Another content service provider, Spafax, works with carriers like Delta and Alaska on forming an entertainment strategy and brokering deals. "They're in the room with us when we're working with Fox and Warner and Disney," Scotland says. "I'll say that we've got a really strong relationship with two studios in particular where we can say, 'Here's our budget.'"
Each airline-studio deal differs depending on size and entertainment needs: some have an all-you-can-eat plan where there's a flat fee for unlimited content, while others may pay per movie. "A deal between Disney and JetBlue is a very different deal between Disney and Emirates," says Kelly.
Informed by similar data points and driven by the consolidated business model, every airline finds itself pulling from a similar pool of films, which is why we tend to see crowd-pleasers like superhero movies, La La Land, Battle of the Sexes, Goodbye Christopher Robin, and The Hitman's Bodyguard on a handful of major flights. Only carriers who've worked out major deals with movie studios -- like JetBlue has with Disney's upcoming A Wrinkle in Time -- land exclusive titles that can debut a few weeks to a month before all other airlines. It's these partnerships with studios -- and most importantly, those with the blockbuster hits that passengers are dying to see -- that airlines hope translate to impressionable, in-flight experiences that are subtle, but which they believe are the difference between your next round-trip decision.
Gone are the days of airlines competing to get a movie on their carrier first. Instead, the race is on to beat the home entertainment market. Thor: Ragnarok, for instance, opened in theaters on November 2017 and became available to purchase on Amazon on February 20, 2018. Airlines got access February 1, 2018. "We get some complaints that 'You don't have this movie, it's going to be on DVD,'" Kelly says. "We get early window content, which is when we get it before home entertainment, [but] that window has been collapsing over the years."
"Individual airlines would work with distributors to get it a month earlier [than home entertainment]," Scotland echoes. "All of these windows have shrunk with the advent of Netflix and Hulu. It's less about competing for the titles [then airlines] differentiating themselves."
Alaska Airlines touts a chat feature which lets passengers iMessage, Facebook message, and WhatsApp chat for free. All of the airline's movies are free and are frequently bundled by themes (like a recent '80s month), and an in-the-works satellite Wi-Fi system will allow customers to stream their own Netflix and Hulu accounts from the comfort of their own devices. Believing that the joys of some minor bonuses never change, JetBlue has a new seatback entertainment system prepped for a 2019 launch.