The feature, exclusive to Chrysler Group vehicles for the first year, will initially carry content only from Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network.
William Mattingly, vice president of Chrysler's engineering corps, says that until now, delivering broadcast video to moving vehicles hasn't been feasible because the capture antenna has to be obtrusively large, and--as it does on one's house--always face whichever geo-stationary satellite delivers content. He says Chrysler and electronics provider Delphi solved that problem via two hockey puck-sized antennae to be mounted on a vehicle's roof.
The 2008 Chrysler Town and Country and Dodge Caravan minivans, heading to showrooms late this summer, will be the first beneficiaries.
The redesigned 2008-model minivans will also introduce another industry first: Swivel 'n Go, which lends a living-room quality to the rear cabin space. The feature lets second-row chairs swivel to face third-row seat occupants, and includes a table mount, coupled with a removable surface so rear occupants can face each other over a table. The table can be stowed when not in use.
The TVs are mounted on roof rails and can be moved fore and aft. TV content can also play on the MyGIG screen on the front console.
George Murphy, Senior Vice President/Director of marketing for Chrysler Group, says the company will tout Sirius Backseat TV as just one of several changes to the new minivans. He said the technology will be highlighted in marketing communications because it helps promote the company as a technology leader.
"At the end of the day we want consumers to say--as they did with Sto 'n' Go, 'I can't believe someone figured this out'." Sto 'n' Go, introduced in 2004, allows quick folding of second- and third-row seats completely into a storage recess on the cab floor. When not in use, the bins act as storage cubbies.
But Murphy adds that Chrysler will try to balance the message so the Backseat TV feature is promoted as one of a suite of information and entertainment options such as the recently introduced MyGIG feature.
Consumers who opt for Sirius Backseat TV, for which Chrysler will tack on $425, get the service for free for the first year. After the initial year, the service is $7 per month, when packaged with Sirius satellite radio, which is $12.95 per month.
Murphy says Chrysler and Sirius worked on the program together, as well as the initial content offerings. "We have thought a lot about where entertainment is going, and Sirius has been our partner in this," he says. "We went with the three biggest providers of children's content."
Chrysler will tout the new minivans' features via traditional advertising for the vehicles, plus a heavy grassroots approach, something Chrysler did when it launched Sto 'n' Go. "We are looking at theme parks, malls, places that see a lot of families. I think people need to get into the vehicle to experience it, so we will do mobile tours and of course auto shows," he says, adding that Chrysler is projecting about 30% of buyers will opt for Backseat TV and about the same number will take Swivel 'n' Go.
The minivan market, flat for the past several years and holding at about 1 million units per year, is also a "dumb-bell" market with about half the buyers empty-nesters--and half, obviously, families. Murphy sees an opportunity for Backseat TV principally among echo-boomers, or millennials, who are now starting to have kids. He says there will be more room in the market since Ford and GM are fielding fewer minivans as they focus on cars and crossovers.