How much longer will airlines provide in-flight music?

I used to have a gig supplying music programs to Air Canada. Every month or two, I’d provide several hours of programming, complete with commentary which would then be loaded into the airline’s infotainment system.

But then XM Satellite Radio struck a deal to provide music-only programs (i.e. no hosts, just straight music flow), so all the hosted shows were canned. That included me.

Oh, well. It was a fun gig while it lasted.

Inflight entertainment systems (IFEs to industry geeks) have evolved in three ways. The first has seen more and more sophisticated offerings from airlines like Emirates, Qatar, and Singapore. The second involves companies that haven’t upgraded their equipment in years. The final evolution has seen IFEs pulled out of aircraft entirely, citing cost and weight issues.

Many people who fly airlines without IFEs barely noticed. They’re busy listening to music and watching video on their phones or tablets, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Qantas, for example, took a hard look at their IFEs and found that only 10% of passengers listen to music during a flight. With such low engagement, why bother? That’s why Qantas has announced that they’re going to discontinue straight music offerings on their aircraft.

Musicians’ organizations in Australia are disappointed, to say the least. Not only does this mean less of an opportunity for Aussie musicians to be heard by people from other countries, but Qantas will no longer pay licensing fees. That’s lost revenue.

You can bet that other airlines will be looking at the situation. Meanwhile, load up your phone with music–just in case.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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