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Originally published Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 12:34 PM

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European airline putting in-flight entertainment on Wi-Fi

A Norwegian airline is moving onboard entertainment into the digital age, offering in-flight movies, music and more through planes' Wi-Fi starting next year.

The New York Times

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PARIS — Air travel may provide a feeling of freedom, but in-flight entertainment options still tend to be more tethered. That may be about to change.

Norwegian Air Shuttle, one of the biggest airlines in Scandinavia, and Ink, which provides magazines for about 30 carriers worldwide, plan to introduce an entertainment system next year that would finally thrust in-flight media more thoroughly into the digital era.

Using the carrier's free Wi-Fi service, passengers will have access to a range of content, including music, video and travel articles from the carrier's in-flight magazine, on their smartphones, tablets or laptops. The service will operate from a dedicated online portal and will be accessible even as planes are cruising at 30,000 feet, or 9,100 meters, or more.

"We wanted to rethink the whole way we organize travel content, from the beginning to the end of a customer journey," said Stine Steffensen Borke, marketing director at Norwegian, on Tuesday.

A number of other airlines have upgraded their in-flight media using digital technology — providing, for example, versions of newspapers or magazines, including in-flight publications, for download to passengers' laptops.

And in-flight entertainment systems long ago moved beyond a handful of channels playing repeating loops of movies and music. But these services generally still operate from an offline server, rather than being connected to the Internet.

Ink and Norwegian say their new service is more ambitious because it is built on the carrier's Wi-Fi service, which is available on 80 percent of Norwegian's fleet of 68 planes. Most other carriers that offer Wi-Fi charge passengers for the service, limiting its usefulness as a conduit for in-flight media; Norwegian sees it as a universal service.

Jeffrey O'Rourke, chief executive of Ink, said this opened new horizons, including the possibility of offering location-based content. For example, articles from the carrier's magazine and its archives could be served to passengers according to the destinations they are heading for or flying over, he said. Travelers could provide feedback via "social" functions.

Ink also plans to sell advertising for the Norwegian in-flight site.

"In-flight magazines are a great tool for hitting everyone on a plane with the same messages," O'Rourke said. "In-flight Wi-Fi is a way to provide a much more diverse and granular offer."

Norwegian plans to introduce the portal in January and to begin additional services throughout the year.

O'Rourke said Ink was already working on a similar project for another client, the Eurostar train service linking Paris, London, Brussels and other destinations via the Channel Tunnel.

While the Norwegian plan has a digital focus, the old-fashioned in-flight magazine has not been forgotten. That, too, is being remade and will carry references to the carrier's online service.

Steffensen Borke said there were no plans, for now, to phase out the paper publication.

"I'm still surprised by how many people read the magazine," she said. "At the moment, it's still a useful channel for us."

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