Wireless inflight portals use advertising to give passengers access to free content

In a move to make advertising part of its business model, inflight Internet provider Row 44, in cooperation with JiWire, has just introduced a sponsored inflight entertainment portal, called Skytown Center. The portal provides passengers with WiFi-enabled devices wireless access to live television, games, destination information and an online shopping catalogue, at no charge.

Row 44 and JiWire are betting that passengers who do not want to pay USD6 to 15 for unlimited inflight Internet access, are instead interested to have access to limited content in a so-called ‘walled-garden’ environment. Airlines can apply their own branding to the Skytown Center portal, and Row 44 and JiWire are reportedly in discussions with Row 44’s broadband launch customers Southwest and Alaska Airlines to rollout a a pilot version of the portal.

AeroMobile has also just unveiled a similar inflight cellular portal. Featuring ads and branded in the airline’s colours, the portal provides free access to content such as mp3s, games, sports and music video clips, as well as information on gate connections and frequent flyer data. Meanwhile, Aircell’s GoGo already offers a limited wireless portal service. Passengers registering with GoGo receive complimentary access to the Wall Street Journal and Frommer’s travel guides while in the air.

Although in their early stages, wireless inflight entertainment portals might be a low-cost alternatives for airlines to offer some form of inflight entertainment on short-haul flights. Furthermore, the portal’s advertising-funded business model may be an example how airlines can monetize their current seatback IFE systems in the future.

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