Aviation SVOD service AeroCinema takes flight

On the heels of the latest niche digital platform launch, AeroCinema founder and CEO Phil Osborn talks to realscreen about the company's future plans and the rigorous testing processes needed to get the platform off the ground.
April 12, 2016

As the saying goes, “If you build it, they will come.” There is an audience out there for niche content, as is evidenced by the numerous SVOD services launched in recent years — from HorseLifestyle.TV, on all things horses, to FloCheer, a sports vertical from OTT service FloSports that provides coverage of American cheer championships. But in an increasingly saturated market, the challenge is to find the right niche to tap into – one that is not yet fully exploited.

Phil Osborn‘s (pictured, below) fixation with the aviation industry can be traced back to the late 1980s when he developed the hour-long aviation history docuseries Wings for Discovery Channel, which ran for 12 years. Soon after, the former Network USA CEO launched Wingspan, an aviation-focused linear channel in the U.S., which would eventually be sold to Discovery one year later.

Now, Osborn has established AeroCinema, an aviation-focused, subscription video on demand service. The Toronto-headquartered platform – which officially launched on March 21 – offers more than 400 rare aviation features, documentaries and profiles “from the Wright Brothers to rocket ships” that aim to explore the stories behind the airplanes, pilots and manufacturers from aviation’s beginnings to present day.

Phil Osborn

Phil Osborn, AeroCinema CEO

The move into digital was a slow and cautious one for Osborn, who spent eight years researching and investing in AeroCinema to fully understand the user experience. By developing an initial test market in the UK, Osborn was able to not only map the journey of an end-to-end experience, but form relationships between creator and customer – with all content being produced in-house – in order to tweak the digital platform’s programming, animation and preferred price points before taking flight in the U.S.

“If you’ve got the client on the end of the phone, the advantage is you can talk to someone and that hasn’t happened before,” explained Osborn, who serves as AeroCinema’s CEO, to realscreen. “I don’t think any product that I’m aware of has been tested so many different ways and with so many different opportunities as we have done with AeroCinema.

“We more or less felt we had to do everything we could to make sure the product was everything that it could be,” Osborn continued. “If the test market has meant anything it should work, but it’s a commercial exercise with a commercial risk attached to it.”

The Eureka Media-owned digital doc channel has much experience in transferring historic film to digital and SD footage to HD and 4K. The firm previously transferred the 3,000-hour British Pathé newsreel collection, and earlier this year secured the rights to a pool of rare archive film when it acquired the library of the Chance Vought Aircraft Corporation, one of the world’s oldest aircraft manufacturers.

The corporation’s film archive, as well as other historical materials, had initially been transferred to a group of history-minded employees when Northrop Grumman, a Virginia-based global aerospace and defense technology company, purchased Chance Vought in 1995.

Secret Factory1

The Secret Factory on AeroCinema

The “Vought Survivors,” as they were called, swiftly established the Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation with the intention of managing and preserving the company’s archive, which contains approximately 150 hours of material and includes footage from training exercises and presentations from the earliest days of aviation.

“We struck a deal with the Vought Aircraft Heritage Foundation to transport the film to our facility in New Jersey, store it under preservation conditions, and transfer the film to a medium that we could use in the production of new stories,” explained Peter McKelvy, AeroCinema’s senior VP of business development.

Once that content is transferred to a preferred medium, the AeroCinema team then returns the physical film reel, alongside digitally remastered copies, to a qualified museum promising to preserve the film. Digital copies are also sent to the original contributors.

AeroCinema aims to develop around 50 self-contained documentaries annually – or one film per week – which may run between 15 minutes and 40 minutes in length. The SVOD provider’s stable of content currently includes such documentaries as Rocket Power, on the history of rocket propulsion; Race with a Lady, about the exploits of aviator Sheila Scott during the 1969 London to Sydney Air Race; and The Elephant Plane, focused on Germany’s attempts to knock back Allied troops with a massive aerial bomb.

Though standalone documentaries currently make up the bulk of content in AeroCinema’s programming stable, the digital service is looking to revisit serialized docuseries it had previously declined due in part to the revitalization of the form via Netflix and other platforms.

Rocket Men on AeroCinema

“While aviation is our core audience, there’s also an element of history,” McKelvy says. “The history of flight is pretty closely tied to 20th century technological advancement, so I think that people interested in history are interested in some of the great characters that have been associated with aviation.”

“Coming from a Discovery background, I can tell you that those stories are the types of things that resonate really well with folks,” added executive chair W. Clark Bunting, a former Discovery Channel president and GM who joined AeroCinema last November in search of further entrepreneurial opportunities. “Tell me a great story and that’s something I want to watch.”

AeroCinema is currently available for US$4.95 per month or $49.95 per year, and can be accessed via web-enabled products including Samsung, Panasonic, Roku TV and Roku 4, as well as mobile devices and conventional desktops. Additional compatible platforms will be announced in the future.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.