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CES 2020: Delta Brings Streaming to the Ground, Expands it in the Air

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While CES typically is the domain of television manufacturers, wearable tech gadgets, and clever oddities—think the Ethernet guitar from Gibson a decade ago, or the self-driving or even "flying" cars that have been showcased the past two years—this year the main keynote came completely out of a blue sky.

Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, not only headlined the kickoff keynote, but he provided a blanket in every single chair—two of which included a paper voucher good for two roundtrip tickets anywhere in the world on Delta One, the company's premier service cabin—but also talked about streaming initiatives.

One of those initiatives is an expansion of the company's streaming service, available to flyers via the Delta app after their flight reaches 10,000 feet. Joining Bastian on stage was Sandy Gordon, senior vice president of airport operations, who talked about research done in to stress points around airline travel.

Gordon mentioned a number of stress points—from gauging time to leave in your Delta-partner's Lyft ride to the airport, as well as unexpected turbulence—and then noted that in-flight entertainment (IFE) was one of the best ways to lower overall stress.

Delta claims to have done research by asking customers to wear Fitbits and video cameras, so that the airline could understand what a passenger goes through as they prepare for their journey, travel to the airport, go through check-in and security, and then the boarding process. The use of Fitbit devices allowed Delta to correlate stress levels (via heart rate monitoring) at different points in the process.

As part of that process, Delta has determined that passengers being able to watch streaming content on their phones before boarding is a way to reduce overall stress. Bastian added that research shows flying already heightens awareness which, while it can often lead to a negative sentiment for stressful points, also leads to flyers being more emotionally susceptible when viewing content on the flight.

There was also talk about the possibility of customers being able to pick up where they left off viewing the stream, once aboard the airplane and in flight, and word that the airline will be testing a "binge button" that will let travelers easily watch an entire season of a show.

Details are scarce, and there no discussion of the licensing specifics in regards to international travel, but it's at least impressive to see Delta expand the definition of a flyer—for IFE purposes, as well as digital rights management purposes—to someone who has checked in but not yet left the airport (or even their own house, since check in can occur up to 24 hours in advance of the flight).

The new Delta app will also alert customers to when their class or zone is actually boarding, which is a necessity if customers are streaming content on the Delta app with headphones or earbuds in while sitting in the gate area.

One final note about Delta's IFE ambitions: The company has said it will start a channel around content that has received the ReFrame stamp of approval, which is given to productions that include female-identifying people in key production roles. As part of this initiative around ReFrame, Bastian did a brief interview with the writer-director of The Farewell, Lulu Wang. At one point in the interview, Wang jokingly said she'd like to see a sync button between seatback IFE screens, so that she and a traveling partner would not need to countdown and simultaneously push the button on their respective screens to be able to watch a movie at the same time.

Will it happen? The sky's the limit. (View the full keynote on Delta's site.)

Photo courtesy CES.

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