Travelers who book a flight on Virgin Atlantic have their pick of the usual on-board entertainment—movies, TV, music, video games—and the old standby seat-back magazine. Most carriers offer these distractions, but next week, Virgin Atlantic will host an entertainment option that’s unique to the troposphere, a live comedy show starring Abbi Jacobson.
The show is part of a platform called #LiveFromVirgin, which the carrier created to promote its new Wi-Fi service. Virgin just become the first European carrier to offer Wi-Fi across its entire fleet. Jacobson will serve as the headlining act for a lineup of five other comedians, each of whom will take off from London on a different Virgin long-haul flight bound for a different U.S. city and take turns doing their routines. (At press time, none of the other comedians had been identified.)
Though it’s tempting to imagine the comedians setting up wooden stools and microphones in the aisle, the shows will not follow the usual nightclub format (meaning they won’t be using the plane’s PA system). Instead, the performers will run through their material from their seats by tweeting and posting Instagram Stories in real time.
“We’re putting on the first live, social media-enabled comedy festival at 35,000 feet—it’s like a comedy show, except it’s being broadcast from an airplane and in social media,” explained Scott Vitrone, partner and chief creative officer at Figliulo & Partners, the shop behind the effort.
The social-media element accomplishes two important goals: It’ll be kind to those passengers who might not want to be literally strapped into their seats for the duration of a comedy act. But more to the point, it’ll spread the word about Virgin’s new Wi-Fi service to an audience far larger than the one stuck in coach.
“There have been airlines that have done movie screenings and live music, but those are all for a very small audience, for the people flying,” Vitrone said. “We want to broadcast it to the world.”
But why? Isn’t on-board Wi-Fi pretty standard these days? Well, sure. But the technical hurdles of offering it on the transatlantic haul are significant, and Virgin wanted a big marketing push for the new amenity.
“We’re really excited to be able to offer it. Virgin is the first to do it, and it’s a huge deal,” said Jenna Lloyd, Virgin Atlantic’s head of marketing “We know [passengers] as used to using [Wi-Fi], and now we can keep them connected across the pond.”
Virgin will feature the service on its 747, 787, A330 and A340 planes. And like most on-board amenities today, this one ain’t free. The carrier will however offer tiers of service, ranging from a light package at $6.39 for 40MB of data on up to what it’s calling Wi-Fi Max for $19.18 that lets you surf to your heart’s content the whole way.
Though passengers may grumble about the added cost, there will no doubt be a receptive audience for Jacobson. The 33-year-old comedian is the creative force behind Broad City, the enormously popular web series that Comedy Central picked up in 2014 and is now in its fourth season. Impetuous, frank and sometimes sexual, the show follows Jacobson and co-creator Ilana Glazer as they navigate the perils of millennial life in New York.
Jacobson wasn’t just a major get for the airline, her material was in step with the tastes of Virgin passengers. According to Lloyd, research compiled by the airline’s media agency, SwellShark, showed that “international frequent fliers were more likely to be watching irreverent comedy shows.”
“We thought there was an opportunity there,” Lloyd said.
Of course, no tell-it-like-it-is comedian can risk being seen as a corporate mouthpiece. Key to recruiting Jacobson was the promise of creative freedom. In other words, she can joke about what she wants. In a prepared statement, Jacobson said she was “excited” about the opportunity and especially about the “creative control that Virgin Atlantic is giving me, not only over the lineup I’m building but the form my performance takes.” She promised to “take some risks and see what happens.”
A little scary for the sponsoring brand? Perhaps. But, Vitrone said, part of the energy of this activation is not knowing exactly what’ll come out of it.
Though he also added, “I hope there’s no airplane food jokes.”