Virgin America Takes Netflix to New Heights

By Steve Anderson September 30, 2015

For those who engage in air travel frequently, in-flight entertainment can be difficult. While some choose to take advantage of the multi-hour block of time to catch up on work or reading, others wish that more terrestrial pleasures could be had, like catching up on an “Orange is the New Black” backlog. Virgin America has heard the cries of such travelers and has recently started offering free Netflix streaming on some of its flights.

                            

Virgin America now represents the first airline to offer Netflix via in-flight Wi-Fi, thanks to an arrangement between itself, ViaSat and Netflix. The experience is set to run at least until March 2, 2016, though if enough people call Virgin and say “I absolutely love this service” there's likely a good chance it will keep going. The ViaSat connection gives Virgin's A320 aircraft access to a surprisingly fast satellite signal, with 140 Gbits per second speed available for each flight. That's more than enough to stream Netflix, and well beyond, a point that this arrangement takes advantage of.

For those who already have Netflix, taking advantage should be simple; if a flight's attendants notify the cable that the improved Wi-Fi is available, just open a Web browser when possible and login via the VirginAmerica ViaSat network. Enter the current password and watch as normal.

Those who don't have Netflix service, meanwhile, will be offered a 30-day free trial that can be immediately accessed. But those who don't want in on the Netflix trial will still get some of the fun; Virgin will be offering all three seasons of Netflix hit “House of Cards” streaming through its Red seatback in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems at no charge starting next month.

Reports suggest that the ViaSat system is currently on the A320 flying from San Francisco International Airport to Washington's Reagan National Airport. Some reports even suggest that it comes with a free drink known as the Whiskey Whistleblower cocktail, which may or may not be of interest.

On the one hand, this is not a hard development to like, particularly those flying from San Francisco to Washington D.C on a regular basis. After all, it gives access to some terrific in-flight entertainment, which has been sorely lacking. This also gives Netflix a critical new market in which to engage. Netflix has been seemingly marked for death by several major studios that have a serious problem with Netflix's all-you-can-watch business model.

About the only thing that really keeps those wolves out of the door is Netflix's massive user base, which might well turn against the studios themselves should such studios get sufficiently heavy-handed. However, there could be a significant performance issue afoot, especially with so many users streaming Netflix at once. That could well turn passengers off the experience, and shoot it in the foot before it can even launch.

Will Netflix fly high with Virgin? Or will it just crash and burn? If this works, it's going to be great news for Netflix, who needs its subscriber counts high to fend off an entrenched Hollywood model. Virgin's network just might be what Netflix needed to stay in the game.




Edited by Kyle Piscioniere

Contributing Writer

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