The Evolution of Drone Video and Aerial Photography for Broadcast News

With the continuing development of federal regulation and commercial technology for professional drones used in a commercial capacity, drones are being used for aerial photography, aerial cinematography and other aerial imagery needs. Broadcast news organizations plan on leveraging video drone technology to deliver dynamic aerial imagery for live news broadcasts.



CNN was the first news organization to receive an official FAA waiver allowing the company to fly drones over people under the new regulations however it is a very restrictive waiver. CNN’s drone video division, CNN Aerial Imagery and Reporting (CNN AIR), will deliver drone-based aerial imagery across CNN’s various networks. Sinclair Broadcast Group has announced a comprehensive plan to use video drone technology across the many stations it operates or provides services to. Extending to dozens of markets by the end of 2017, Sinclair has already started delivering aerial photography and aerial video using its new Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) fleet in a number of major markets. Some media companies eager to employ drone technology question any FAA regulation, citing a strict interpretation of First Amendment freedoms for the press. Motherboard, in 2015, highlighted the memo sent by 15 major media organizations to the FAA detailing their concerns.

Media companies must detail clear, well-considered policies before deploying video drone technology for broadcast. The risks are numerous and vary from regulatory to public safety; many news organizations will not be equipped to handle such risks. Even though in the United States there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public place, policies must be implemented to avoid ethical concerns or privacy violations in dense urban environments and news-gathering situations that could entail breaking FAA policy. Since drones can gather bird’s-eye video of forest fires or other natural disasters in areas too dangerous to traverse, executives may demand footage that requires violation of FAA regulations. Policies must be in place to avoid federal penalties and civil or criminal liability in the many various situations that violations could occur. Proper insurance must be acquired for coverage in the event of an unforeseen situation. With drones being able to deploy faster than helicopters in dynamic news situations, not to mention cheaper to acquire and operate, drone video is a compelling choice for news organizations. Hiring a professional drone services firm can alleviate the need for some, not all, of these liability concerns.

Broadcast news organizations are beginning to adopt drones for live news purposes, but the needs of broadcast news organizations have begun to drive new evolutions in drone technology. To deploy drones for live aerial imagery the drone needs to deliver high-quality video back to the station in real-time instead of after the drone lands, stored on a memory card. Broadcasters need systems that provide reliable HD transmissions to deliver drone video that can reliably compete with helicopter broadcasts. One solution is an all-in-one system with integrated broadcast hardware. These have been developed by drone hardware manufacturers, or customized from non-specialized hardware, and implemented by news organizations. These comprehensive approaches are effective but offer less flexibility than the second option, the addition of external hardware to an existing video drone and drone control mechanism. These ‘bolt-on’ approaches are often simple to connect and offer much more flexibility than integrated hardware. This hardware is not built into, or for, a particular drone, so it can be used on various drone video platforms, even using different cameras, depending on the situation and demand.

Even though standardized technology has begun to be developed and sold by major drone hardware suppliers, there are still many technological challenges for news broadcasters to consider. For many news organizations, the most efficient solution may be enlisting a professional drone services firm that specializes in live broadcast footage.

Bottom line: When faced with any new service or technology, there is always a corporate decision to build or to buy. In the case of drones for news, some news organizations will be able to step up to the challenge, but many will find it more cost effective to outsource the work to a firm that specializes in drone operation.


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