BCA Student Business Plan Reaches High Altitude in NAB Competition and CMU New Venture Competition
Zach Huffman, is not only a School of Broadcast and Cinematic Arts (BCA) graduate student at Central Michigan University, but he is one of two primary employees at the Mt. Pleasant, MI Municipal Airport, has his pilot's license, and is certified to use commercial drones. Zach's interest and expertise in aviation led him and his BCA 613 (Media Entrepreneurship) classmates to develop a business plan focusing on the increased use of drones in broadcast news.
Drone the News (DTN) is a drone technology consultant business specifically designed for broadcast news stations. Zach explained, "DTN is different than existing drone consulting companies because its focus is on news; not film, surveillance, surveying or farming." DTN's business plan is twofold: training of operators and supplying their initial equipment and later providing leasing options and supplemental training for the most up-to-date drone technology.
First, DTN would provide training for five operators and one years-worth of trouble-shooting advice. This includes individuals receiving instruction to successfully pass the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) knowledge test and earn their commercial drone certificates. Participants would also receive training on video shot management techniques and their effective use in a newscast or online.
Second, DTN would provide equipment leasing options, comparative to cell phone plans. This is an affordable method stations could use to upgrade their technology as well as receive training on the latest enhancements.
Affordability and Agility
Drones provide an affordable and more agile way to collect news for broadcasters in both large and small markets, Zach explained. "Broadcast news stations in large markets spend between $600,000 and $1,000,000 annually to have a helicopter and pilots at the ready to report. These costs do not include on-air talent or the videographer. This is an expensive endeavor, Zach continued, "for large market stations and certainly not an option for small market stations."
On the agility front, drones have the ability to maneuver tight spaces, and supplement the helicopter coverage provided by large stations as well as provide smaller stations a unique visual from the air that a reporter on the ground cannot achieve. "Drones provide a cheaper more responsive way to collect local news. However, many broadcast stations have not embraced this new technology due to a lack of available training resources and a firm understanding of FAA guidelines. This is where DTN would step in to alleviate the worry and provide the necessary training," stated, Zach.
NAB's PILOT Innovation Challenge Competition
At the urging of BCA professor, Dr. Amy Sindik, Zach and his classmates submitted the DTN business plan to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) PILOT Innovation Challenge. Developed by the NAB and the Knight Foundation, this challenge recognizes creative ideas that leverage technological advances in the production, distribution and display of engaging content. More than 150 entries, nationwide, were submitted addressing the question, "What is an unconventional way broadcasters and other local media could serve communities?" DTN was named a top 12 finalist across the nation and competed against media professionals as well as teams from Cornell and the Cronkite School of Journalism, to name a few.
Dr. Sindik shared, "I am so pleased that Zach and the other BCA 613 students have taken the concepts and skills learned in their Media Entrepreneurship class and applied them to this start-up business. Making the top 12 of the NAB Pilot Challenge competition was really exciting, and I hope they continue to develop the business."
DTN Wins Big in CMU's New Venture Competition
DTN competed with 32 other entries in CMU's highly competitve New Venture Competition, hosted by CMU's College of Business Administration. DTN made it to the Final Four and won a total of $25,000 in prize money. They were awarded the Best Technology Venture Award
($10,000) as well as the Summer Accelerator Award ($15,000). Judges commended DTN on their thorough market analysis, budget model and their overall detailed business plan.
What is next for DTN?
DTN is committed to growing its organization and becoming a crucial aspect in enhancing local news. DTN earned first place honors at Central Michigan University's Make-A-Pitch Competition and is looking forward to making a pitch at CMU's New Venture Competition.
As the DTN student team prepares for their upcoming competitions, Zach stated, "It is incredible that our work of connecting news organizations and the communities they serve through amazing drone video has been recognized by media executives. Our team looks forward to helping reporters feel more confident with the use of drones and their accompanying FAA regulations."
View drones at work in this News Central 34 segment.*
*Led by faculty advisor, Rick Sykes, News Central 34 produces both a live nightly newscast and a three time a week live morning show serving three Michigan counties. It has the largest news coverage area of any regularly scheduled student produced live nightly television news broadcast in the state of Michigan.