There’s no question about it – drone videos are capturing the public imagination. But the videos that make it into mainstream media are just the tip of the iceberg, and not even the best ones out there. If you’re looking for top quality aerial videos, they can be hard to find amidst all the noise and clutter of the major media outlets, and even sites like YouTube. Enter AirVuz, a site dedicated to aerial videos. We interviewed AirVuz CEO Mike Israel to find out more.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background. What inspired AirVuz?
I spent most of my career in the private equity investment industry, most recently with a Minneapolis-based company called Mill City Capital L.P. which I co-founded. I had a longstanding personal interest in radio controlled flight which morphed into an interest in drones when consumer camera drones first became available a few years ago. This in turn led to an investment in a large radio control products company which Mill City made about three years ago with which I am still involved. In the course of working with this company, I came up with the idea of creating an online video sharing platform which would be focused entirely on drone video content. I started AirVuz in mid-2015 and the team that is in place here now has created what is now the leading drone video sharing platform.
What has the process of development been like, obstacles and successes?
While we have certainly had our share of challenges, fortunately we haven’t had to face any existential crises since the business launched. The initial version of the site had its share of functionality issues, but our IT team basically re-built the site from the ground up and we re-launched it in early June of 2016. It’s a credit to our development team that we’ve been able to continually add new functionality to the site and have had no major instances of the site being down or other issues of that magnitude. I think from the beginning we saw very strong acceptance by the drone user community and have had a steady (albeit growing) stream of very high quality video uploads.
What was more challenging in some ways was finding an audience of viewers for this content – people who come to the site to view the content who may not ever actually create content of their own. It took some time to figure out how to identify the target audience, bring them to the site, and keep them coming back. What we’ve found is that many of our site visitors don’t necessarily have a pre-existing interest in drones but they like the content. Figuring out how to identify that audience, how to get them to visit the site and actually “stick around” long enough to become recurring users has taken some time. While it’s still a work in progress (and always will be), we seem to have been able to connect with a worldwide audience of people who truly enjoy watching this type of content.
A related challenge has been optimizing the user experience on the site. We have made great strides here but ongoing improvement in the user experience is one of the main areas where we are spending our development dollars. It’s coming up with smartphone native apps (we are weeks away from releasing an Android app and an iOS app will be coming right on the heels of that), a tablet app/video editor (later this year), etc. It’s continuing to improve the overall user experience on the site – geotagging (already in place for uploads and user interface to search based on geo-tagging) is coming too. Fortunately we can do all this without needing armies of programmers – by leveraging the Amazon Web Services infrastructure for the video encoding and playback we can focus on the user-facing features of the site and the related mobile apps.
Who is AirVuz for? What advantages does it offer over sites like YouTube and Vimeo?
AirVuz was really created for people around the world who create and/or enjoy viewing aerial videos created by multirotor drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles such as flying wings. That is the core community. It certainly bears some similarity to YouTube and Vimeo but there are some very important differences too. These differences really all stem from the fact that AirVuz is about a particular type of video content – ie, content captured by drones. The commonality of the content and the shared interest of the community in drones lets AirVuz to do things which would never make sense for the universal platforms. While drone video content is readily available on YouTube and Vimeo, it accounts for a tiny share of the total content on those sites and so both the content and the contributors tend to get “lost” in the sheer volume of unrelated content on those sites.
AirVuz exists in large measure to promote the best contributors and the best content. We continually curate the content to be able to highlight the very best, and we treat the contributors who produce the best quality content like the stars that they are. We have a Facebook fan base of over 1 million and over 50k followers on Instagram, and we use those social media outlets to promote the best contributors and their content off the site via posts and ads. We also have created a whole series of original programming concepts which all relate to the core idea of the site being 100% about drone video content and give us a chance to “show off” the community’s top contributors and their content to a broader audience. These series include Drone Dish (a “talk show” type format where we interview our star contributors and give them a chance to talk about their best videos which are played as overlay), Behind the Goggles (a similar type of show but with the subject matter being FPV pilots and FPV videos), Droning America (a travel show where we travel to various cities around the US and have top local aerial videographers in those cities give in effect aerial tours of their city), YourVuz (a monthly hosted show based on a thematic contest in which community members submit videos to enter – sort of an “America’s Funniest Videos” but for drones), and Drone Trippin’ (a travel-type show featuring some of the world’s top FPV pilots). We also have an AirVuz News program which covers broader stories involving the world of drone but which is focused on stories with a video angle.
Which video/s on AirVuz is your favorite and why?
They are all my favorites In all seriousness I spend many hours on the site every week and I do so because I love the content. We have incredible content being uploaded to this site every week from all corners of the world, and I honestly would have a hard time picking even the top 50 let alone a smaller group. We have videos people have taken flying over live volcanoes. We have a video from one of our contributors in Turkey who somehow managed to fly his drone over a partially submerged submarine cruising through the Straits of Bosporus near Istanbul. Videos from villages in the Himalayas. We had a video uploaded a few weeks ago which included footage a guy took flying an FPV racing drone off a cruise ship; he got the drone in the wake of this huge ship and was basically chasing his own ship. We have a contributor in Florida who gets together with her friends and makes these unbelievably creative music videos using drones. It goes on and on and on, and literally every day we get uploads which make my jaw drop. This is content which was literally beyond the realm of possibility as recently as a few years ago; it wasn’t that it was prohibitively expensive because you needed full scale aircraft; it simply couldn’t be done at all.
What is your vision for AirVuz over the next year? How do you envision your company helping to promote and develop the drone industry?
Our vision for AirVuz is to have AirVuz be the “go to” place for drone videos and the people who create them. We see huge numbers of people getting into aerial videography for the first time and any of them either aspiring to become or in many cases already becoming professionals. While we have a worldwide user base and much of the content is from outside of the US. The recent changes to the US rules regarding commercial drone use are going to provide a huge impetus to these people, and we want AirVuz to become the place where they and their content live. We intend to provide our community members with multiple means to monetize their content, be it for stock licensing or simply for being a place where they can be discovered and hired for commercial work. We intend to bring in advertiser-partners who will work with our community members to create sponsored content, essentially ads that don’t look or feel like ads. The easy examples would be travel: a spectacular drone video of Bali set at XYZ is an ad for the resort, it’s an ad for Bali, and it’s an ad for anything else that is in the video. As another example, we have a whole category set up for drone videos of cars and other vehicles; while these videos are currently made for recreational purposes the fact of the matter is that with very subtle changes they really could serve as a video ad for that particular car model.
It goes beyond travel though; this concept works for cars, it works for ski equipment, it works for surfing equipment, it works for golf courses. If it’s visible from 50 or 100 or 400 feet in the air, it generally looks better from that perspective. We intend to work with our star contributors – the ones we promote on and off the site, the ones we feature in our original programming, the FPV racers we sponsor – to mutually benefit from these arrangements. Everybody can win including the advertisers who can get powerful brand integration that isn’t subject to ad blocking because the “ad” and the “content” are the same thing.
At the same time we intend (at the appropriate time) to be an advertising conduit for the drone industry; if you watch a video that was taken with a certain type of drone or using certain types of accessories, many of the viewers on our site are going to want to know what was used and how to buy it. Unobtrusive links on the appropriate videos can serve that purpose, and everyone (including the contributor) can benefit from that.
Updated Jan. 31, 2017