I am living quite near to Hamburg Airport. After 15 minutes of walking I can reach a place where landing airplanes will fly some 20-30m above my head. When having guests, often this is an appreciated excursion. Occasions when no other people are visiting the same place are rare. Mostly I find some of them armed with heavy photographic equipment.
Flying planes, especially when starting or landing, enthuse many people. It’s no wonder that this kind of fascination has led devotees to create digital publications around airplane pictures and videos. Nearly 2M Insta-posts are tagged with #airplanes. A Google-search for ‘starting airplane video’ results some 140M links, a majority of them leading to YouTube.
One airplane-focused YouTube-channel is Big Jet TV. With some 90k subscribers and 900 published videos so far it isn’t even the biggest. But with video durations frequently in the 4-8hrs range surely one of the biggest content providers (in terms of content volume). The videos are mostly recordings of Big Jet TV’s live shows, which are aired twice a week.
The live shows pretty much are what my visitors experience when going with me to our airport: having a look at some planes landing or starting and the movements on the airfield.
- Big Jet TV’s shows last for hours
- They show other airports; London Heathrow by far is the most frequent location
- The host of the show is a real connoisseur, feeling at home in the world of planes and aviation technics
‘What kind of people are spending hours and hours watching airplanes landing or starting, even paying for exclusive videos?’ I asked Jerry, the man behind Big Jet TV.
“That’s something that definitely has evolved since I am doing this. Over four years now. At the beginning, it was only for passionate aviationists. Now, we’ve got such a diverse range of ages and people. We’ve got kids as young as four or five years. We’ve got whole families, mum, dad and kiddies. And also the old couple in their eighties, who pull up next to me at the traffic lights and shout out: ‘we watch your show, every time!’. We’ve got aircrew and pilots. Some family members from anywhere in the world watch our videos to see their piloting relative landing. Our show is entertaining and educational. Every single background you can imagine. A very large percentage of these people are not aviation fans. They are the kind of people who watch Discovery Channel. It’s the community what makes them watching.”
How Big Jet TV originated
Jerry Dyer, the self-publisher of Big Jet TV, isn’t just some nerd. He even has a history as a ‘proper’ publisher of legacy media. Quite cool and niche legacy media though.
Jerry once created a mountainbike magazine. That was in the days when that meant: creating a bundle of paper full of photography and text. To adherents of BMX or skating, Dirt Magazine seems to have been a boon, as this blogpost suggests to me. On May 6th 2015 the history of DIRT Magazine ended with its last, 159th, issue. Later, Emap, a big magazine publisher, offered Jerry a job in California.
When he returned to London, he stumbled into building up a successful interior fitting company, specializing in shutters. There, he could rely on his natural craftmanship as well as his profound knowledge of digital marketing (customer acquisition!). Economically, the 10 years in this business were the most lucrative ones in his professional life. “Within a year, I moved from a little tiny flat in Bristol to a lovely house in London“, he tells me during our Zoom-interview. But in 2016, Jerry felt exhausted, kind of burned out. He felt, he needed something new.
But how did this guy come into streaming aviation videos?
Being the son of a pilot, planes have a been a topic of interest in his life since very early days. “All through my life, I’ve always looked up when I’ve seen a plane. During my career I have done many things. But during all those years of doing other stuff I have always looked to the skies.” So the passion always has been part of Jerry’s life. But becoming a successful life video streamer happened rather accidentally.
“In 2016, that was when I was lying in the bath one day and was looking at my phone. I saw that Bruce Dickinson had landed in Heathrow”. So Jerry went there, put his camera to the fence of Heathrow airport, and livestreamed footage of Ed Force One. That’s the plane of the rock superstar, singer of the heavy metal band Iron Maiden. “And that’s literally how it started”.
His livestream on Twitter didn’t actually go viral. But it found some interest and positive feedback. So Jerry continued streaming landing planes, first via Periscope, later Facebook, then YouTube. And that was his launch pad, the place where his self-publishing business took off.
Here, Jerry pays a lot of tribute to Gilly Prestwood, on Linkedin introducing herself as ‘Livestream Technician/Admin (Unpaid Volunteer) at BIG JET TV’. It was Gilly who made Jerry setting up the YouTube channel. And it is Gilly who guarantees the high technical quality of Big Jet TV’s streams.
“We are a great team”, he says about his working with Gilly. Gilly, whom Jerry got to know as one of the very early fans of his aviation videos, who was “just a viewer” at the beginning of their acquaintance. One day, she offered her support for free as an enthusiastic supporter. And still she is doing what she does for Big Jet TV as a volunteer. Though Gilly is, according to Jerry, an expert in streaming technology.
“There are guys running Sky Sports stuff asking her for advice. That’s how good she is”, he says about his former viewer having morphed into his congenial publishing partner.
When she had helped him establish Big Jet TV on YouTube, growth was “very, very rapid. We had a couple of videos that went viral, one of which was the go around of the 787 Dreamliner. That just went across the world. Our channel grew so rapidly that YouTube flew me with some other successful creators to New York. They wanted to pick my brains. They wanted to learn how I managed to grow my channel so rapidly.”
And what did Jerry tell them? “It’s all about the presenter. If you do something live it’s all about the person presenting it. About how enthusiastic he is. How upbeat he is.”
“Youtube flew me to New York. They wanted to pick my brains. They wanted to learn how I managed to grow my channel so rapidly.”
The business side – making a living from streaming airplanes
In February 2017 Jerry started his YouTube channel. Some three and a half years later, he has generated 13.5M views. 92.5K people subscribe to Big Jet TV. And the following on Facebook is even bigger, though most people there aren’t as much into aviation as the YouTube subscribers.
5,000 are paying subscribers. At the end of last year this number stood at 1,700, Jerry told Bloomberg recently. As with so many creators, Covid-19 boosted interest in Jerry’s videos.
Big Jet TV offers 4 different membership levels on YouTube, each labelled with reference aviation products:
As an ‘Economy’ member ($0.99/month) you’ll get loyalty badges next to your name in comments and you can participate in the live chat. Also, you get access to custom emojis.
‘Executive’ members ($1.99/month) additionally get access to members-only live chats and to members-only videos.
First Class passengers ($4.99) get access to all exclusive videos (e.g. videos from airports overseas), to premiere events and exclusive live shows. Also, discounted merchandise and even special hotel room rates at partner hotels are promised (“30 percent at Hilton Garden Inn but not at the mini bar, hahaha”, Jerry promoted this perk in a stream I watched researching for this article). $4.99 also is the rate if fans want to get access to exclusive content or live chat on Facebook.
Only real aficionados will pay the Super Calls tarif of $19.99 per month. That doesn’t get them much more but a “Special Recognition”. According to Jerry he had to set up this membership level, because there were a lot of people who wanted to pay more.
“I don’t think I deserve more money. I had to turn Superchat off. I had to turn the stars off on Facebook. If we put Superchat on, we’d pull in $400 a show. It’s embarrassing. I don’t want people to give me more money. I want them to keep their money, to give it to charities or save it for rainy days. I don’t want to feel those people who can’t afford it to feel pressured to give more money”, so I decided to turn it off”.
“I don’t want people to give me more money. I want them to keep their money, to give it to charities or save it for rainy days.”
Jerry doesn’t like much to talk about how all this sums up. But you won’t miss the real figure much if you assume that the majority of his paying members took the First Class ticket. That means, this self-publishing venture generates a monthly turnover in the ballpark of US$25k. Of course, that’s before YouTube takes away his 30% fee, costs are deducted, and tax authorities put their fingers on Jerry’s income.
Producing Big Jet TV doesn’t come with a lot of costs, travel and accommodation being the biggest points on the expense list. Until now. “We are now in a position, because we get enough income, to put Gilly on the books“. Thanks to financial support of his audience, rather sooner than later Jerry seems willing to pay his partner in publishing. “Which is one of my major plans because she really deserves it”, says Jerry.
Apart from membership revenues also there’s merchandising. Mugs, t-shirts, hoodies and, of course, facemasks carrying the Big Jet TV logo, are on sale. According to Jerry only because of his fans are asking for this stuff and because the branded merchandise is a means to market Big Jet TV. The merchandise “is not geared as being an income stream. We make very little money on merchandise”, he says.
Are you a creator? A YouTube-streamer? A self-publisher?
“Well, I am a broadcaster, I’m a live streaming broadcaster. I am ‘on air’. I’m a live streaming broadcaster / presenter. Because I present the show. People ask ‘who is doing the camera work?’ They don’t understand that it is me. I do everything”, was Jerry’s answer to my question.
And since Jerry is not only doing all the stuff in front and behind the camera, but also he has to make contacts, to negotiate deals, to pitch show ideas to airports, airlines or pilots, in short: because he does everything (what Gilly doesn’t do), he decides everything, he pays for all costs and he earns all the money, that’s why I still prefer to call him a self-publisher. And one of the most successful ones I see in these days!