From delivering pizzas, to firing rockets to finding lost souls to taking dronies to letting film-makers capture amazing aerial footage, drones are proving fairly useful. And New Zealand production company Reel Factory is benefitting from providing what it claims is the first drone-based footage for a live, full HD, international broadcast at the Cricket World Cup.
In the US, branded blimps have long been employed to get aerial footage for big sporting occasions and helicopters are a more nimble, but much more expensive, option. These days, anyone can buy and fly a drone (the cheapest option is around $200 and Reel Factory uses the $200,000 Octocopter, which can hold professional grade cameras like Red), so they have basically democratised the air and, like many new technologies before it, this is leading to a number of regulatory issues in terms of airspace and privacy.
Reel Factory is the only drone company in Australasia with the technology to conduct a live feed. It also has the sole exemption from both the New Zealand and Australian Civil Aviation Authorities to fly the drone at night (its footage of Auckland and the fireworks from the stadium and Sky Tower after New Zealand's victory were included in the international broadcast and, like a honey shot for nerds, the hovering drone has also been deemed of enough interest to feature on the broadcast).
Reel Factory's Bex Morrison says the company was born after Heli Shot and Phantom Effects merged around two years ago and it was contracted by the host broadcaster Star Sports Asia to fly the drone for the big games (it is flying it again at the Sydney Cricket Ground for today's semi final and again on Sunday for the final). This footage is in addition to Spider Cam, which is a separate company distinct from Star Sports. So, given the popularity, quality and efficiency of drones, could that wire-based technology soon be a thing of the past? At the moment, Morrison says the number one rule is that drones can't be flown over people, so it won't be happening anytime soon at stadia, but because everyone's "hungry for the drone" at the moment (and because most punters at the game know they're being filmed and seem to quite like seeing themselves on TV) it's probably heading that way. Now we wait for drone technology to advance sufficiently so that they can dispense tomato sauce on hotdogs.
Morrison didn't want to comment on how the business has grown or put any numbers on what the profile it has gained from this event has meant for the company, but director and drone camera technician Hamish Trott said in a release the company has had unprecedented positive feedback about the live drone and The Olympics (Rio de Janeiro), Fox Sports Australia, Indian Premier League and the Caribbean Premier League are all in negotiations to employ the technology for their upcoming sporting events.
Morrison says the live coverage is just one aspect of its business and it also does a lot of aerial filming for overseas commercials and local TV shows, such as The Bachelor and Our First Home.
Reel Factory has also used drones as part of Sky's cricket broadcasting. Its first was in Mt Maunganui in October last year and a drone was also attacked by seagulls during the test match against Sri Lanka in Wellington. During a game in Dunedin, one of its operators had to come in for landing as a civilian drone came too close for comfort.
Speaking of drones, here's a self-promotional clip showing their role as the agency employees.
And here's a funny call for entries campaign that clearly shows the role drones will play in the future of marketing.