Ad Supported In-Flight Wi-Fi

Gail Chiasson, North American Editor

California firms JiWire, mobile audience media company, and Row 44, a pioneer of airborne broadband systems for commercial aviation, have partnered to deliver North America’s – and possibly, the world’s – first ad-supported in-flight Wi-Fi solution.

The collaboration will make it possible for advertisers to run interactive ad campaigns on planes in-flight. Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines have already equipped some of their planes with Row 44’s satellite broadband Internet access system. Southwest recently announced its intention for turning its 544 Boeing 737 jets into Wi-Fi hotspots and Alaska Airlines is testing planes within its fleet of 114 aircraft.

The launch of JiWire’s in-flight business further extends its Wi-Fi media channel, which already includes more than 30,000 Wi-Fi Hotspots and 20 million monthly unique users. The addition provides greater engagement opportunities for advertisers seeking to reach the on-the-go audience, particularly the highly coveted business traveler. A study by the Wi-Fi Alliance showed that 76% of business travelers would choose an airline based on Wi-Fi availability and more than 70% would opt for a flight with Wi-Fi access over one that provided meal service.

JiWire will provide advertising from its client list of over 100 top brand advertisers. Ad campaigns will be enabled within Row 44’s Skytown Center, a content and shopping virtual mall provided by each airline, which is free to travelers. The service is expected to launch this fall. (SkyTown Center is being offered to airlines this week but none have yet been contracted to offer the service.)

As with clients on a JiWire hotspot like a café or airport lounge, for example, a customer who opens his/her wireless laptop, iPhone, Blackberry or other wireless-enabled unit in the air will initially be on an authentication front page where he can, for free, browse and shop the interactive virtual mall and use a variety of options including games, travel information, in-flight and destination information and news. Moving from these to other sites, the consumer may be subject to the usual costs.

“What is so great is that an advertiser can have display advertising or we can even invent a customized channel for an advertiser to become even more engaged with the consumer,” says David Staas, senior vice-president marketing of JiWire. The company handles all advertising.

“JiWire’s pioneering success in using location to target audiences means this first-of-its-kind in-flight content and shopping service will deliver the right messages to the right passengers at the right time – while providing our airline partners with a new way to monetize in-flight connectivity,” says Wendy Campanella, Row 44’s vice-president of business development.

“By partnering with Row 44, we can offer advertisers an opportunity to engage a captive audience at the on-ramp to the Internet throughout the lifecycle of a traveler – reaching a person in the hotel, in the airport, in the executive lounge and, now, in the air,” says Kevin McKenzie, founder and CEO of JiWire.

In-Stat forecasts that over 1,000 new Wi-Fi enabled products will launch in 2009. A majority of these will enable connectivity when on the go, with In-Stat estimating over 100 million portable media players and 300 million cellular Wi-Fi handsets shipping in 2012. While alternative connectivity options exist on the ground, the only way for people to connect in the air is through Wi-Fi access, whether on laptops or mobile devices.

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