Airlines as Content Producers

After all the hassles of having to make sure my bags make weight and I have all the necessary travel documents to make sure I can go between my current base and my hometown on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean, I rejoice in the wide selection of movies and TV episodes I have at my disposal as I fly on Delta Airlines between Madrid and New York. I use these flights home as a way to save money on movie tickets because I can end up watching movies I had missed in the midst of my other responsibilities. To give you an idea, on my most recent trip to New York, I was able to get through GhostbustersFlorence Foster JenkinsBad Moms, the pilot episode of HBO’s Divorce, and then because I had already seen Bridget Jones’s Baby in theaters, I resorted to watching Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates as we were wheels down at Kennedy airport.
While it may seem absurd, our favorite content providers and airlines have more in common than you may think-beyond the fact that they’re both places where you have plenty of content from other content producers to choose from on one central portal.
Kristina Velan from Apex summarizes the common thread between airlines and our most beloved video streaming services like this:

The race to hyper-exclusivity among streaming media providers is not unlike the one faced by the airline industry. When the baseline product is the same, competitive differentiation – be it free snacks, added legroom or exclusive content – can be enough to sway customers away from competitors. And, with a long history as suppliers of fresh entertainment offerings, the notion that airlines may follow a similar plotline and evolve from content purveyors to content producers is not that hard to imagine. 

While Netflix has House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Stranger Things, Narcos, The Crown, Making a Murderer, and more, the content produced by airlines is varied-with some common denominators across the industry. Henry Gummer, Vice President of Entertainment at Spafax, explained that airlines will create videos to show safety information, promote destinations, and then to help passengers in the next step of their journey.
Those Wacky Safety Videos
Remember Deltalina?

Chances are you didn’t before seeing this GIF, but this finger wagging is what started it all in a 2008 Delta Airlines safety video. But what really started this phenomenon among the airlines was this video from New Zealand Airlines in 2009

All the featured employees in this video are wearing body paint and that’s about it. And from there, as The Wall Street Journal‘s Scott McCartney pointed out in an interview with NPR, “that led them down the path of lots of others and airlines started copying it.”
If Deltalina was a little too far back for you, Virgin America’s safety video, “#VXsafetydance,” probably is more fresh in your mind. Virgin has the advantage of having a dedicated film/TV/entertainment division, Virgin Produced, as part of the Virgin Group umbrella that certainly helped them get the high artistic quality this video provides:

And this led to over 11.9 million YouTube views and even a favorable review from the theater section in The New Yorker.
Air New Zealand, not wanting to be outdone, has produced a series of entertaining videos. They include:

The Hobbit (famously filmed there)

Betty White,
the world-class All Blacks rugby team,
and in its latest effort, a piece of Hollywood enlisting comedian Rhys Darby and actress Anna Faris:

So while Velan quoted Stellar Entertainment’s technical, research, and development manager Joel Joslin saying that “[i]n-flight safety videos and original content pieces are both tantalizing opportunities to communicate brand personality and [get attention] in a crowded and noisy world,” the wacky safety video phenomenon does leave us with a cautionary tale in where the need to produce entertaining content causes the vital messaging to be lost in the crowd.
McCartney, in his October piece for The Wall Street Journal, hears from passengers who feel like the important information disseminated in safety videos gets overshadowed by the superfluous details. One of those subjects, Chicago corporate attorney Amy Au, said that “[i]t’s very creative, but the message wasn’t clear[.]” Indeed, passengers are putting their foot down and saying they’ve had enough. While it’s clear that the heavy investment has gotten people to pay attention, the problem with the incessant employment of humor is, according to McCartney, “…that people remember the jokes but not the safety message.”
Original Content
Fortunately for airlines, there are other alternatives to the safety video arms race. Virgin Produced also makes original content for passengers ranging from celebrity interviews to city guides that’s available for passengers, plus being responsible for two features, Bad Moms and Limitless, that have undoubtedly made rotations in in-flight entertainment consoles.
United Airlines took advantage of its partnerships with the Tribeca Film Festival and the United States Olympic Team to produce an original documentary of its own: Destination: Team USA. It profiled five Olympic hopefuls in sports that don’t gain the same airtime as the major marquee sports at the games and began becoming available for view a few months prior to the Olympics. In July and August of 2016, Destination: Team USA was among the ten most-watched in-flight offerings. For United, the success of the documentary translated to it then being distributed on Netflix after the opportunity to put it out onto other mediums became too good to pass up. According to Daniel Cuellar, who’s the senior manager in charge of Onboard Product Development, “[n]othing is better than Netflix wanting your film.” 
Get a sneak peek of why Netflix decided to buy rights to the documentary:

Cuellar also stated that “[i]t was a creative way to talk about our partnerships with both [the US Olympic team and the Tribeca Film Festival], bring the sponsorships on board and create a piece of entertainment that our customers would love to watch.” 
What could be stopping airlines from producing more?
Even if some airlines will go beyond the basics and make video for their overall marketing objectives, there’s an impediment that we at Stark Crew work tirelessly to solve: cost. As Spafax’s Gummer puts it, “[t]he high cost of video production means that this kind of investment is rare, though perhaps growing.” Stark Crew’s network of locally-based video producers help cut down on costs of bringing crews on location. As airlines strive to cut costs from just about any area of the business model and turn components that were once basics into new add-ons, Stark Crew has all the elements to help grow their video investment, while still remaining cost friendly.