Miami Int'l Debuts Free Video Streaming- in English and Español

Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

Miami International Airport (MIA) has provided news, weather and stock market updates to visitors in gate holdrooms via the CNN Airport Network for roughly two decades. Airport officials have long realized that the service wasn't serving one of MIA's dominant demographic groups: Spanish-speaking customers.

This summer, the airport rectified that when it began video streaming free content in English and Spanish. Since June, customers at the largest U.S. gateway for Latin America and the Caribbean have been using cellphones and other mobile devices to watch CNN Airport Network and CNN Latino, a broad-spectrum programming block that includes news, lifestyle, documentary, talk and debate.

MIA's latest customer survey provides statistical support for bridging the language-based service gap. Recent data indicates that 33% of the airport's departing passengers identify themselves as Latino or Hispanic.

While MIA officials recognize the value of the airport's satellite television news service, they also


Project: Video Streaming

Location: Miami Int'l Airport

Airport Authority: Miami-Dade Aviation Dept.

Partners: AWG/EMS; CNN Airport Network

Debut: June 2013

Cost: Free service for passengers with personal wireless devices

Key Benefits: Providing news and other content in English and Spanish

acknowledge its limitations. "If you are in a holdroom an hour before your flight and you are looking at entertainment to keep yourself or your kids busy, you are going to watch CNN in English, with both audio and closed captioning. But if you don't speak English, how much of a value-added service are we offering?" queries Maurice Jenkins, MIA's division director for Information Systems.

Rather than change the CNN Airport Network content it broadcasts on monitors in gatehold areas, the airport leveraged wireless technology for its foray into providing Spanish-language news and entertainment programming.

"We have been seeing everyone - from kids to grown adults - carrying PDAs, iPads and Android devices with wireless capabilities, and we decided to go ahead to see what we can actually do to enhance that," explains Jenkins. "We put out news, as current as we can make it that is being pushed by CNN, to wireless devices as a complimentary service so our patrons can have an experience before they take off."

Why Wireless?

While MIA owns and operates its Wi-Fi network, Advanced Wireless Group (AWG) operates its public Wi-Fi service. As such, the company furnishes the components and expertise required to provide internet access to airport visitors.

AWG President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Phillips approached the airport with the concept of video streaming as an additional customer amenity. He presented CNN Airport Network as the logical partner to provide English content, as well as Spanish-language content from CNN Latino, a custom network for the U.S. Hispanic market that was created as an extension of CNN en Español, the Spanish-language news network pay TV leader for the past 15 years in Latin America and the United States.

AWG has provided information technology consulting to MIA and other U.S. airports since the late 1980s through its parent company, Electronic Media Systems (EMS). Phillips, who founded EMS in 1988, was key vendor to CNN during the rollout of CNN Airport Network. 

Throughout the years, Phillips has had a front-row seat as MIA considered various strategies for providing relevant news to its Spanish-speaking customers. One idea, he recalls, was using the airport's Flight Information Display System to deliver Spanish content. Another was contracting a system that would automatically switch programming on the CNN Airport Network from English to Spanish in holdrooms with flights departing for South America.

"Wi-Fi became the natural solution to that problem, with far greater abilities to serve those passengers," explains Phillips.

Given the tremendous growth in consumer use of Wi-Fi equipped mobile devices, Phillips considers it a logical evolution for MIA to move into that arena from an information technology engineering standpoint. Expanding the reach of MIA's premier video content beyond the fixed gate televisions eventually emerged as the answer.

"Generally speaking, both public Wi-Fi and CNN Airport Network are customer service amenities," reasons Phillips. "Streaming content is a natural extension of that customer service element."

Jenkins describes it this way: "Given the industry as it stands today and the panacea that exists around Wi-Fi, we got together with AWG and CNN to leverage and enhance the passenger experience through wireless."

Phillips sees the now executed video streaming as an important new perk for the large, international airport. "Since the early 1990s, airports have offered only English-speaking news - but there is a tremendous Spanish-speaking-only population flying out of MIA to multiple markets," he explains. "The fact that we can now give them Spanish-speaking content for free is a great addition to MIA's well-established customer service offerings. And this is only the first step with a broader range of content, including entertainment and sports, yet to come."

CNN Airport Network President Debbie Cooper notes that the inclusion of CNN Latino programming in streaming content enables the network to extend its reach to an important and growing segment of air travelers.

"Over the years, CNN Airport Network has continued to evolve to meet the changing needs of the busy traveler," says Cooper. "We are thrilled to take the viewing experience to the next level with the launch of live streaming. And by offering a new tier of content, we will connect the tech-savvy air traveler with a diverse array of content whenever and wherever, anywhere in the airport."

No Charge

MIA's decision to make streaming video of both CNN Airport Network and CNN Latino a free service for airport patrons is a continuation of its hybrid system. Visitors are similarly not charged to use the airport's wireless network to access its website and the sites of related partners, such as tenant airlines, rental car agencies, area hotels and the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. They are charged, however, to use it for all other purposes such as reading/sending e-mail, visiting unrelated websites or streaming video from non-partner sources such as Netflix. Airport visitors can pay $4.95 for the first 30 minutes of access or $7.95 for 24 continuous hours.

When MIA launched its some-free/some-fee model last spring, Miguel Southwell, deputy director of the Miami-Dade Aviation Department, explained that it's simply cost prohibitive for an airport with MIA's passenger volume and physical footprint to provide unrestricted Wi-Fi service to customers. Complimentary access to select travel-related websites was deemed a "customer service enhancement."

Video streaming news in English and Spanish is now considered another. "Money is one thing, but customer service is another," says Jenkins of the distinction.

Given the state of the airport industry, MIA uses Wi-Fi fees to generate non-aeronautical revenue - primarily through paid access, but also by leveraging sponsorships and advertising.

"We have a fee-based model that offers our patrons great customer service, great bandwidth and great functionality," explains Jenkins. "With the amount of people we touch, we are working to increase more premium sponsorships and advertising to leverage it back to our customers."

MIA recently provided customers with several months of complimentary Wi-Fi through a paid sponsorship by Google. Similar discussions have also occurred with American Express and other companies with premier brands that want to reach MIA's consumer base. "As we start to push out more content, and we have the ability to monetize that leverage to be able do sponsorships in advertising, you are going to see more complimentary services roll out," predicts Jenkins.

For now, however, officials are hoping to enjoy softer returns on the airport's recent refinement of its wireless program. "We look at the provision of this streaming content as a good customer service offering in addition to other complimentary services we offer via CNN and our Wi-Fi portal," says Jenkins.

AWG sees it as the wave of the future. Phillips reports that following the success at MIA, streaming video versions of CNN Airport Network and CNN Latino will be rolled at 15 other U.S. airports the company serves, and potentially other CNN Airport Network venues as well.


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