Panasonic bringing live TV to intercontinental flights

The service will carry international news channels and piggy-back on the in-flight broadband service launching this year

Panasonic Avionics, a unit of the Japanese electronics giant that specializes in in-flight entertainment systems for aircraft, is launching a new system that will provide live broadcast television on intercontinental flights.

The company has initially signed agreements with BBC World News, Al Jazeera, Bloomberg Television, Euronews and France 24 and said deals with additional broadcasters are expected to be signed soon.

In-flight satellite TV is already available on some domestic flights in the U.S. but its use is restricted both by the coverage area of the satellite and broadcast rights deals that typically allow a TV station to offer programming to a defined geographical area.

The Panasonic system will use the same satellites that carry the company's ExConnect broadband Internet offering for aircraft so aircraft should remain in range of the signal throughout their flights. In terms of programming, news channels are often available internationally and don't pose copyright problems. However, getting entertainment programming onboard might be more problematic.

Panasonic has yet to announce any deals but says five airlines have signed up for the ExConnect service. They'll be announced when equipment has been installed on aircraft and the service is ready to be offered to travellers, which will probably be in the latter part of this year, said spokeswoman Theresa Yeoh. Panasonic is currently in discussions with several airlines for the live TV service, she said.

It's promoting the service to airlines as a way to earn extra revenue from passengers, either with pay-per-view service offerings or through insertion of advertising into the live TV streams.

ExConnect is the first intercontinental, high-speed Internet service available on aircraft since 2006, when Boeing's Connexion service was shutdown due to mounting losses. Connexion also carried some streaming television.