Author(s): Raghu Gopal
This week, Virgin Trains, which operates the West and East Coast rail franchises in the UK, announced free on-board entertainment, allowing travellers to watch on-demand content on their devices via a free app. Virgin will mark the launch of the app with an event at London Euston station, featuring the stars of Hollywood blockbuster Independence Day: Resurgence. The service is initially available on West Coast Pendolino and East Coast routes, with all Voyager trains catching up by September 2016.
All passengers, regardless of the class they are travelling in, can download Virgin's Beam application on their mobile devices prior to boarding trains. The free service involves using the app via an on-board server, meaning there's direct connection from the server to passengers with no need for them to use their cellular data services. This also overcomes problems with patchy network access on trains and the cost associated with mobile data usage.
With the app, travellers have access to a library of about 200 hours of content on their smartphones and tablets. Several train operators offer either free or fee-based Wi-Fi, but this is the first time that free video is being thrown into the mix on UK's railways.
Recently, several airlines have introduced the same concept, allowing passengers to stream the plane's content library using their personal devices rather than the seat-back entertainment system. Furthermore, some airlines have forged deals with Amazon and Netflix giving subscribers access to these video services on board.
Thanks to rapid consumer replacement cycles, most passengers now have higher-quality displays on their devices than the screens supplied by airlines. For example, Delta Air Lines in the US announced last week that passengers will soon be able to access a plane's on-board entertainment system through Wi-Fi. The airline said that travellers will be able to access up to 300 movies and 750 television shows from the content library, free of charge. There's a growing recognition among service providers of all sorts that users are tech-savvy and independent, have the hardware they want and are demanding more control.
Overall we find this to be a positive trend. We expect the type of on-board entertainment service being provided by Virgin Trains to catch on. Also, leveraging such technology to keep travellers engaged during their commute is an innovative way for Virgin to compete with domestic air travel. This also means less streaming using cellular networks, potentially freeing up some bandwidth, but, more importantly, saving consumers money when seeking entertainment on the move.