The Mile-High Media Club
If my experience is anything to go by -- and I know it's not universal, as not all planes are equally well equipped -- the range of movies available for free via seat back screens (all programmable at the touch of a finger on the screen itself) has increased markedly, with many newer movies available at no charge.
Traveling as I was with the family and to a country where the mighty dollar is currently reduced to a whimpering shadow of its former self (exchange rate of two dollars to the pound in one of the world's most expensive cities), we were in economy / cattle class and thankful for the onscreen distraction from the discomfort of eight hours with zero legroom in seats designed for people with hips as wide as their heads. Unlike some transatlantic flights in my past, we were not faced with the choice of four outdated and/or bad movies we'd already seen, before checking out a mouthwatering menu of extortionately priced movies you actually would like to watch (call me crazy, but there's something about paying over $1000 for an economy flight that makes me less inclined to fork out for the privilege of a less than cinematic movie-going experience).
Thanks to those good folks at Delta - for it was they - we actually had access to more movies than you could shake a stick at, all recent and of a wide variety - good kids selection, action, comedy, chic flicks, drama etc. Not only that, but there was a rich catalogue of TV content, notable among which was some HBO faves.
However, despite being delighted by the array of free movies on offer, my actual consumption of said goodies was pretty limited. On the outbound flight, once I'd got past the delight of the range of content available to me I settled down to enjoy the deeply wonderful Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" (excellent - put me in mind of "Citizen Kane"). Then, after a couple of hours of uncomfortable quasi-sleep I watched my seven-year-old playing various of the games on the touch screen before being enticed to play one myself for the last 40 minutes or so of the flight.
More interesting was my choice of content on the return flight. Turning from the movie and TV selections altogether, I spent the entire flight on an extended orgy of game playing (I don't remember the name of the game in question, but it was clearly quite compelling). I neither slept nor ate for the entire flight (the latter being a matter of good sense and self-preservation) and arrived feeling perfectly alert and relaxed -- probably better than I would have felt if I'd tried to sleep in the level of discomfort that is par for the course.
There is of course a problem that goes with the concept of games on the seatback touch screens; namely, all that touching of the screen. After all many of us dread the small child sitting behind us on a plane and kicking us from behind all the way across the Atlantic. Now it seems we may be able to look forward to the overly exuberant game player poking the back of the headrest as we try to sleep. Thankfully, I neither experienced this, nor was I punched in the face after six hours by the guy in front of me, unable to contain his air-rage any longer. After a few hours my seven-year-old actually lent me the stylus from his Nintendo DS while he watched a movie -- definitely an improvement and maybe one way to avoid annoying your fellow passenger in front.
A colleague of mine who returned to the office from London today was not so lucky, however. She claims to have endured at least an hour and a half of headrest pounding by someone she describes as "having had at least six cans of Fosters" (which goes to show you should never sit near people who drink Fosters). At least she found some kind of escape in the movies.
Interestingly though, despite being far more attentive to the screen -- both for the specific content and for the breadth of choice before me -- I don't recall seeing any advertising or other commercial messaging, beyond the usual stuff for the airline around the safety videos at take-off. So I was deeply engaged, just not advertised to or otherwise targeted.
To the best of my recollection, this represents a step back from the time when I could tune into different channels of content interspersed with advertising. Less granular control of what I saw and when, but more ad dollars for the in-flight network. Something of a microcosm for what we see elsewhere, maybe?