Stellar Celebrates 40 Years of Success!

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We cannot think of an IFE show in recent years that we have not walked by the Stellar Entertainment booth to be met with a “G’day! Have a piece of candy,” by a tall silver-haired gentleman. It is precisely the way we will always remember Rob Lynch, Chairman of Stellar Entertainment… his presence and personal demeanor, which is partly what this Hot Topic is about. The other part is about how he and his wife, Helen, have made a success of their humble IFE content beginnings, some 40 years ago with Qantas. More importantly, it is a success story that needs retelling because, who else do you know that has 40 years in this crazy business and, still has their first customer!

When we first decided to do an interview with Stellar someone told us, “You don’t stay in business for 40 years without doing stuff right!” Accordingly, the Stellar Entertainment story begins in 1974 when Rob and his wife, Helen, answered a newspaper ad written to provide Qantas with in-flight programming. They won and later in 1979 they expanded into audio production and post-production services. Today Stellar Entertainment is a full Content Service Provider that offers IFE, in-flight audio production and post-production, music composition, content acquisition and more.

To start from the beginning, this past September we had the pleasure of interviewing the co-founder of Stellar Entertainment, the Australian-based Content Service Provider (CSP). The name Stellar is somewhat obvious, “With airplanes in the stars and inflight movies featuring stars, it was pretty obvious to us what our logo was going to be,” said Rob Lynch.

Stellar is one of the top three CSP in the IFE industry and they are well known in Asia, and today, they have some 75 employees who assist the airlines in delivering the right programming to passengers. Mr. Lynch told IFExpress that in no uncertain terms is he planning on retiring any time soon and it appears to us that his reasoning is based upon his enjoyment of the industry. He also seems to particularly enjoy the complex equipment and processes involved in the science: “Technology has really driven change in this business, more specifically over the past 6 – 7 years… and I love it! The digital age has changed our business and our world and it is one reason why I never seam to get tired of working with our airline partners.” As an example of his love of technology, we note that Stellar was an early adapter of the iPad and worked with BlueBox to provide service on JetStar. “It took 18 months to get the two big conglomerates to agree, but in the end, BlueBox designed the necessary software and we got the order, which included the iPad, and content from four Hollywood Studios!”

Rob went on to say, “In July we have been in this business for forty years. Stellar Entertainment was originally Helen Irvine & Associates and Qantas was the launch customer for our business in the in-flight entertainment industry and they have remained with us throughout our 40 years and in that time we have provide service to some 25 customers. In fact, I think we are the first CSP to reach a 40-year milestone with a customer!” However, Qantas is not Stellar’s only long-term client. “We have just renewed our contract with Malaysia and have been there with them for 25 years.”

While talking with Stellar at APEX we also spoke with Stellar CEO, Peter McLaughlin and he noted that content service providers really have two options: They can take a cookie cutter approach or choose a tailored route, the latter being Stellar’s choice. “We see the world as a partnership, not just a supplier.” We note that in Stellar’s case, their selection of partnerships obviously prove the longevity that they enjoy with their customers.

During our interview one of the requirements that we understood to be tantamount for success was to get the right people and train them properly, especially training about the importance of the customer. In fact, Stellar has an international mentoring system that helps pass on customer knowledge. “We want people who know how to listen and interpret what the customer (and market) wants and we teach them that every customer is different. We have a staff that has a broad spectrum of experience ranging from engineering, to content, to airline.” To quote Mr. Lynch, “We’ve stuck with our knitting. I’ve been in entertainment all my life and began this business as a radio announcer, but Stellar Entertainment from the very beginning has been a family business.” He went on, “We have a very low employee turnover rate. At the end of the day all you have are your people and your brand. So my recommendation to your readers is spend a lot of time taking care of them.”

To Lynch, content is king and their in-flight entertainment approach is that “it is all about content”. He noted that Stellar is always mindful of this mantra and therefore the company is willing to develop, generate, or purchase content whether it is art house movies, independent films, Hollywood movies, etc. “Stellar will purchase content from anyone. Today we go to extremes to get that day-to-day foreign content vs. the first run films.”

When we asked Rob how Stellar Entertainment has stayed in the business for so many decades he said, “You also have to expand and grow or your company will be done. To that end, today Stellar Entertainment owns 50% of Sky Victory in Mainland China with a staff of 10 in Beijing. You must be a multifaceted company. And, you have to have loyalty to your customer. I’ve had the same wife, the same lawyer, and the same accountant from the very beginning. Loyalty is the most important attribute for either an individual or a company. It maybe old fashioned, but the importance of loyalty cannot be diminished. Get to know your customer,” he said.

In closing we note that Stellar Entertainment is consistent, they understand the customer, they listen, they have market knowledge, and most importantly, they deliver on a promise. We cannot think of a better way to do business. One supposes that we should close with something prophetic, but for the life of us, we cannot think of anything after the preceding success story…  so for closers, we will just say, “G’Day, and have a piece of candy.”


Product Update: Thompson Aerospace’s CSUv2 server

One of our APEX reviews pointed out a real security-based, data transmission product rolled out by Thompson Aerospace at the show, the CSUv2 server that is the core of the 1Netv2 system. It is the highest level of secure off-aircraft (commercial), data communication we know of… all via Iridium or cellular towers. Thompson’s VP Business Development, Craig Jones told IFExpress: “Thompson Aerospace has the only patented Airborne Local Area Network and security for moving all non flight critical data between the aircraft and cloud. With all the recent cyber attacks aircraft data certainly need a high level of protection. The CSUv2 is the most powerful and secure server available in the market today. Managing all the data it represents a paradigm shift in creating the first true ecosystem for aircraft data.” When we looked into the solution we found that no one today is moving data between the airplane and the cloud. While there is a good amount being delivered to the ground, the issue is data availability (worldwide via Amazon Cloud) and security…and Thompson claims FIPS 3.

What data hacking is occurring to airline data is not known to IFExpress but if the airplane follows the ground experiences, why wait? Airlines have claimed the use of bad credit cards has ballooned and we have heard of bad card numbers as high as 20%. One airline even used cockpit communication check of high value card sales (What must that cost?). The Thompson solution uses worldwide Iridium connectivity from the plane (burst mode) to be applied to credit card sales and onboard purchases of all kinds via their new 2 MCU server. The Iridium transmitter is in the server and a small Iridium antenna is installed on the plane. Craig told IFExpress that handheld readers (wireless connections) or installed credit card readers would be connected to the server via WI-FI networks “Even wireless PEDs are a possible reading device,” Craig told us, “We have closed the loop!”

Craig mentioned that Electronic Flight Bag data is a potential, “as well as all Category C” data, he noted. They have even done lab testing for hacking and because the unit is controlled by security firmware in the machine, the data remains quite safe. “Hardware security is the secret, not software”, he told us. “We see flight tracking (when actuated as a backup), health monitoring, and flight recording data as potential airline uses,” he said.

We also thought the use of Amazon Cloud services as an interesting ground based storage solution. “The data is encrypted and the customer has can into the required information with a security key,” said Jones. “Further,” he noted, “airlines are looking at pilot performance data and navigation information so the airlines have the ability to review pilot performance data, since the server collects all data from the 717 and 429 buses as well. Additionally, airlines have told us that if they can prove how long an airplane was is in a location, they can reduce charges pertaining to domicile taxes, CO2 emission and navigation, fees”.

We have included a couple attachments here:  a press release, a product brief of the CSUv2 and product description.

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