In May, we shared how Global Eagle, the leading provider of entertainment and connectivity solutions for the aviation industry employs SDVI Rally Media Supply Chain Management Platform to import, process, and deliver content to 80 airlines' customers in 125 formats, while also acquiring 50k+ masters per year from thousands of content partners. We caught up with CTO Chris Esposito to get his take on this unique time in M&E and what it takes to stay on top.
You have a broadcast media background. What brought you to inflight entertainment at Global Eagle?
After enjoying nearly two decades in broadcast I was ready for a new challenge, but I wanted to stay in M&E. Inflight entertainment was at an inflection point, one that reminded me of when broadband offered linear broadcasters a new opportunity to create the next-generation of TV viewing. I was excited to see what the next-generation of inflight entertainment experiences could be with connected aircraft and digital technologies. Global Eagle – as a leader in both inflight entertainment and connectivity – was a natural fit.
What are the most significant changes you’re seeing in M&E? How are those changes impacting inflight media?
Consolidation of the M&E market continues — we have seen Disney acquire Fox and Comcast acquire Sky Europe in the last 12 months. You can also see that traditional content businesses and digital media and OTT services are converging to become the same — companies want original and exclusive content and their own distribution platforms where they own the relationship with the customer.
I think whether to move to cloud or become cloud-native is no longer a debate. OTT streaming services are pushing for greater adoption and availability of Ultra HD and we have spent the last 18 months launching our cloud-native digital content supply chain platform, Open, which is Ultra HD native. We also have airlines asking for 4K content for the latest seatback screens to rival home experiences.
I’m also seeing disaggregation of the market. We are at a point where content is everywhere, on any device, with so much choice and so many services to choose from. Gone are the days of having only one service provider. One reason airlines choose Global Eagle is because we have access to a vast universe of content, suitable for global audiences and different cultures, with the expert knowledge to curate the right content for their brands and routes.
What are the particular challenges – or opportunities – facing inflight entertainment? How are those similar to the challenges/opportunities in the broader M&E industry?
The challenges in inflight entertainment are similar to those facing all of the aviation industry. Aircraft typically fly for up to 25 years and go through a retrofit every eight years, meaning we have to support 25 years of audio and video formats and 125 different metadata standards and seatback systems. This complexity and longevity makes it increasingly necessary to adopt a digital supply chain – we cannot continue to grow and service our customers with manual processes and spreadsheets. Passengers expect an entertainment service similar to their on-the-ground experience, with metadata, video and image-rich UIs and a vast library of content to watch.
Cloud is our only option to scale to meet the airline industry’s volume and SLA demands, whilst avoiding bottlenecks that are caused with monthly content update cycles. We selected SDVI Rally as our supply chain management system so we did not need to worry about dynamically provisioning cloud infrastructure – we are focused as an entertainment service provider, rather than as cloud infrastructure experts.
In your career, you’ve specialized in “supply chain transformation”. What does that term “supply chain” mean to you and why is it important? Why is it particularly important now?
A content supply chain is the collection of all the activities that take a piece of audiovisual content and make it discoverable and available for audiences to consume – from acquiring the rights and media assets from production or a distributor, storing it, localizing it, versioning it, enriching it with metadata, and formatting it for any screen, device or service.
The content supply chain is vital for us to avoid being stuck in the days where there were only a few domestic linear TV channels to watch (on a TV set in your living room), with limited genres and mainly domestic content.
Just like where the inflight entertainment experience was a single movie, delivered to every passenger and the entire cabin watched the same movie on an overhead screen.
The content supply chain is essential in today’s world where you can watch vast quantities of content produced from around the world, with access services, localized in many different languages, playable on any screen or device, and where you need to use rich metadata to aid content discovery and tagging to drive personalized recommendations.
How difficult is it to apply the supply chain vision and strategy to media? What is the payoff?
There are proven strategies that make transformation of any content supply chain easier. 10 to 15 years ago it was much harder – failure rates were very high, and a lot of money was wasted on failed projects. Cloud and SaaS solutions like SDVI’s take care of the technology side. The greater challenge is often the change management, which we are treating with equal gravitas to ensure success.