I was recently sitting on a flight from Boston to SFO and started to look through the in-flight movie options. I was surprised how much the experience reminded me of what mobile gaming was like in 2012.
Each movie cost several dollars to play. Although I could watch a short trailer, there was no free preview to get me hooked on a film. This creates a high barrier to me purchasing a movie because the paywall happens before I’m invested. This got me wondering – why haven’t airlines adopted the (very successful) free-to-play model that has taken mobile gaming by storm?
Instead of paying for a movie up front, let the viewer watch the first 20 minutes for free. Then prompt them to pay to continue watching.
The Sunk Cost Fallacy
This model takes advantage of an interesting psychological phenomenon called the sunk cost fallacy. In short: people fear something being taken away from them more than they enjoy something being given to them.
In our movie example, people who watch 20 minutes of a free preview and then never finish their movie will feel a pain in “losing” 20 minutes of their life. They rationalize that, “if I’ve already spent 20 minutes watching this movie I might as well pay the $6 to finish it.” This same rationalization does not occur if they haven’t invested in starting to watch a movie.
Just ask Temple Run
Temple Run is an extremely successful mobile game. But before it was successful it used to be just like airplane movies. Initially people had to pay $0.99 to play it, and for a while business went along in a rather mediocre fashion. Then one day the studio decided to make Temple Run free.
“We decided to try going free,” the studio co-founder explained to Gamasutra, and “the revenue immediately went up about 5x when we set the app free. Keeping it free was a no-brainer.” Removing the barrier of having to pay to play the game raised revenue 500%!
A/B Test It
If an airline was interested in this idea, a simple A/B test would prove if there was any validity to the theory. Give half the SFO to JFK flights free 20-minute previews (test group), and the other half of flights normal pay-to-view movies (control group). Whichever group has more movie revenue per passenger wins.
Just like mobile gaming had a pivot to free-to-play in 2012, other forms of media are ripe for disruption. Something as stagnant as airplane movies is a great example. Why not take key learnings from mobile and apply them to entertainment at 35,000 feet?