship with Live TV, be­came the first air­line to suc­cess­fully in­stall 24 chan­nels of live TV to ev­ery pas­sen­ger seat.

In 2011, Gulf Air set an­other bench­mark, claim­ing to be the first air­line to of­fer “global” live tele­vi­sion on board its new fleet of A330-200s to des­ti­na­tions in Europe, Asia and the US. Out­fit­ted with Pana­sonic’s Global Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Suite, the car­rier of­fers ac­cess to chan­nels such as BBC World News and IMG Me­dia’s Bar­clays Pre­mier League.

Mean­while, also in 2011, Nor­we­gian Air – an­other low-cost car­rier – claimed the ti­tle of be­ing the first Euro­pean car­rier to of­fer live-streamed TV, with ac­cess to Bloomberg Tele­vi­sion and TV2 News for pas­sen­gers us­ing their own de­vice.

In Asia, the num­ber of car­ri­ers of­fer­ing live TV is minimal: since last year ANA pas­sen­gers have been able to watch CNN, Sport 24 and NHK on board the car­rier’s B787-8, B787-9 and A320­neo air­craft (though ser­vices are sus­pended over China), while Cathay Pa­cific also of­fers three chan­nels on its new A350 in-flight en­ter­tain­ment sys­tem.

Above: Boe­ing’s “Golden Jet” 707 air­craft, and ad­ver­tis­ing for its on­board of­fer­ings

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