Panasonic Delivers First Class Airline Entertainment Content Support

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The process of obtaining, building and testing IFE content has always been a mystery to us so during a recent visit to Panasonic’s Lake Forest, CA facility we decided to ask about the process. Of interest was content handling security and aircraft system testing, and since both subjects fall into the realm of Panasonic’s Julie Lichty, Director, Media and Creative Services (MCS), we had a few questions for her. We note that while there, the movie content room is a high security editing/review facility whereby digitally transmitted movie content is received, stored, and where the subtitles and closed captioning are integrated (per airline requirements), it reminded us of a secure location in a bank. For the most part, only approved visitors are allowed entry and they must not have any recording or photographic equipment, etc. When we asked Julie about the locked rooms housing a number of media experts, she told IFExpress: “We value content from the Studios and content owners and deliver great care in protecting and using what the airlines want for their passengers. Our job is to make sure that all content is secure, that it is integrated as the airline ordered it. Finally, we want to ensure that it all comes together in a way that will seamlessly work onboard the airlines aircraft equipped with a Panasonic system… in other words, we want a happy airline and satisfied passengers – that is our job number one!” We also addressed the following questions to Julie and we think our readers will find her answers interesting:

Q: Why does Panasonic have media centers?

Julie: Completing the task of content integration is not simply putting a movie in a folder. So, Panasonic instituted MCS (Media & Creative Services) to facilitate the update process. MCS’ mission is to provide our customers with an on-time, high quality, perfectly executed turnkey solution, which integrates the media with the software and hardware. Panasonic has invested in establishing regional media centers to better service the respective customers nearby. This affords the customers the ability to work with a Panasonic staff member who is nearer in time zone, appreciates the cultural sensitivities and work with the local content owners to receive and integrate their content for the airlines. These centers also afford the customer the ability to come on-site (a lot closer than trying to trek to Lake Forest) to review their content in advance of release to the field as needed.

Q:How many people are dedicated to airline content development/production world wide in the 7 media centers?

Julie: We have 116 highly dedicated professionals.

Q: How many square feet (approx.) are dedicated to airline content storage and development in the California offices?

Julie: In Lake Forest we have 14,754 Sq. Feet

Q: From what IFExpress has seen, security is very important to your operation… what is done and how is media protected?

Julie: Content security is a top priority for Panasonic. We have created an environment that helps maintain the focus on security while utilizing best in class technologies for content management. Our server room hosts state-of-the-art storage specifically designed and optimized for media. This room is restricted to key personnel who have badge access. This is where all media assets are stored encrypted. Files will be sent into Panasonic digitally and housed on the storage. From there, our personnel can access the file from our QC lab where the technician will validate the technical aspects of the file (bit rate, frames per second, aspect ratio, etc.) then visually inspect the file for artifacts, lip sync, language tracks, etc. We will often be QC’ing files that are still in theaters so again content security is paramount. Both the server room and QC lab is badge accessible by only qualified staff. Neither location has access to the Internet nor are any removable hard drives (thumb or larger) or devices with cameras on them allowed in there. Additionally, we have security members watching the cameras overlooking the area 24×7.

Q: Who do you work with for content support – suppliers and airlines?

Julie: Currently Panasonic works with all 6 of the major Hollywood Studios, Regional content owners from every part of the globe, 35+ TV and Short Subject content owners, Major & independent record labels to amass content for over 238 airlines customers. On average we send updates out for 190 of the customers monthly.

Q: How do the movies come in to Panasonic and what are the security processes involved – does content arrive digitally… is it transmitted?

Julie: Most assets (95%) are sent to us via Signiant or SmartJog, which are studio approved secure digital file transmission systems. These point-to-point connections allow media to be moved from point A to point B in an encrypted state while best utilizing the bandwidth. All movies are watermarked for their individual airline customer and unique file naming conventions ensure that the right file is delivered to the right airline customer.

Q: We assume that once the content is assembled for an aircraft, it goes to testing on the representative Panasonic/plane system. How long does this take on average?

Julie: This really depends on the system type, the quantity of media and the media configuration (route based programming, parental lock, applications used, etc.). Rack testing can last anywhere from 2 days to 10 days depending on the items outlined above.

Q: How many Panasonic IFE systems are simulated for testing there?

Julie: We integrate all of the media for Panasonic customers using our systems and deliver service across 10 platforms.

Q: We assume airlines and/or art houses submit media, as well as movie studios for airline video content… is that correct?

Julie: Yes, we receive movies, TV content, Documentaries, Broadcast Audio, CD’s, VPA’s, BGM files, Safety Videos and other airline owned assets, Destination Videos and the like.

Q: You deliver content in what forms… tapes, discs, digital? Other?

Julie: Approx. 95% of the media is sent to us digitally and the remaining 5% is a mix of Removable Hard Drives and DVD/CD’s.

Q: What is the most common movie modification the airlines request?

Julie: With the edits we receive it’s mostly language and nudity that’s modified.

Q: Is there one movie more than others that airlines request?

Julie: Every month the hot Hollywood titles are commonly selected across a large number of airlines globally. I can’t say 1 movie is a hotter commodity over another.

Q: Is Panasonic the Media Encoding Lab? We assume someone takes all the input and digitizes it as well as fixing the movie changes.

Julie: No, the encoding labs are companies like Cinemagnetics and Post-Modern Edit, and now Global Eagle Entertainment. The labs will vault the Studio’s assets and digitize them into our encoding specification and digitally deliver them to Panasonic.

Q: How is this process changed for onboard wireless transmission to passengers?

Julie: To support eXW it hasn’t changed our process any. We adjust to a different “seat” type, which is all. We clearly have to continue our content security focus and ensure that the content works at the device level vs. a seat back embedded screen.

Q: Assume Panasonic or airline employees load the aircraft? How? What Panasonic products are involved?

Julie: Both airline employees and Panasonic PTS (Professional Technical Services) load media to the aircraft. To load the a/c various types of loaders can be utilized based on the system type. We have portable loaders, solid-state drive OML, etc.

Q: What is it Panasonic can do that other IFE houses can’t… or are they all about the same?

Julie: Every hardware manufacturer has their own integration process to enable the media to be consumable at the aircraft. However, Panasonic is able to provide our customers with extensive quality checks throughout the integration process, we mux subtitles/closed captions for our customers and we can offer them integration of our One Media ad service to help them monetize the system. We think we are the best!

Q: How many airlines are signed up for Panasonic content development/loading?

Julie: We have over 238 customers! Here are some more MCS Statistics:
We receive over 35,000 files a month – this equates to about 7-8 TB of new media delivered to Panasonic.
We ship out approximately 34 TB of content each month
• With all of the new files & held over files we manage over 475,000 files a month.

So readers, the next time you are sitting in your airplane seat you will know a bit more about the process, time and effort provided by the IFE manufacturer to ensure a quality viewing experience en route to your destination. Stay Tuned, and thank you, Julie!

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