This week, JetBlue Airways becomes the third partner to join Airline TV, an aerial ad network from IdeaCast, an out-of-home company that provides content and advertising to health clubs and Six Flags locations nationwide. Its other airline partners include Continental Airlines and Frontier Airlines. JetBlue, which has offered in-flight TV to its customers since 2006, had been selling its TV platform with a different partner before aligning with IdeaCast. "They already do this for other airlines, so we just saw this as an opportunity to leverage their expertise but also give us a broader view and access to advertisers," said Fiona Morrisson, JetBlue's director of brand management and advertising.
Industrywide, airlines have boosted in-flight entertainment as a means to create revenue to help avoid some of the fees they might otherwise have to charge their passengers in a troubled travel economy. Delta was the first airline to partner with HBO for an on-demand channel featuring full episodes of HBO movies and original programming, a move that was echoed last month by Richard Branson's Virgin America. The fledgling airline teamed with HBO's "Entourage" for its inaugural flight from JFK to Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport, offering passengers an exclusive look at the season premiere of "Entourage" weeks before its release.
Porter Gale, Virgin America's VP-marketing, told Ad Age the airline has actually been able to add features to enhance its customer experience at a time when other airlines are charging for extra luggage and bottled water. Passengers who rode Virgin's flights from JFK to Las Vegas in September received noise-canceling headphones, champagne, Godiva chocolates, Kiehl's personal products and Altoids.
Ms. Morrisson said JetBlue has tested product sampling on its flights with several advertisers, including a recent campaign with Maybelline. "Our approach is to give the people everything they need within the cost of the ticket and give them an opportunity, if they need to upgrade their experience, to pay for more leg room or get a premium beverage onboard.
"In these times, it's not just looking at [in-flight TV] as a way to make revenue," she said. "Rather than taking away from the customer experience, we want to add to the customer experience, whether it's through advertising or sampling."
IdeaCast's Airline TV also will be Nielsen-rated by year's end, which Jason Brown, the company's president-sales and marketing, said will allow it to offer specific passenger traffic numbers and even-more-granular viewing data. "We'll know who's watching at every single foot," he said. "Imagine you're delivering a sample, you just saw it onscreen, you read about it on a card on the back of your seat, and the sample's in your hand for two hours. That type of connective tissue is one that builds a brand ambassador."
Cost-per-thousand rates for Airline TV are premium within the out-of-home sector and equivalent to prime-time CPMs for cable TV audiences, Mr. Brown said. Some advertisers are buying the network on a monthly basis, while others have already made annual commitments.