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                   Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 10:00AM CST

Comments and tips: the state of chasing revenue sources

Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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I've posted on this subject before many times, but since we have a new crop of chasers in the mix from recent years, I thought I would offer some bits of 'chaser wisdom' from my own experiences. I do not claim to be wise, just experienced. Many things have changed in the world of chasing and the media in recent years, and I hope this will prevent someone from making a bad financial/business decision today or down the road. There are a lot of myths about chasing and business that the newcomers to the hobby are eating up, and developing bad/unrealistic goals based on those myths.

First a little on my history in the chasing business world. I've had a generously flexible employer since 1998, and I've spent many years taking that opportunity to work hard at attempting to make chasing/weather video into at least a part-time supplimental income. The reason? I wanted to be able to do something I loved as much as I could while paying a bill or two, and monetizing chasing made that possible. In 2004-2005, the video market was doing very well. During that time I was able to make a small profit. By profit, I mean my revenue was more than my expenses (I paid taxes to Uncle Sam for it) - but not by much. It was not a livable income type of profit, not the least of which was due to my investments in equipment and travel in the years leading up to that time. The biggest benefit from those years is that I basically was able to chase all year, any time, whenever I wanted - and have it (mostly) paid for, plus making a car payment every few months with it. It didn't do much with helping me make a living, which my day job kept supporting.

In 2006, the weather footage market suffered a dramatic collapse, and I have not been able to find a viable replacement revenue stream despite working hard at it ever since. The companies that used to buy footage from me all the time simply either stopped buying, or expected drastic reductions in prices that were not fair to me as a photographer. A little-known fact of my weather video income is that it was mostly not related to storms - I used to make most of my income selling generic video of rain, snow, fog and the like. Shots of people walking with umbrellas in the rain made me more money than storms! I haven't shot a revenue package like that for general weather in almost 2 years, since no one will pay reasonable rates for those any longer. Even dramatic footage is a hard sell nowadays, with buyers expecting far-reaching rights for dirt-cheap prices that don't cover a fraction of my costs of acquiring the footage.

In my opinion, bringing business into a hobby isn't always a bad thing. Some might disagree with that, and I respect their opinion. But I believe that there would be nothing greater than to do something you love for an income. Without the video income during 2003-2007, I would have not been able to afford to see 90% of the things I saw. It was a very good thing for me. But unfortunately, this just does not work in storm chasing any longer.

I'm offering this information for the benefit of those in the hobby. Ignore it at your own peril! If you think I have ulterior motives for doing this ('protecting the market', etc), you're welcome to publicly show your evidence. There is no market left, there is nothing to 'protect'. I'm back to 100% web development now and have been for the past few years. Weather video income at best is limited to a few unreliable 'bonus' sales per year (and that is decreasing too). If you still believe I'm saying all of this to secretly discourage competition, you're welcome to visit me. We'll do lunch and I'll show you my invoices and expense logs for the past 3 years. Call me at 314-480-6538 to arrange a time to meet.

I can already hear the handful of people with a TV show or other rare 'niche' saying "but I made a profit last year". I'm glad someone is, but I speak as one who has taken the business side of things more seriously than most, and has found all of the realistic options gone. More than likely, if you're reading this (as an average chaser), you're going to have the same results I did. So save your time and money!

So, in no particular order:

  • 2006 was the last year that the weather video market could support profit for a chaser. The internet and the proliferation of cell phone video has forever changed the media industry. Media outlets are struggling financially due to advertising dollars moving to online outlets. Newsdesk budgets used to buy video from photographers have been slashed. Everyone has a video camera today and is willing to give the footage away. Negotiating is becoming less of an option. If you do not cave and sell low, many times the potential buyer will simply pass even if you have great video.
  • No one makes real profit from chasing today, unless you have a TV show. 'Real' profit means paying your mortgage, car payment and groceries in addition to your chase expenses. Paying for your gas money is not making a profit, that's "breaking even" (and not really that either if you count your time and vehicle wear). The 'money chaser' is an outdated myth. No one I know chases for money - for that to be true, there has to be real money in chasing!
  • It is becoming increasingly difficult to recoup chasing costs with related revenue. Plan for your chasing to be completely out-of-pocket, with any sales as an unexpected bonus.
  • Trying to make storm chasing into a career (part or full time) will lead nowhere. Investing money and time into such a goal is throwing resources and years of your life away. Focus on advancing in your chosen career path, not in chasing. Going to school to be a meteorologist will help you get a weather-related job, not a storm chasing job. No storm chasing job exists.
  • Financing a chasing hobby today involves working in an unrelated field for income (a good-paying day job, side jobs, etc). Chasing does not self-finance any longer for 99% of chasers (that includes me).
  • Do not finance a chase on credit. You will not pay it off with video, photo and DVD sales. If you do this, prepare to have to obtain part-time jobs through the off season to pay off the debt.
  • It is OK to miss a tornado outbreak. You do not need to chase everything to have a good season. Chase within your means. Do not neglect family, friends, your job or your significant other for chasing. A nice tornado photo will not be there for you when you are older. Most people do not have an appreciation for severe weather like you - "nobody cares" what you've seen, so do not elevate chasing to a major life priority.
  • Do not buy a high-end video camera unless you can finance it out-of-pocket as a personal luxury purchase. The video market no longer supports the additional expense of higher-end gear.
  • Chasers do not have products/services that the general public wants to buy. This is the key to why there are no chasing careers.
  • Chase highlights DVDs should be done for fun only. They take a lot of time to produce and usually do not sell well.
  • The general public does not care about storms, chasers, tornadoes, chase video, chase photos, chase vehicles, chase technology or anything related to chasing, that is, enough for you to derive any benefit. You will find that people tend to compliment your storm chasing results, but will not purchase related products.
  • Publicity from news articles, interviews, stories and features does not translate into photo and video sales nor additional website traffic.
  • Publicity from vehicular advertising, TV credits or publication credits does not translate into sales.
  • TV show producers may request audition tapes. These are usually a waste of time. They will not choose you unless you have the personality they are seeking. TV is not about weather, it is about entertainment/drama, because that is what viewers want. If you are not dramatic and over-the-top, TV will not be interested in you, no matter how experienced and 'hardcore' you are about storms.
  • Web site traffic does not translate to weather photo and video sales. Do not spend time or money on your web site's promotion, it is a waste.
  • No one will remember you even after a phoner or interview on national TV. No one will buy your video and photos afterward. Expect 5 or 10 Google search hits after a national TV interview airs.
  • The media has to pay for everything they do, and they all get paid themselves, so don't give your material away for free. Payment for footage is the only benefit you will ever see from having part in a production. No one notices the credits and it will not lead to new business. You will not get web site traffic, nor photo sales, nor video sales, nor calls from producers from being on TV or having your footage in a production. Do not cave and sell low - it will not help you in the future, it only helps the buyer. They'll make a profit with your video, why shouldn't you? It's better to not sell than to give material away below cost. If you really need the money, get another part-time job. It pays better.

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The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:

Dan, I wish they would let you post this as a sticky on Stormtrack, I hope a lot of the new chasers get a chance to read it. The problem with money and chasing these days are the number of chasers tweeting and facebooking about how they banked on events or are going to bank on revenue generated by streaming video! Much of the money being bragged about in the chase world these days is just hype in order to sell a web sight or stroke an ego. With ireport and people giving their streams and video away for free for a web sight plug there is no market for any video. Shane Adams posted how he did not make anything while streaming winter weather a few weeks ago. Shane is one of the more brilliant people out there in the chase world and I am surprised he bought into "license you streams and bank some $$$" deal. There is no market!!! Remember much of that stream hype was generated to sell a web sight (laughing all the way to the bank!) No one will ever show a profit on chasing unless they are : 1. Associated with Reed Timmer in some way (at least for a few more years). 2. Soaking up taxpayer money in the name of research (Dow's have 10+ years of data! What have they found?) 3. Running a tour (would hate to have been these guys the last few years during May!) Option 4 is to have a wife/girlfriend buying food, paying rent/slash mortgage, buying your gas and then you can blog about how much you are banking. I would guess 90% of chasers are single white males so # 4 is not an option. #1,2,3 are pretty slim numbers so I do wonder how the rest keep from going broke. 2011 will be an interesting chase year with 200-300 live streams going at anytime on any storm. Could get a little crowded out there with all of the chasers "banking all of that stream revenue sharing"!
- Posted by Julian from Colorado
I think the streaming/dome/uav/probe cameras are OK as long as the purpose is for fun/novelty, and as long as a chaser jumping into the fray isn't overspending in the hopes of recovering their costs (IE, an impoverished chaser putting $1,200 on their credit card for aircard, data plan, amp/antenna, dedicated camera/mount etc expecting to pay it off with sales). I joined the streaming world this year mainly for the fun of it, but will be using an old clip-on webcam and my tethered phone :)
- Posted by Dan R. from New Baden, IL
Julian, You ask what the DOWs have found in their research. I would direct you to the myriad of scientific articles published based on DOW data or which cite their work, literally dozens or more of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles that are never discussed on websites like Stormtrack. You have to find these articles the way other research scientists do, through university library databases or bibliographies associated with other scientific work.
- Posted by AmosM from Texas

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