Live Sports Broadcasts Soar to New Heights with Aerial Drones

Amimon makes the case of UAV HD video capture in sports broadcasting.

In the province of broadcasting, live sports have recently come to occupy a unique place in entertainment: they’re one of the few types of broadcasts that viewers still primarily watch live and in real time. Not only do sports broadcasts often make use of the latest and greatest technologies to keep viewers fully engaged and coming back for more, they have also added music and entertainment elements to further escalate viewers’ expectations.

To keep programming fresh and compelling, sports broadcasters stay alert for new techniques, and they have certainly noticed aerial video capture using drones. Drones have the ability to capture unique and creative shots unlike anything seen before. But due to the “live and in real time” nature of sports broadcast and the nature of the content itself, sports broadcasters have some particular technical challenges, including:

  • Sports action is live – there are no second takes
  • Sports action is usually fast paced
  • Sporting venues can be spread over large areas

Drones equipped with today’s small and lightweight HD cameras address these challenges when equipped with new transmission solutions to capture live video without delay. These new aerial video solutions provide broadcasters with a new and innovative way to deliver creative and compelling content for viewers.

Drone Technologies are Taking Off

There has been a growing flurry of development in small drone technology, supported by a flurry of new product offerings. There is now a wide selection of UAV aerial drones that can carry 3 Kg payloads (almost 7 pounds) or more that can be purchased for less than ten thousand dollars, or rented for far less. When combined with recent advances in camera technologies – specifically small, lightweight high quality video cameras – broadcasters now have the capability to deploy drones with broadcast-quality cameras within most budgets.

With their light weight, small size and high maneuverability, drones can capture shots that wouldn’t be possible using any other camera mounting system. They can capture long straight or curved dolly shots, over virtually any terrain or surface with ease. They can work in confined spaces where cranes and other equipment cannot be used. And, they can actually combine dolly and crane functionality to deliver previously impossible shots.

One additional necessary key technology is the availability of high-quality video downlink transmission. Without it, hobbyists can capture picturesque wide-angle footage of stationary landscapes and buildings, but for professional broadcast applications, it is critical to accurately frame the action in real time. This is the only way that a drone operator and a camera operator can work together and be sure that they are getting the shots they want without interfering with athletes – while ensuring safe operation of the drone in what are typically fan-packed venues.

When shooting fast-moving action, even a few milliseconds of latency could mean the difference between capturing a thrilling action shot and only capturing the cheers or applause after it is over. To meet this need, the drone platform must be equipped with a wireless communication system that provides a robust HD (1080p/60fps) video downlink with near zero latency. Preferably, the communication system should also provide additional functions such as a control channel to the gimbal and the camera settings, as well as a data channel to provide telemetry feedback to the ground monitor; this can be done over the same link or on a separate wireless link. One other beneficial function available today in top-rated solutions is the use of robust synchronized multicast transmission to broadcast the live video stream to multiple screens.

Combine dolly and crane functionality to deliver previously impossible shots

Combine dolly and crane functionality to deliver previously impossible shots

Here are some tips for using drones for live sport coverage.

Covering Live Action

Today’s aerial drone capabilities, along with lightweight broadcast-quality HD cameras and a real-time HD video downlink, deliver high-quality video suitable for immediate on-air use. These aerial production systems can be easily integrated with various other camera systems for live event coverage. Using aerial drones to cover such events provides several advantages, including the shot flexibility described above, and quick repositioning for viewing angle or venue changes. Drones can also be used to supplement fixed camera locations to provide extra coverage of specific actions or individual competitors with minimal distraction in the primary views.

Covering Fast Action

When covering fast-moving subjects, the real-time video downlink is a critical element – letting the camera operator follow and capture the action as it is happening just as with a fixed camera location, but with all the advantages of the 3D mobility of the drone platform. Athletes move fast, whether they’re on motorcycles, on skis, in cars or on foot, making razor-sharp accuracy control an essential element for live sports broadcasting. The only way to achieve this is by using a zero-latency transmission solution.

Covering Distributed Action

Some sporting events, such as cross-country skiing, cycling and Le Mans-style auto racing, take place over large areas that may be difficult to cover with fixed camera locations. The ability of aerial drones to be quickly deployed without highly defined termination points provides extra flexibility to capture and broadcast live video – wherever the action is taking place. Video captured from aerial drones can also be used to provide a variety of highly creative shots to mix in with the fixed broadcast locations to generate higher viewer engagement and interest, and show elements of venues that may otherwise be unattainable.

It really is no wonder that the fast ascension of aerial drones for use in broadcasting, movie-making and commercial production is transforming how video images are captured and content is created. And the big payoff is that they’re delivering even more thrilling experiences for viewers. 

Some sporting events take place over large areas that may be difficult to cover with fixed camera locations

Some sporting events take place over large areas that may be difficult to cover with fixed camera locations

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