Over the past few decades, rail operators and (especially) airlines have done a reasonable job making entertainment available to their customers as they sit for hours in confined, uncomfortable spaces. However, because internet connectivity to trains and planes is severely limited, the only way they could deliver entertainment was through video-on-demand (VOD) systems. This type of entertainment distribution system became so popular (hotels use them too) that it was part of the standard movie release windows, typically following theatrical releases by 3-6 months. But today, traditional VOD systems suffer from two existential problems and it’s likely that we’ll soon view VOD in the same way we view VHS tapes and Blockbuster—quaint relics of the past.
The first problem is that VOD systems are expensive and administratively complex to maintain. Content must be curated, licensed, and almost continually updated. The ubiquity of smartphones, tablets and laptops carried by passenger has relieved the need (and the cost) for seatback viewing systems but this is still a costly headache for businesses whose primary mission is transporting people as inexpensively as possible.
But an even bigger challenge is the rapid and radical shift in consumer viewing behavior. While the shift to streaming internet video has been heralded for well over a decade, it's now here. A major driver has been the tens of billions of dollars invested in developing original content by major “internet only” content providers—Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Apple and others. Consumers, both older cord-cutters and younger cord-nevers, have subscriptions with, on average, 3-5 streaming content providers and that is where they go for entertainment. Not linear TV, not VOD.
For transportation operators this is both good news and bad news. The good news is that their passengers already have the viewing devices and subscriptions to get all the video entertainment they need. The operator doesn’t need to provide any entertainment systems. The bad news is that passengers watching streaming high def video consume gobs of bandwidth, as much as 100x what email and web surfing consumes.
The goal now is to find a way to allow passengers to consume this rich trove of internet video content without breaking the bandwidth bank.