From every corner of the globe and from every possible perspective, a Twin Cities website is giving visitors a bird’s-eye view of the world.
With more than 6,500 videos in its archives and hundreds more being uploaded daily by drone users around the world, the founders of AirVuz hope it will become the YouTube of aerial video by monitoring those posts and making them easy to search.
“We want people to see the best of the best,” said Mike Israel, a co-founder and Twin Cities investor whose interest in drones inspired him to launch the site about a year ago.
Israel’s timing could prove fortuitous. Late last month, the Federal Aviation Administration issued rules aimed at making it easier to use drones for commercial purposes. In the past, people who wanted to make money off their drones would have to go through a lengthy FAA process.
The new rules say that anyone 16 or older can fly a drone for business purposes provided they keep the drone within sight and that the drone weighs less than 55 pounds. The drone must also stay below 400 feet and be clearly marked so that it’s obvious it belongs to you.
The new rules were hailed by some drone enthusiasts as a step in the right direction for the industry. They were viewed as likely to radically expand the use of drones for everything from inspecting power lines to selling houses. And the guidance couldn’t have come sooner for drone enthusiasts and others who have been trying to avoid running afoul of the FAA, which wants to prevent drones above public spaces and too close to an airport.
“I’m quite happy with what they’ve come up with,” said Brandon Doyle, a Twin Cities real estate agent who is well acquainted with the many ways that drones can be used to maximize the appeal of an online house listing. “The new laws are very friendly for the real estate industry and make a lot of sense.”
Doyle said that in August he’ll apply for his license to fly. “I’m anxious to be able to use my drone for real estate,” he said.
Israel, a co-founder of Mill City Capital, a Twin Cities-based investment firm, expects the ruling to expand the use of drones in ways that people can’t even imagine, and to bolster his site’s prospects as more people use them. Israel’s interest in drones piqued after making an investment in a related company.
Israel’s idea wasn’t completely unique. Other sites, including YouTube, had already created channels where people could post their videos. Given the growing interest in posting and watching those videos, Israel saw an opportunity to create a virtual community for drone users by hosting conversations and by creating original content, including news programs focused on topics of interest to drone users. The goal, Israel said, is to focus specifically on entertainment-quality drone video that doesn’t get “lost in a sea of unrelated content.”
At the moment, AirVuz’s closest competition is SkyPixel, a website that was launched in November 2014 by DJI Technology, the world’s largest manufacturer of drone equipment.
Like AirVuz, SkyPixel allows users to upload photos and video, but the site sometimes promotes DJI products, according to Mical Caterina, a Twin Cities drone hobbyist.
Caterina said that AirVuz appears to be more independent and that it has done a better job of creating the kind of community that he trusts. When he was recently cited by the FAA for using a drone to document a dedication service for Cecil the Lion, he got calls from several media outlets, but only consented to an interview with an AirVuz news host because of the credibility they already have within the industry.
AirVuz co-founder Dan Edwards said the site is trying to cultivate that credibility by working with experts in the field, and by reviewing postings and promoting content that’s especially notable or timely in some way. And to dovetail with growing interest in the topic, the company is also creating its own content that’s produced by staffers and freelance hosts.
They include Ryan Hoag, a former NFL football player and reality TV participant who hosts a recurring show called “Ryan’s Ridiculous,” which features Hoag in a variety of sometimes goofy situations worthy of an aerial video. One recent post shows Hoag trying to retrieve a damaged drone from a pool at the bottom of Minnehaha Falls.
Edwards said that AirVuz is also partnering with other media outlets, including the Science Channel, which is producing a series about a drone operator in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. After a beta launch of the site in September, interest has, well, soared. Based on current data, the site now has more than 500,000 unique visitors every month.
Edwards said the next challenge is to find revenue for the site without charging users. As the audience grows, he hopes that commercial drone operators will pay for a presence on the site to advertise their services. He also plans to follow the YouTube model by selling advertising, and hopes that businesses might be willing to sponsor certain kinds of content. That includes resorts, car companies and others who are trying to market an experience.
“If it’s visible from 50 feet above the ground, it really does lend itself to some kind of sponsorship,” Israel said. “Most things on the ground look more visually appealing from the air.”