This is Part 1 in a two-part series that summarizes my views on why video/film/cinema – not agriculture and farming — will be the largest driver of sUAS commercial businesses. In this part I explore thoughts on the market for video/film/cinema, and below I outline why I believe film and video will lead in market uptake. In Part 2 I’ll outline why I believe agriculture will lag in market uptake.
A total economic impact of $13.6 billion and 70,000 new jobs in the first three years. That’s the forecast for what drones will bring to the U.S. once regulations are in place, according to a March 2013 market study produced by the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). The report entitled “The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States,” goes on to say that precision agriculture and public safety will make up more than 90% of this growth. Most important, the report confidently states, “…the commercial agriculture market is by far the largest segment, dwarfing all others.”
These figures get repeated over and over again in the media and across the blogosphere. Existing players and potential new entrants in the UAV market are betting their business futures – and in some cases their entire family’s income and savings – on them. Everybody wants in on the action. But are the media, blogosphere, and AUVSI reports correct? I have some serious doubt. Here’s why: The numbers from my recent study on the impact of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules on the small UAS business say aerial photography and cinema – not agriculture –dominate the other vertical markets and will continue to do so for some time. This two-part post looks at those two industries – film making and agriculture – and attempts to separate market forecast hype from the reality by looking at detailed numbers, market forces, and the specific applications themselves.
Validated respondents to my survey represent principals and employees at sUAS companies whose annual revenues span from US$100,000 to more than US$10 million. Every significant market vertical is represented. Survey participants were required to identify their primary commercial service offering. The results appear in the table below.Primary Service or Product Response Percent Aerial Photography / Video & Cinematography / Movie /TV 41% Sales of sUAS aircraft and/or technology 11% Agriculture / Farming Services 8% Mapping / Topography / Geospacial / Photogrammetry 5% Education and Training 5% Consulting 4% Data Aggregation or Analytic Services 3% First Responder Service (Police, Fire, or Medical) 3% Utilities 2% Scientific Research 2% Construction 2% All Others 13%
Clearly, the dominant service offering is aerial photography / video / cinematography / movie/ TV (41%). Only eight percent of participants identified themselves as offering or wanting to offer agriculture / farming services.
When viewed through the lens of each service provider type, this data offers some interesting insights. For example, the largest group of service providers, aerial photography and cinematography, have current revenues that spread across the whole range (from zero to over $1 million). In fact, several reported revenue over $10 million, a figure no other group – including agriculture – reported. Clearly current UAS market activity runs contrary to the AUVSI forecast.
Drone regulation was among many issues the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) lobbied on in 2012 and 2013, at a total cost of $4.11 million. According to this report, the MPAA has been constantly appealing to the FAA to let them use smaller drones for film-making purposes. If you follow the market dynamics and technical advancements of the TV and film industry, the push by the MPAA for sUAS makes sense. High-end digital cameras and computer-generated imagery (CGI) effects have drastically reduced film-making costs, and have been delivering scenes that weren’t possible before. Even so, the industry is striving for more technological enhancements every day because audiences expect to see something new and spectacular in each new film. The longstanding arms race in Hollywood among studios vying to deliver the most eye-popping shots and special effects continues unabated.
Drone cinematography is now the new kid on the Hollywood block. A drone costing just a few thousand dollars can deliver high wow-factor shots that were impossible to get before, or could only be captured using expensive cranes, stabilizing equipment, and a manned helicopter. The average TV or movie audience member generally doesn’t realize how much of a production is actually shot by a drone, but the astute viewer can already see drone footage being used everywhere in popular TV shows and movies (sorry FAA). A growing share of Hollywood blockbusters and TV programming involve UAS footage – Oblivion, Man Of Steel, The Hunger Games, The Dark Knight Rises – to name a few. Perhaps the most famous is this scene from the James Bond movie Skyfall:
Drone cinematography is still in its embryonic stage. Multirotor drones that hold cinematography-grade cameras have only a range of up to a mile, and their battery only lasts about 10 to 15 minutes. Still, they give filmmakers a definitive edge over traditional methods. Drones allow directors to pull off mind-boggling, acrobatic camera stunts that would otherwise have been possible only through CGI or maybe not at all. This incredible sense of power and cost savings are the reasons many filmmakers continue to lobby for the commercial use of drones and one of the reason why my research finds this market the largest. Case in point. The FAA just announced on June 2nd that seven aerial photo and video production companies (not any farming or precision agriculture companies) have requested regulatory exemptions under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which would approve commercial drone operations for TV and motion picture work. This is the first industry to do so on such a scale. While beyond the scope of this post, the photojournalism industry is another major force lobbying for drone usage, based on similar logic; getting the shot that keeps the audience riveted to the screen while ridding themselves of the enormous cost of operating manned helicopters.
Photography & Video – Film’s nearest cousins
When you look at the ‘film’ market for drones, there is no clear way to delineate film from video from photography. Aerial photography and video platforms are mostly the same and vary mainly in size, camera-carrying capacity, and technical capabilities that result in each platform being best suited for a certain grade of user (ranging from hobbyist to professional videographer). As I have written in The Democratization of Aerial Photography, technical and financial barriers to entry into the aerial photography, video and film services market are low, so it makes sense there are more players now and there will be more in the future. If a lightweight US$400 GoPro camera can shoot cinematography grade 4K video, and you only need US$1200 to get it up in the air with a small drone, and you can charge a US$1000-$2000 day rate for its use, and audiences are enamored of the resulting images, then it’s no wonder this market is exploding. Besides film and TV, here are some other aerial photography and video-related applications:REAL ESTATE – showcase homes, marquee properties, commercial buildings, and structures LEGAL – support forensic investigations, insurance claims, and property assessments CONSTRUCTION – progress reporting for commercial, residential, and civil engineering LAND – landscape architecture, land development, and research SPORTS – player and team position analysis
That’s my argument for why I believe aerial cinematography / videography / photography will dominate the early sUAS business market. To put a bow around it all:Studios and audience are enamored of the footage / images that can be captured by drones, so there is clear demand for the final product that drones can create. The financial and technical barriers to entry are low for many applications, making it easy for businesses to begin offering sUAS-based film and photography services. Where the technical and financial barriers are higher (for example, studio quality film production) a technically astute and well capitalized film production industry is eager to get their hands on new technology like drones. A lot of filming occurs in a tightly controlled environment on private property, where safety can be ensured and where a compelling case can be made for regulatory exemptions.
In Part 2 of this post, I’ll make my case for why I don’t think farming and agriculture is largest market. Later I’ll be releasing some research in conjunction with Aironovo Advisors on the economics of UAS in agriculture. As always, I’m interested to hear what you think—share your thoughts in the comments below or contact me email@example.com.
Image credit: Shutterstock
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