ABOVE Opens New Possibilities for Airlines

ABOVE, a joint venture of Touch Inflight Solutions and castLabs, was started in 2019 as an open standards-based content supply chain platform for the cost-efficient encoding, storage and distribution of encoded video and related metadata through cloud-based services.

Combining years of expertise in providing content management and cloud-based services, ABOVE “aims to solve many of the complexities and inefficiencies of delivering” in-flight entertainment (IFE) content by leveraging best practices and economies of scale already utilized in the over-the-top (OTT) market, according to Andre Valera, ABOVE CEO and managing director, and Michael Stattmann, CEO and founder of castLabs.

The ABOVE platform was built on concepts tested and adopted over the past five years with Lufthansa Systems’ BoardConnect.

It not only reduces costs and complexity, facilitating automation with improved best-in-class security but also enables “next day” content delivery to aircraft worldwide, they explained.

ABOVE offers a variety of secure services that enable organizations to move the entire content supply chain, from post production to delivery of the final product to the aircraft — with supported IFE systems — directly over the air to aircraft.

The key unique features are the isolation of content processing from human operators for the highest possible level of content protection, end-to-end automation of the entire supply chain workflow with intelligent, automated quality control capabilities to dramatically reduce turnaround times, and leveraging of economies of scale along automation to significantly lower costs, Valera said.

ABOVE also includes data analytics capabilities enabling insights into user and content consumption data, he noted.

It currently services Touch and Lufthansa Systems and their respective portfolio of more than 20 airlines.

ABOVE is “innovating by intersecting the need for a whole new standard for media distribution in our ecosystem with a new and unique platform that streamlines a fragmented supply chain,” he explained.

“This is a disruptive innovation as our technology unlocks new business model opportunities,” Valera and Stattmann said.

“What makes us different, yet better prepared to achieve such disruption, is our unique combination of industry experience, nimble size and flexibility, technological capabilities and the fact that we are creating something new, instead of adapting/changing a previous service/product.”

Overcoming challenges

Despite challenges created by COVID-19, the pandemic has proven to be a “catalyst event for our value proposition, which is to accelerate media to aircraft in a much more affordable setting,” according to Valera.

“Expense mitigation is key for the relevance and sustainability of an inflight entertainment offer these days and, with ABOVE, we are helping our customers drastically reduce their cost basis and improve turnaround times,” he explained.

Of other challenges, he said: “We envision an ecosystem that adopts standards when it comes to platform interfaces and data exchanges. [But] sometimes it takes time and a lot of effort to push this forward and we recognize this could be a challenge.”

Meanwhile, “another challenge that we identify is actually a big opportunity for us: enabling substantial cost reductions for an industry that requires leaner processes and ‘lite’ services that help mitigate expenses,” he said, calling that a “challenge for some and a key entry point for our value proposition.”

Also, while women have had to overcome specific challenges to thrive in the tech sector, ABOVE seeks talent “regardless of the gender, racial, sexual or cultural backgrounds” of job candidates and “we actively seek to hire diversely and close any salary gaps,” he said.

ABOVE has a global team across more than five countries and “we are very motivated towards diversity and inclusion,” he said.

Initial success stories

The ABOVE platform can “orchestrate complex content processing, approval and delivery workflows while being architected to evolve and increase efficiencies and functionality over time,” Valera pointed out.

“Touch has already leveraged components of the ABOVE platform to successfully deliver thousands of files to all major IFE systems,” including those from Panasonic, Thales, Gogo, Safran, Lufthansa Systems and Bluebox, he said.

“A benchmark of what we unlock is the media budget allocation,” he noted.

One of ABOVE’s airline customers previously had around 15 percent of its media budget allocated to media processing and supply chain and the other 85 percent to media licensing, he said.

But, “with the implementation of our solution (which was a partial implementation, with room to grow), we unlocked substantial savings, shifting one-third of the media processing budget to media licensing, enhancing the passenger experience offer without any additional investment from the airline,” he explained.

What’s next for ABOVE?

Looking ahead, Valera and Stattmann said the “short-term goals for ABOVE are to consolidate the current service offering in a new interface, making available a frictionless media ordering experience, implementing EIDR for identifying content in the library, and to increase the footprint in terms of content partners working with us.”

For this year and 2022, “we have the specific goal to create an interface standard for our workflows that can be used by anyone in the market working with/through us,” they said.

“As tangible targets, we want to achieve the 10,000s/year of orders processed through our platform and the ability to be vetted and authorized to process media for 2+ major Hollywood studios.”

As part of “future enhancements, we will incorporate new features for media editing automation and localization automation,” as well as integrate metadata “into the deliverables, allowing a complete media output package,” they added.