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Meet the person working hard to pick the movie you'll watch on your next flight

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

From the Sundance Film Festival to Oscar nominees, there's no better time to talk about movies than in January. But we're going to focus now not on the big screen, but the small screen - the very small screen, the one on the back of the seat in front of you when you take an airplane. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that airlines spend half a billion dollars a year bringing movies and other video content to their passengers, and they have teams of people who spend their workdays curating those selections. We wanted to find out how they do it. So we called Ekrem Dimbiloglu. He's managing director of in-flight entertainment and connectivity for Delta Airlines, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.

EKREM DIMBILOGLU: Ayesha, it's great to be with you.

RASCOE: What are the qualifications for this job? It seems really fun. Do you have any openings right now - not for myself, but, you know, some people listening may want to know?

DIMBILOGLU: Right. Unfortunately, there are not any openings right now. The qualifications are pretty simple, Ayesha. It's the love and passion for content. Watching lots of movies and series is important. It's part of the role. But it's really important - it's not just about getting to your destination, which is clearly so important, but it's also about the experience itself when you're traveling to your destination and to be able to entertain you and to expand your horizons - we take our jobs really seriously in that aspect.

RASCOE: What makes a good airplane movie? Are there specific films that do well in the air that might not on the ground?

DIMBILOGLU: That's a really good question. There are movies that do great in the theater that do great on the plane. A great example is "Barbie" from this last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBIE")

MARGOT ROBBIE: (As Barbie) No. Ken, this is my dream house. It is my dream house. It's mine.

RYAN GOSLING: (As Ken) No, this is no longer Barbie's dream house. This shall henceforth be known as Ken's mojo dojo casa house.

DIMBILOGLU: It did great in theaters, but it also did fantastic on board the plane. But there are others that are more gems that happen when you're on board an aircraft. So one that we actually saw at Sundance last year was "Past Lives." It's about two childhood friends who reconnect after 20-plus years of their relationship, and how they have grown apart, and how they come back together. It's really a story about connection.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PAST LIVES")

GRETA LEE: (As Nora) It's an in-yun if two strangers even walk by each other in the street and their clothes accidentally brush because it means there must have been something between them in their past lives.

DIMBILOGLU: Our team viewed it when we were there and we said, oh, my goodness, we have to have this on board. And it did fantastic. So there's not always a correlation between the biggest of blockbusters and what's viewed on Delta. Sometimes that's there, but a lot of times movies that maybe aren't the largest in the theater do really, really well on board our planes.

RASCOE: What do you think people are looking for? Are they looking for romance? I would imagine they may not want to be scared. Maybe they do want to be scared. Or are they - you know, action. Like, what are the types of things that people look for when they're on a plane?

DIMBILOGLU: So the two types of movies that do best on board an aircraft are comedies and action films. One thing, though, that we found, and we did some research about this several years ago, that customers - when they're on board a plane watching content, are more emotional than they are when they're on the ground. We find that folks cry more when they're on board an aircraft. We do see dramas as well do really, really well. But between dramas, comedies and actions, those are the three kind of major categories that seem to be where most of our customers gravitate towards.

RASCOE: I guess this seems like a lot of trouble to go through to make sure people are entertained. I wouldn't think that people really choose an airline because of entertainment options. Why is this so important?

DIMBILOGLU: It is so important. I mean, we have 160,000 individual seatback entertainment screens. We have over 10 million customers a month. On the grounds our lives are so busy. We're moving from one place to the other constantly. The airplane is really one of the only places left where you can sit and be calm and really open your mind to do different things, and by giving you movies that maybe you wouldn't watch on the ground and showing that to you in a curated fashion we know draws customers into trying new things which they have told us they appreciate. Because, again, they're watching something that they typically wouldn't when they're at their house.

RASCOE: That's Ekrem Dimbiloglu, managing director of inflight entertainment and connectivity at Delta Airlines. Thank you for being with us.

DIMBILOGLU: Ayesha, thanks so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.