Going live

How AOPA’s video channel brings general aviation to life

September 1, 2011

The wind-driven sides of the AOPA Live™ studio tent heaved in and out as if it were some giant dragon enduring the raging storm outside. Rain deluged the grounds at the Sun ’n Fun Fly-In in Lakeland, Florida, as thunder and lightning sent exhibitors and attendees at the big airshow running for safety. Finally, after one particularly close lightning strike, the brilliant white studio lights went out—and I could see from the anchor desk just how black it was outside at noon. Dark as night. Rain rolling off of our studio tent, and the big AOPA tent next door, cascaded across the ground—like a river running through it. Little did we know as our live webcast ended abruptly what was unfolding just yards away.

Minutes later, as the rains and wind finally let up, we went exploring to find dozens of airplanes strewn around like Matchbox toys. The devastation of the tornado’s effect would not be completely known until the next morning.

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Most people left the grounds for safer environs as more storms threatened, but AOPA Live Executive Producer Warren Morningstar grabbed a video camera and went searching for more information. His years as a broadcast journalist reminded him that video’s moving images and audio can tell the tales of such a tragedy like no other medium. Morningstar was among the only videographers who heard about a hastily called press conference where then-Sun ’n Fun President John Burton spoke about the devastation and laid out a plan for assisting those injured or with damaged airplanes, and for readying the grounds to open the show the next day. Morningstar’s resulting video was the lead on the next day’s AOPA Live webcast and quickly garnered tens of thousands of plays through the Live archives.

While AOPA has been posting video to its site for nearly a decade, the association’s effort to regularly leverage the power of video really began at AOPA Aviation Summit 2009 when then-new President and CEO Craig Fuller launched live webcasting from the exhibit hall. “We were able to launch AOPA Live back in 2009 thanks to a generous donor who, even today, wants to remain anonymous,” said Fuller. “That gift has really changed the way AOPA connects to our members—and the world. Through Live we can bring the most influential and inspirational people in general aviation to pilots and aviation enthusiasts everywhere. That kind of direct, personal connection is invaluable for building and strengthening our community.”

And has it ever connected with members. Over the past 12 months, pilots have viewed videos some 1.48 million times through the online channel. The average monthly traffic is up some 50 percent over the same period a year earlier. On average, viewers stay with a clip for more than four minutes, an extraordinarily long time by Internet standards where YouTube views are measured in seconds.

Part of the increase in traffic results from the ever-growing library of archived content. As of late July, the number of videos available for viewing through eight channels topped 1,100, with more than 200 added so far in 2011 alone.

The success of AOPA Live should be no surprise. Online video is the new cable, said Morningstar, with millions of people now foregoing traditional cable, satellite, and over-the-air television broadcasts in favor of streaming video from websites and dedicated services provided by such powerhouses as Amazon and Netflix. Millions of Web-enabled video games and other devices, such as Wii, Xbox, PlayStation, and Roku, sit next to television sets worldwide, allowing users to stream video on demand. And, of course, every desktop computer, laptop, iPad, Tab, Galaxy, and smartphone these days can receive streaming video through cellular networks, WiFi, or wired Internet connections. As with other streaming services, you can access AOPA Live anywhere, anytime—even in some cockpits in flight, if you’ve got satellite communications gear.

Go there and you’ll find video clips on a wide range of subjects, from piloting tips and techniques to compelling tales of pilots who have overcome challenges to fly, to celebrity pilot profiles and reports from legislators and regulators on issues affecting general aviation.

Members tell us that their primary reason for joining AOPA is to become better, safer pilots. The popularity of certain video segments supports that notion. Reports on when and whether you should attempt a 180-degree turn back to the runway after an engine failure, using medical cameras to diagnose engine health, learning aerobatics, and a demonstration of crosswind landings are among the most popular videos released over the past year.

Still, we pilots are a curious bunch, and as on YouTube, the oddities of the world attract a lot of attention too. For example, a video about the quirky CriCri tiny twin-engine airplane has garnered tens of thousands of plays. Aerial curiosities in general play well. A segment about the Terrafugia “roadable airplane” (flying car) trails the CriCri only slightly in plays.

Actor and general aviation activist Harrison Ford spoke about his passion for aviation on AOPA Live with 'AOPA Pilot' Editor in Chief Tom Haines.

Back live

New video segments are posted weekly, with some of them coming from interviews and packages created at major aviation shows, such as Sun ’n Fun, EAA AirVenture, and AOPA Summit. AOPA Live webcasts live from those venues, bringing the shows right to your screen no matter where you are. Ever desiring to improve the quality of the viewer experience, Morningstar hired a professional anchor for AOPA Summit 2010 in Long Beach, California, and moved to a continuous broadcast format instead of webcasting individual segments live as they occurred. The change to a Today show format that includes news segments, live interviews on the set, and packages from the field stretched the resources of the AOPA Live crews, but made for a more engaging viewer experience. Maycay Beeler, a professional news anchor and television reporter who also happens to be an active flight instructor, brought a lot of credibility to the reporting and rave reviews from viewers.

The format continued at Sun ’n Fun this year and AirVenture. Beeler will be back at the anchor desk for AOPA Summit September 22 through 24, webcasting live each day from the exhibit-hall floor in Hartford, Connecticut.

Like what you see or have a question? Join the conversation. You’ll be able to post chat and questions right on the AOPA Live screen via Facebook. Hartford-based United Technologies Corporation is a major sponsor of AOPA Live this year, having made a significant contribution to AOPA to assure the success of the project and keep it moving forward.

Coming up next

AOPA Live as seen today is only the beginning of the association’s plan to leverage video as a means of communicating with members. Expect an announcement in the next few months that lays out a plan for an all-new approach to showcasing the many video segments already produced and a means to create even more content. With more content and a more packaged approach, expect AOPA Live to become available in some new and exciting ways.

“Communication is at the heart of AOPA’s mission and AOPA Live has become an integral part of our communication efforts,” said Fuller. “Live broadcasts have immediacy not available in other media, and they let you hear from decision makers in their own words, making AOPA Live the perfect complement to our other offerings. Through AOPA Live we can bring you to events you may not be able to attend in person. We believe in the value of delivering informative, educational, and entertaining content to the aviation community, and AOPA Live is one more tool to help us do that.”

As they say on TV, stay tuned.

E-mail the author at thomas.haines@aopa.org; follow at twitter.com/tomhaines29.

AOPA Live online

Thomas B. Haines

Thomas B Haines | Editor in Chief, AOPA

AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines joined AOPA in 1988. He owns and flies a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. Since soloing at 16 and earning a private pilot certificate at 17, he has flown more than 100 models of general aviation airplanes.