BA PEOPLE • January 2021
Think selecting British Airways’ in-flight entertainment is all popcorn-fuelled fun? Think again. This month, we speak to one of the brains behind the operation, Charo Medina, to find out just what goes into keeping customers entertained at 35,000 feet…
What are the main responsibilities of your role?
I’m quite big picture, so you’ll find me organising our key objectives for the year and developing annual content strategies around them – aligning with BA brand guidelines, our PR team, the partnerships team and so forth. Mainly I’m covering IFE (in-flight entertainment), but I’m also responsible for the on-board Wi-Fi and the wider digital experience, so that includes all other services that can be enabled digitally, either from the seatback screen or the customer’s personal device.
How do you come up with the IFE strategy?
For IFE, we have monthly meetings where we review what the programming will be for the next month. To this meeting we’ll bring as much performance data as we can get, everything from customer satisfaction surveys to the usage stats, looking at what has gone down well and what hasn’t. With this in mind, we decide what comes next and which direction to take the offering based on customer appetite.
And how important is it for you that this strategy is customer led?
We are huge fans of feedback and always gather as much information as we physically can – at the end of the day we want to offer something that our customers will like, something that’s similar to what they would be watching on the ground anyway. That way, the flight can be a continuation of their watching habits back home. British Airways welcomes such a wide spectrum of travellers. It’s key that our content is diverse enough to, literally, please everyone.
Podcasts, film, music, magazines: life in the skies has never been more entertaining
From your findings, what are customers loving most?
We’ve found new movie releases get the most traction: the Hollywood blockbusters and so forth. We’re also seeing an increase in popularity of bingeable TV series – perhaps because customers are picking up where they left off on the ground? This can range from a familiar classic, such as Friends, to meatier mini-series such as Chernobyl or A Very English Scandal. And, considering everyone tends to have music on their own devices, audio does very well, too, with customers typically preferring to listen by genre than by artist.
Just how thematic is the approach to strategy?
Very, in terms of both trends and types of customers. For instance, we’ll adapt to the calendar: horror films around Halloween, Christmas films in December, Academy Award nominees and winners during award season, that kind of thing. Customer-wise, we have a whole channel themed around wellbeing, including meditation podcasts, which we hope helps nervous fliers. There are even exercises for overcoming jetlag. Another example would be our section of curated British content, flying the flag for British filmmakers and artists.
Who picks the actual films? Is that a fun job?
I imagine it is quite fun! That team is very experienced – they take in a huge amount of entertainment that’s available for in-flight use and understand the BA brand values perfectly. They know the brand; they know the customer and they know their media. And not only do they put forward the titles, but they also work on the viewer discretion side of things, flagging any potential sensitivities. Most of the time, TV shows and films are left intact. If we do need to edit, we’ll always approach the TV and filmmakers first.
Kick back at 35,000 feet with a fresh-from-the-cinema flick. Courtesy of Warner Bros.
What does that process look like?
Well, firstly there are many parties involved. Once content is selected and approved, the encoding process begins to ensure that it can be integrated into our different IFE systems. Our content service provider encodes the files, adds the metadata, the subtitles, etc. This is passed to the IFE suppliers, who integrate the media content and do the quality control at the ‘testing racks’ – basically a simulator of the aircraft IFE system, but with fewer screens. As the different BA cabins have different screen sizes, this allows us to check that imagery and videos are all displaying correctly across the different screens. Once the quality control is successfully completed, the IFE suppliers send the media to our Engineering team, which is responsible for loading the media to our aircraft, one by one.
Can you give us a sneak peek as to what is coming up next on IFE?
Pre-Covid I would have been able to tell you exactly what is likely to be popping up on your screens come April, but now we’re not quite so certain! In terms of new content, we are totally dependent on what is actually being released in cinemas or via streaming services, and that’s been on a major standstill due to the pandemic. I can, however, tell you that Wonder Woman, 1917 and Ammonite will be making their way on board soon.
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