Making Money Technology

20 Ways Entrepreneurs Are Making Money With Drone Video

Written by L. Scott Harrell

Current technology has progressed to a point that small unmanned aerial systems (SUAS), essentially hobby sized remote controlled airplanes and helicopters, are more accessible now than ever before, both in terms of their relatively low prices and ease of flight control for new RC pilots. Quadcopters like the DJI Phantom series seem almost ubiquitous now – they are everywhere. Cameras, too, have come along way; they are smaller, lighter, shoot in much higher resolutions and have better lenses. It was only a matter of time before the two would be paired using relatively sophisticated, but also inexpensive, electronic image stabilization gimbals making video and photographic aerial imagery easy, affordable and fun!

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It was probably also obvious to those paying attention that these camera equipped unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), most often referred to as “drones”, would also fundamentally change a number of industries and become the basis for what is being called “the next great land rush in tech.”

“This market’s going to be huge,” said Ken Loo, a Sunnyvale mechanical engineer who used a 3-D printer to create his own UAV and hopes to one day become a drone consultant. “The possibilities are endless.”

Not one to miss an easy cliché, I’d say that when it comes to the commercial use of UAV video, “The sky’s the limit!”

Here are twenty ways, ideas and applications that this drone-video combination can be used by video entrepreneurs (vtreps) to disrupt and dominate virtually untapped markets booming with potential:

AERIAL SURVEYING

Make Money with Drone - Drone Aerial SurveyLong the domain of commercially piloted helicopters and airplanes, aerial surveys are used in cartography, topography, feature recognition, archaeology and GIS applications providing information on terrestrial sites that are often difficult, or even impossible, to see or measure from the ground. Small UAV operators are quickly finding a foothold in digital photogrammetric mapping and ortho photography services due to the enormous cost savings realized using small unmanned systems capable of carrying a variety of visual imagery payloads that can go slower and lower than much larger traditional aircraft.

BUILDING AND MONETIZING A YOUTUBE CHANNEL

Drone video is hot right now among UAV enthusiasts and many YouTubers, like Team BlackSheep, are gaining a HUGE number of subscribers by simply posting daredevil videos captured by their remote controlled aircraft from interesting and unique places around the world.

Making money on Youtube is not difficult; leverage your channel followers and video views in variety of ways: Promote your products, drive traffic to an online store or website, sell in-video advertising and product placement, enroll in the YouTube advertising partner program or become a YT celebrity!

COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE

Aerial photo reconnaissance has long been used to gather information on competitors. Information about the size and capacity of manufacturing facilities, numbers of employees, business expansion and the development of on-site infrastructure, as well as many other bits of practical intelligence, can now be derived using small and very low cost UAVs as compared to the otherwise enormous expense of using piloted commercial aircraft like helicopters and airplanes.

CONSERVATION, ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATION AND COMPLIANCE

In June, the Wildlife Conservation Society began training operators from the Belize Fisheries Department to use two drones to help track illegal fishing activities. The drones went into use just at the start of lobster season. And it is just one example of the growing use of drones in the areas of conservation and tracking down poachers.

Drone Imagery Used in Environmental ProtectionOther examples of drones being used in the field include biologists and researchers using UAV video and aerial imagery to count everything from birds to polar bears while those in charge of enforcing environmental laws are looking for hard to detect activities like illegal logging and the dumping of harmful substances.

DELIVERY

Amazon made popular (and sensational) the idea of commercial product delivery via unmanned aerial vehicles but their idea never took flight and Lakemaid Beer drone delivery services to ice fishermen in Wisconsin and Minnesota were grounded by the FAA in the United States. Drone delivery services nonetheless are taking flight in other corners of the world where flight is faster, safer and more economical than shipping via overland routes. Drones are delivering emergency medicine, small (but critical) mechanical parts and time sensitive documents among other things.

DISASTER RELIEF

Drone Adventure

Photo: Robohub.org

Drones can provide public safety officials real time video footage in areas hard hit by natural disasters like flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes that often make huge inhabited areas almost impossible and too dangerous to travel by land. Recently, in the wake of several very powerful earthquakes, disaster management and emergency response officials in Central America engaged freelance several UAV pilots to provide video services in support of their relief and repair efforts. Drones are currently being used in Fukushima, Japan where Daiichi nuclear power plant melted down over 3 years ago but radiation remains a serious health threat to visitors and scientists studying the area. As noted above, larger unmanned aerial systems can also be used by NGOs and humanitarian services to safely deliver medicine, food and water to otherwise unreachable victims.

FEATURE FILMMAKING

Filmmakers are finding that a well-operated multirotor aircraft capable of carrying cinema quality video cameras can be a less expensive and more versatile option than jibs, cranes, dollies and cameras mounted on helicopters in order to get the perfect camera movement or tracking shot. Hollywood is champing at the bit to get in on aerial cinematography with drones and the U.S. government is currently considering a request from movie and TV producers to let them [legally] use unmanned aircraft to shoot aerial video (though we all know that drones have already been used in U.S. movie production).

LOW ALTITUDE BANNER ADVERTISING

OK, not exactly a video-based commercial opportunity, while I was writing an earlier article for Vtrep.com on a beach in Cancun, I did see a hexacopter flying down the beach at water’s edge toting a banner advertising a local nightclub and had to chuckle. (The pilot was flying FPV (first person view) using a GoPro videocamera mounted below the aircraft and sending the video feed back to a monitor attached to his controller.)

MICROJOB VIDEO SITES

VideoToOrder.com - Video Marketplace to Buy and Sell VideoMany entrepreneurial filmmakers are offering drone video-related services and performances on “micro job” websites like the freelance video marketplace VideoToOrder.com. They run the gamut of offering creative and personalized videos that are used by consumers to send special messages to family, friends and clients to marketing and promotion. I think I’ve seen it all being offered: sexy, quirky, scary, professional, in all manners of dress and locations with two exceptions: videos made underwater and, surprisingly, videos using or featuring a drone to capture the footage. With a little imagination you could offer your unique UAV freelance video production business to communicate all sorts of greetings and messages – birthdays, get well wishes, congratulations, URL promotion, brand building, etc.

NEWS FOOTAGE

Drones are increasingly being used by journalists and citizens alike to report the news. There have been several high profile instances in which small unmanned aerial systems have been used to document and provide video footage from areas of conflict, war, civil upheaval, accidents and disaster. UAVs offer journalists a safe working distance from otherwise dangerous situations and can often be carried to the scene of a report and deployed by a camera operator far more quickly and at less expense than a commercially piloted new helicopter. Yes, celebrity photographers (paparazzi) are also using small unmanned aerial systems, too.

PIPELINE AND ELECTRICAL LINE INSPECTION

helicopter line inspection

Photo: CBHelos.com

Utilities companies have used commercially piloted aircraft, like airplanes and helicopters, to inspect hundreds of miles of electrical lines, towers and remote substations as well as oil and gas pipelines and pumping stations. Small unmanned systems equipped with cameras and video transmitters are now replacing much of the routine inspection that was very expensive and often dangerous to the pilots and inspectors.

PRECISION AGRICULTURE

Using drones in precision agriculture and crop surveillance can drastically reduce the time required walking the fields and high cost of using commercially piloted aircraft. Armed with specialized cameras that are capable of capturing specific wavelengths of infrared video, small unmanned aerial system operators are able to see contrasting colors that indicate the overall health of crops in the field. Areas of concern can be inspected much closer using the same UAV for verification, problem diagnosis and even delivering localized spot treatment. Farmers using unmanned aerial vehicles to surveil crops are reporting higher yield, reduced plant damage and lower costs, which is good for everyone.

REAL ESTATE VIDEOS

This is perhaps the hottest opportunity for entrepreneurial filmmakers who have experience using drones and aerial imagery. Real estate agents are very quickly realizing that very low altitude aerial video footage captured by drones sell large pieces of property and homes with unique features more quickly. Additionally, agents who hire UAV video companies report that they are attracting more listings as well.

RESORT AND HOTEL ADVERTISING

Similar to real estate videos above, what better way to show off a spectacular hotel situated on the perfect piece of property than to provide potential visitors the kind of video footage and aerial imagery only a small drone can provide?

In a time when hotels and resorts are fighting tooth and nail for advertising impressions and to stand out from the crowd on hotel booking applications and a glut of travel websites marketing agencies understand that unique video perspectives offer an edge in an otherwise tired marketing mix.

I have been paid for providing UAV video footage as well as having been given free lodging at luxury resorts in Cozumel and Cancun Mexico in trade for something I REALLY like to do anyway: Fly my drone!

Why not travel with your video camera and get paid?

SEARCH AND RESCUE

When Virginia resident Guillermo DeVenecia went missing not long ago, police and searchers were dispatched to find the 82-year-old man, who suffers from dementia and hearing loss.

They searched for three days using hundreds of volunteers, search dogs, and a helicopter in heavily wooded areas and fields to no avail. Concerned for his safety as the search dragged on, Fitchburg police issued a news alert to all residents to be on the lookout for the missing man.

It took David Lesh about 20 minutes to find DeVenecia with his drone.

SECURITY

Video from unmanned aerial systems is being used to secure sensitive locations and areas from unwanted trespassers to detecting and documenting theft. A friend of mine was hired by a large aquaculture (captive commercial fishery) that covers some 150 acres to fly his thermal imaging camera equipped quadcopter over the grounds at night after several break-ins caused both the theft of fish but also the contamination of a grow out pond that caused much larger economic losses. The company came to the obvious conclusion that, in their specific situation, it was more cost effective to employ one security officer with an unmanned aerial surveillance system that could quickly cover a large area of difficult terrain than it is to hire five or six security officers that would be required to man posts properly distributed throughout the property. He thinks he has the best job in the world.

SPORTS AND EVENTS VIDEOGRAPHY

This is an exciting application of drones being used to capture sporting events from the air. I’ve seen UAVs being used to capture all sorts of events, from ESPN’s X Games, the Olympics, the Boston Marathon and even the Tour de France. There is no shortage of local, regional and world events that couldn’t be showcased from the air!

STRUCTURAL INSPECTION AND CONSTRUCTION SITE DATA

Not long ago my hometown was absolutely devastated by flooding of historical levels. Several UAV operators were credited for their service to public safety by volunteering their drones’ first person visual (FPV) systems (transmitting a live video feed back to a receiver) to allow law enforcement officials and structural engineers to survey roads and bridges they could not otherwise quickly and easily reach to assess damage. Consequently, at least one of these pilots now regularly sells video footage to the local news outlet and contracts with a utilities company.

Construction companies and architects handling large building projects are deploying drone operators to capture video in a way that allows them to measure and report progress. Insurance companies are employing drones to inspect and quantify things like hail damage claims to roofs rather than put adjustors at risk of falling as well.

SURVEILLANCE AND PRIVATE INVESTIGATION

Very recently I read an article online in which various private investigators around New York in the United States were claiming to use drones to obtain surveillance footage of cheating spouses and claimants faking injuries to bilk insurance companies. While I think it is highly unlikely that PIs are actually using drones in this manner (due to the loud rotor noise and the focal limitations of the cameras that fit on the hobby-sized aircraft), it is possible and there certainly are practical applications for using UAVs in private investigation.

WEDDING VIDEOS

Capturing unique aerial video footage from vantage points that only small unmanned aerial systems can provide to augment traditional wedding video is becoming a popular request by brides-to-be. And why not? Outdoor wedding venues are often chosen for their spectacular location and gorgeous scenery; drones can capture more of what makes the celebration’s backdrop special than ever before.


Please note that this article is written for a worldwide audience. Some countries highly restrict, forbid or require licensing and qualification when flying UAVs or using them for commercial purposes, especially in times of disaster. Many do not. While safety issues are outside of the overall scope of this article, UAVs are definitely a cause for concern in some situations. They can cause potential injury to bystanders or collide with controlled aircraft operating in the same airspace. There is no substitute for knowing and strictly adhering to applicable laws and regulations as they apply to you and your situation. PLEASE, always fly responsibly and with public safety in mind as your first priority.

Do you have an interesting idea or some experience using a camera equipped unmanned aerial system to make money? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

(We understand that the topic of drones can be a bit contentious, especially when it comes to safety, regulation and using the “d-word”, so we only ask that you keep your comments sane and respectful. Thanks!)

About the author

L. Scott Harrell

L. Scott Harrell is the Executive Editor of Vtrep.com. He is also a serial entrepreneur and top tier business development professional who speaks leadership, startups and digital media masterfully. Scott can be reached via email: editor@vtrep.com

  • Dronetrotter

    And others share their beautiful videos on travel websites, which allow you to discover the world and travel by drone from the comfort of your own home 🙂

  • Illegal

    The title of this should be “20 ways to break the law and violate FAA rules and get huge fines”.

    It’s ILLEGAL currently to use a drone for ANY commercial purpose per the FAA. The FAA is currently working on rules and regulations, but it’s ILLEGAL to charge for Drone services or Drone footage.

    • You clearly didn’t read the entire article. What part of this is unclear to you?

      “Please note that this article is written for a worldwide audience. Some countries highly restrict, forbid or require licensing and qualification when flying UAVs or using them for commercial purposes, especially in times of disaster. Many do not.”

      Troll on…

      • Jesse Swanson

        I love that – Troll On. Mr. Illegal doesn’t do his research either, does he?

    • Bill Steele

      FYI: It is legal to use drones for commercial purposes (aerial cinematography and photography IF the operator has a Part 333 waiver from the FAA for such activities, has permission of the property owner or representative; and operates the drone in accordance with prescribed regulations and safety considerations.

      • IJ

        Here in Australia if you do your CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) RPAS (Remote Piloted Aerial Systems) license you can fly drones commercially but either you or the company you fly for must have a UAV Operators Certification (UOC) then also must have a Radio and make calls on the CTAF (UNICOM) frequency if other planes around.

        Pretty enlightened here for a country that often is very nanny state. BUT…..

        RPAS License – ~$4k to train
        UOC – $5k fee to gov. plus tests, plus costs for exemptions e.g 3nm from airport

    • eric jackson

      its still only “proposed” regulations. the only laws in effect are registration and emergency situations where a drone would hinder response persons. there are various city, state, laws that vary by place and then no fly zones around airports. there is nothing set in as law about making money. you can get a 333 exception if you have the time and the ability to request one which has many requirements to complete before you are even eligible to apply for the 333. which in itself is only a proposed action. so register, fly safe, and use common sense and dont fly around airports. which if you have a dji phantom or inspire you cant do anyway due to the software controlling the drone and not allowing flight in no fly zones

  • Great read. Very informative and loved the resort and hotel advertising paragraph.

  • Devan Fenn

    Hello I am a disabled combat veteran and a drone enthusiast, currently have been working with phantom 3 pro and able to get unbelievable footage. I would love to know if you have any jobs for filming. I have been using it for map surveying. real estate photography and even weddings. I would like to get into extreme sports.

  • Walt McMurray

    I would like to get some advice from the successful people in the drone business. I myself has built a few drones I have my license as a small business entrepreneur.

  • These are some great ideas especially since I finally have my FAA 333 exemption request approved. However, how are folks marketing their drone services? Thats my big question as I invested in a Phantom 3 Pro and an Inspire 1 and am also planning to integrate the thermal imager in 2016. I have the equipment and now need to market my services.

    Definitely interested in how people are marketing?

    Thanks everybody!

  • Chad

    I live in Canada and you don’t need any sort of special licence YET to fly my drone. Just some common sense rules. Don’t fly 9 km from any airport and don’t fly in crowded places like downtown cities.

  • Blue Beard

    Is it legal to fly a drone while sporting dubious facial topiary?

    • Hahahaha! It’ better to look good than to be good.

      • Mojca

        Is Drone 3 standard good enough to make video for sale?

  • Rickzon Umali

    I’m also a drone enthusiast and would like to use my drone to earn income.

  • Eric Irizarry

    I’m still looking for extra money with my Phantom 3 professional.South,Florida.

  • A startup based out of Rhode Island, is connecting experienced drone pilots with customers. Whether it’s for marketing purposes, filming, or otherwise, customers who don’t own a drone or don’t want to learn how to fly one (safely) can hire out a drone pilot for their project. To be a drone pilot on the site, you have to have a FAA 333 exemption which enables you to legally fly a UAV for commercial purposes. drone’s business in Italy is still weak, mostly because Italian people are not techie. Cheers!

  • Steve

    I am a meteorologist with 30+ years experience. Does anyone know if some of the larger companies doing drone photography use weather support?

  • Well a week ago a Good friend of mine who is a video editor for the business world purchased a drone at the same time i need some film work for a website, over a coffee within 10 mins we had started our new venture , Wedding Property and Product Videos for web pages.

  • Hello L. Scott ,
    Thanks for outlining impact of Drones.
    You already illustrated different ways for making money with drones. May be , you missed aerial advertising factors.
    Nowadays, many company uses drones for aerial promotions in local community. For example, in local trade fair, they flow banners advertising by drones. It works fine for them as per as i know.
    Cheers

  • Hi Scott!

    Thank you for this article, it’s very hard to find this kind of articles. By the way, By the way I just started an e-book regarding this topic. I hope it can be useful for readers either.

    It’s published on Amazon recently:
    https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M3W083G

  • Eagle Eyes Aerial Videography

    Scott, can you share more about the situation with shooting for hotels? I’m already filming home real estate but would love to also work the next level of hotels, resorts, etc. How did that come about for you? Did you show them a demo first?

    Thanks!

  • Titus

    great info. I’m going for my Certification, it will just fit in with my exiting video business

  • XAircraft_USA

    I’ve been doing aerial imaging from drones, helicopters,airplanes and multirotor vtols since 1998. Have done cell towers for AT&T, Movie sequences for known directors, real estate photos for many clients, plus photogrammetry and all other mentioned purposes, have made a few dollars on youtube as one of the first folks doing it. Have 4 National ChampionshopTop 3 Finishes flying helicopters. Rotorbotz is my youtube Channel. It is possible to make money doing this. I know every trick in the book to make money from designing and building your own aircraft to selling real estate photos. Scott is right on target .. J.D.Wright fpvone.com

    • Approve.

    • Xee

      Justin Wesurai on facebook technique is much easy than other and I can easy to make $5,000 per month by using her technique.