Editors Note: We caught up with Mr. McLaughlin at an airport in the US recently and asked a few question about his company and the state of the IFE services industry.

Forty years ago, (1974) Rob and Helen Lynch started an inflight entertainment service provision service in Sydney Australia by answering an advert in a Sydney newspaper. They then competed for tailored passenger audio programming and won the Qantas Airways contract, one which they still provide today. Over the years they turned the small Stellar Entertainment business into one of the world’s premier shops for all types of entertainment services. They are now a full-service content provider, offering world-class IFE, video and audio production and post-production, music composition, content acquisition and much, more. With five offices around the world (including the US and Canada) and over 65 employees, they are truly a world-class programming provider. Their head office is located in Glebe, Sydney and specializes in inflight entertainment, including programming and management of Hollywood and international films, TV, music, games, digital books and magazines. Further, they provide encoding, metadata management, video and audio duplication and consulting services. From a IFE perspective, they provide audio and video entertainment, content acquisition and media sales. Having watched Stellar grow over the last 40 years one new product developments piqued our interest at a recent conference, particularly in the area of media sales. IFExpress talked to their new CEO/Managing Director, Peter McLaughlin about the new personal device-directed product, H2H Connect. Peter noted that Stellar’s media sales division is definitely one of the industry leaders in terms of experience and global reach. Further, they manage multiple Asia Pacific airline accounts for some 12 Asia Pacific airlines, and representing them around the world. Stellar has a significant presence in China as well. Stellar operate as ‘Sky Victory Technology’ a joint venture based in Beijing. It’s a CSP set up specifically to service China’s airlines exclusively. Currently, Sky Victory supplies content licensing and/or technical services to China Southern and China Eastern. Stellar also develops and supplies print advertisements, in magazines and television commercials, on traditional inflight screens and for the latest range of portable media players.” He went on to note that one of the airlines concerns is about their relationship with their guests/passengers is the ability to connect with their clients, not only on the plane, but over the entire travel experience. Their new service product Home2Hotel Connect is a Stellar in-house development that gives the airline a tool to keep their passengers engaged via PED content before, during, and after their trip. The app-based service, as Peter noted, “Puts the inflight entertainment choice on the device because, in the end, the control will always ends up where it should, in the passengers hands.”

IFExpress: If a passenger loads the H2H Connect App, what can it do?

Peter: “There is a bit about the service on our website but it essentially increases a way to connect to and engage passengers from the time they buy their ticket to when they arrive in their hotel – concierge service, video programming, audio programming, over 2000 digital publications that they can download and take with them, surveys, bookings, destination info, and shopping… H2H is a flexible tailored solution they can use throughout their journey, and it’s available for both iOS and Android devices.”

IFExpress: We gather, then, that you see IFE a bit differently. How do you help airlines get this “connection” with passengers?

Peter: ”We act as a consultancy to carriers in technology – one carrier wanted to connect streaming to passengers tablets and our folks came up with a solution. Another problem dealt with server software – we have another team of approximately 10 software experts that we use to help solve almost any software problem… apps, streaming, server issues, whatever. If airlines want to do something technically in the cabin, we can help… portable devices, social media, we help engage with the airline… If someone has a technical issue we can find a solution.”

IFExpress: Do airlines see IFE the way Stellar does?

Peter:IFE is about engaging… look at the way TV stations use Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. They are trying to capture an audience. Airlines just don’t have a lot of experience with that. When I was with Qantas we had a problem when they became a “business” and we had to refocus and re-drive the brand as an “airline”. The airlines have traditionally seen the IFE as a service, not as an integral part of the marketing mix.”

IFExpress: We gather that Stellar is pretty sold on this “engagement” software solution?

Peter: “Yes, we even have turned our interactive software capability into entertainment and communication for hospitals. In many ways the problem is similar to fliers, patients/guests are just tied to the hospital for a longer period of time.”

IFExpress: For readers that don’t know much about Stellar, can you tell us a bit more?

Peter: “We are based in Australia, but Stellar is a global company. We have dealt a lot in Asia, and the Pacific, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur; we even have facilities in Los Angeles that I visit as well. We have relationships with all the movie distributors in the world and almost 500 of the worldwide wholesalers. Further, Stellar has a significant presence in China as well. We operate as ‘Sky Victory Technology’ a joint venture based in Beijing. It’s a CSP set up specifically to service China’s airlines exclusively. Currently, Sky Victory supplies content licensing and technical services to China Southern and China Eastern. Since we do have international airline commitments, Stellar is so committed to the industry that we have a 24/7 technical service center hotline to help our customers anytime… I would also note that our Kuala Lumpur office is a significant Technical and Production facility servicing our Asian clients. We employee 20 Malaysians in that office and contribute significantly to the Malaysian economy.”

IFExpress: Does the fact that you are in the US visiting mean you are looking at this market?

Peter: “We are definitely looking at the US market as a future growth potential since we create a lot of our own content, we feel that Stellar has a bit of different spin on content production. We have a base in Los Angeles, as I mentioned, today and with the addition of US customers we would probably increase that office.”

IFExpress: What about all the competition out there, will that affect your business model?

Peter: There’s a lot of competition going on and a lot of consolidation in this industry… we don’t plan on going anywhere. Stellar Entertainment is in the business for the long haul.”

IFExpress: Doesn’t that mean that Stellar will have a lot of market challenges in the future?

Peter: “With respect to market challenges, we are experiencing a lot of competition and facing competitive consolidation. But in truth there are always market challenges. We have to adjust our model to ensure we remain competitive – we have come from a background of service but we are continually refining our product. We believe in providing service and value to airlines rather than using a cookie cutter approach. We are looking at ways to reduce costs for airlines and stay on top of passenger trends… we talk to passengers all the time. Connectivity is a good example: the financial hole all the connectivity has gone into is a lot bigger than the pile of money from it – those seatback phones are a good example.”

IFExpress: We keep hearing that the IFE content industry is changing, care to comment on it?

Peter: “There is a lot of change going on in the industry. There appears to be a drive by a certain group to control the content and it is not good for the airlines, or for other competitors. It will stifle creativity because they are beholding to a stockholder and the stock price, not the airline. If airlines are not careful they will find that they could end up being dictated to in the IFE space. Along with that there is a lot of technology happening… take connectivity, it has not taken a hold as much as they would have hoped. Two reasons – reliability and price. Further, on long haul flights, the demand doesn’t seem to be there. I note that in America there might be a law banning inflight telephone calls and America is a leader… it’s one we are all watching. Wireless streaming is what is getting traction at the moment and we have seen it succeed for a number of our clients and for Low cost carriers or new entrants with narrow-bodied aircraft or airlines with no imbedded IFE system it is gaining interest over connectivity. One thing is clear in the airline industry, airlines need/want to reduce cost and eliminating weight off an aircraft is a very attractive option.”

IFExpress: If you are talking about a content monopoly do you have any final thoughts?

Peter: “I have never met anyone that thinks monopolies are good, except of course, the monopoly themselves.”

You can reach Peter at peter.mcaughlin@stellargroup.com and you can check their website at www.stellargroup.com

See you at Aircraft Interiors America in Seattle? Today, the The Seating & IFE Integration Symposium begins at the Washington State Convention Center and the event and is a one day feature wherein industry experts lead presentations and debates on the evolving relationship between the seat and inflight entertainment & connectivity systems. The floor opens Tuesday night with a preview and for two days following will accommodate visitors. By the way, there is a new AIX App.

Before we get into the ‘meat’ of this IFExpress, we wanted to give some mention to Mark Thompson, (CEO, Thompson Aerospace) and his team at APEX for their clever promotions, and while this is not the medium to cover promotions, Thompson Aerospace concocted an easy way for attendees to build their own advertising banner for his IFE system, built on the spot by the attendee (get the message?),  and offered an Internet tablet to the advert that got the most ‘hits’ at the show on their system. Not to be outdone by his tablet deal was the ‘Free Money’ campaign (Our words not his) that rewarded everyone that heard his spiel with a gold $1 coin. He was telling airlines that advertising and promotion on his IFE was like free money. You bet he had our attention… free money, we liked it!

At APEX, Lufthansa Systems had their official press briefing on the sale announcement of their BoardConnect IFE system to parent company airline, Lufthansa. The deal covers some 20 Lufthansa A321 aircraft and will begin in the summer of 2014 and Lufthansa Technik will carry out installation. To date, the company noted that there are some 30 active BoardConnect aircraft flying. Presently, the BoardConnect shop is up and running and the BoardConnect folks are looking into progressive developments like NFC and content upgrades such as games and onboard advertising. BoardConnect is focusing on single aisle installations in a retrofit application while they, no doubt, will also work on twin aisle solutions. “Line-fit is our eventual goal,” according to Dr. Jorg Waber, Corporate Communications. We note that the Lufthansa Systems solution uses an app-based approach to content delivery (User download on board or on-ground) and thus DRM requirements are met for Early-Window content. Further, their moving map solution is imbedded in the app and does not rely on browser-based workings inside passenger PED’s. We will have more on Lufthansa Systems developing IFE solutions in the future. Stay Tuned.

No IFE exposition would be complete without the creative new product concepts from Geoff (and Claire) Underwood of IFPL. The crew was in true form at APEX this year and two new product concepts stood out – their Contactless Retail System (CRS) and their answer to a magnetic breakaway earphone jack. The Contactless Retail solution is ingenious, as it does not require seat power to read credit cards (NFC) or communicate with the head-end for information storage and credit card charge updates. It does so through a battery that only requires changing every 5 years (guaranteed). The seatback device (about the size of an iPod) uses E Ink (electrophoretic) display technology for a readable and low power screen. Need to charge for seat power, drinks, food… here is your answer. Unused, the display goes to sleep but awake, it ‘talks’ via a low power wireless connection to the front-end cabin crew terminal. The unit only powers up when activated by a user at the seat. This product ought to get some award at a future show as it breaks a lot of barriers for display technology, power, and communication technology. We also note that their breakaway headset jack has a new magnetic solution… it uses only one magnet and gives virtually 180 degrees of breaking direction. This is a great product and it simplifies the issues surrounding magnets and positioning them on the jack and plug… not to mention weight and price.

Quite by accident, the IFExpress team ran into Todd Hamblin (VP Business Development) at APEX and he gave us a pretty convincing reason as to why we should run a story on his company, Global Aerospace Design Corp. After a little research we thought it a good idea as well. Firstly and right up front, we don’t do many stories about after sale, new cabin reconfiguration projects (like IFE and connectivity), but these folks have been doing this kind of work for years now and our readers might need some help from them. With partners like Zodiac, Astronics, Thales, Avio and others, we thought we had better listen to their story.

From a description point of view, Global Aerospace is an engineering services organization that provides aircraft integration and certification services to airlines, maintenance repair organizations, and aviation equipment manufacturers. A complete list of services relating to certification and installation are as follows:  Consulting, Program Management, Purchasing, Installation Design, Certification Support, On-Site Installation Support, Product Support and Business Development. Further Global provides its customers the ability to install new systems into existing aircraft and return the aircraft to revenue service in the most efficient manner. If you want to look at it this way, Global takes care of the installation and certification process after your hardware is sold to an airline and you might want to contact them for background info or specification updates. “Global is comprised of ex-airline personnel who are experts at aircraft integration and certification, and have a complete understanding of how the system will be maintained once on the aircraft,” explained Mr. Hamblin. “With the benefit of having DERs, certified A&P mechanics and licensed pilots on staff, Global can truly take a program from beginning to end.”

We sought out an airline reference to back up Mr. Hamblin’s praise of their services and we got this quote from Mr. Tahawar Durrani, GM of Engineering Services at Air Nugini – “On behalf of Air Niugini Engineering Services, I would like to thank all the Global team for a job well done. They have a professional, hardworking and dedicated team with a high sense of duty, engineering acumen and spirit to work effectively in an environment with competing milestones and alternating time-lines.” Global has over 30 years of efficient FAA and EASA certification experience. If you have the job of installing and certificating IFE and Wi-Fi or need to understand the process, be sure to give Todd Hamblin a call at +1 513 304 9315 (thamblin@gadc.com) and check out this link (Icelandair Partnership and Global Data Sheet) for a bit more information about their experience and services. All the new single-aisle IFE and connectivity hardware shown at APEX is going to need install and certification assistance and these folks in Cincinnati, Ohio just may be your installation solution.

An old friend popped up at APEX, Peter McLaughlin (see this week’s IFEC Buzz). As CEO of Stellar Entertainment, Peter has an airline past at Qantas and we first met him there in the early 90’s. This fellow knows the IFE business and showed a few new products the Stellar team is flogging. One caught our eye – their Home-to-Hotel digital Newspaper & Magazine service. But there’s more and we will cover their offering in a future Hot Topic. By the way, they will also be at AIX Hamburg 2014!

Last week we noted these new BOSE QuietComfort 20 headsets and here is link to the official image and the press release/spec.


Sydney, Australia | July 10, 2013– Stellar Entertainment Chairman Rob Lynch has announced the appointment of Peter McLaughlin to the position of CEO/Managing Director, effective immediately.
In making the announcement Mr. Lynch said, “I am delighted that
Peter has agreed to accept the position. He is an exceptional
Executive who knows how to expand the reach of the Stellar
Entertainment’s products and services. As CEO and Managing Director, Peter will further advance our position in the industry and accelerate innovation; he is the right person to lead Stellar Entertainment into a new era. Peter has vast experience in both the aviation industry and associated entertainment demands with a background of over 30 years with Qantas, where his Senior Executive roles covered Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, Product Development, and Regional Management. Furthermore, he has served on the Board of Directors of Stellar Entertainment since March 2012.”

Mr. McLaughlin said, “It is with great pride and a high sense of anticipation that I take on this role in Stellar; a company with an enviable 40 year record of delivering content to airlines and providing quality audio/visual production services, and I look forward to moving the company forward into its next 40 years.”

For more information, please contact rob.lynch@stellargroup.com or peter.mclaughlin@stellargroup.com