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Kitzbhel 2024: How Live Drone Shots Helped ORF Produce Immersive Coverage of the 84th Hahnenkamm Races

22/02/2024

Kitzb hel 2024: How live drone shots helped ORF produce immersive coverage of the 84th Hahnenkamm Races By Will Strauss

Wednesday, February 14, 2024 - 10:19

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The Streif racecourse in Kitzb hel, Austria, is the ultimate downhill skiing challenge. A highlight of the FIS Men's Alpine Ski World Cup, and home to the Hahnenkamm Races, the steep and winding route starts at 1,665 metres above sea level and propels the skiers at speeds of up to 90mph. The first jump, the Mausefalle', has a gradient of 40.4 degrees and sends skiers flying 80 metres through the air. It's icy. It's fast. It's dangerous. This is not a race for the faint-hearted.

For many years, TV viewers have been able to enjoy the spectacle from the comfort of their living rooms, thanks to coverage provided by host broadcaster ORF Sport. Broadcast cameras have always captured the action brilliantly, but two-dimensional images haven't always been able to reflect the speed of the skiers and how steep the course is. That is, until drones were introduced.

In 2022, ORF Sport head of directors Michael K gler, the man at the helm of the host coverage, took a punt on a drone. By this year's race, three UAVs were providing what K gler describes as an enormous insight into how fast the skiers go, and what kind of skills they've got to have.

However, very much like finishing the race itself, getting to this point wasn't easy, as Andr Theis (pictured, below), CEO and founder of wireless video systems company theis.media, the man responsible for the provision of the drones in Kitzb hel, explains.

We had to build trust, says Theis. We had to prove to everyone that what we were doing and how we were working was safe.

The reason for the caution is well known. In December 2015, a race skier almost got hit by a falling drone.

Reports the Guardian newspaper at the time: The downhill skiing champion Marcel Hirscher escaped unharmed after a drone carrying a camera fell from the sky and narrowly missed him on his way down the slope during a race in Italy. The Austrian, who has won the overall World Cup title for the past four seasons, was on his second run of the slalom event at Madonna di Campiglio in Italy when the machinery smashed into the snow metres behind him.

Theis's background is in broadcasting as a video engineer. Now, he specialises in wireless systems, including on-board cameras, POV bodycams, and FPV (First Person View) drones.

To be with' the skier is really something. These are pictures that television viewers have never seen before. It has unleashed the camera. We don't have to follow the same track every time. It's something new and amazing.

His company builds and operates its own equipment, including its own telemetry systems, lightweight receiver boards and transmitter backpacks. To get everything as light as possible, they modify transmitters, build their own housing and get OEM parts directly from the manufacturer.

The lengths that Theis has gone to in order to get the drones accepted are impressive. He explains: We have our own drones. We build the frames. We have a GPS rescue system so if we lose contact then the drones come back to us.

We also decided to use 6 or 8 propellers so that in case one breaks, there would be no problem. We successfully tested this.

But perhaps the biggest issue was having good pilots who could make sure that they kept their distance [from the racer] or that they kept an angle. So if they go nearer, they have to be in at an angle so that if something goes wrong, the drone will fall to the side or behind the racer. And, of course, the quality of the broadcast has to be high. So all these these things we have to show.

To make this possible, Theis created a FPV drone that could capture live shots, that weighed less than 800 grams and that was safe, broadcast quality and piloted by experts that know the sport.

It has taken us some time to find FPV Pilots that do good framing, he adds. They read the sport and they fly with the guys. This was a big step. As soon as we got all this together, the safety, the quality of the broadcast, and also the pilots, then we could approach Michael K gler.

Hahnenkamm is always the place for doing something big, and K gler is the one for doing something big, of course. We did some tests and after just one flight he said: That's it. The search is over.

With permission granted by the Kitzb hel Ski Club and Austro Control, the organisation responsible for air traffic throughout Austrian airspace, theis.media provided one live drone in 2022. The year after it was two drones one between Lerchenschuss and the edge of the Hausberg, the other from the traverse to the target slope.

That was something special, continues Theis. The first drone followed [the skiers] coming down the hill, and then on a long straight, and then a little bit further down the hill. From that point, we had the next drone following almost to the finish zone. But we cannot fly through the finish zone because of spectators. You need to have a minimum of 50 metres from the spectators. Despite this, the feedback was [very good].

For 2024, they moved things on further still. The opening shot at the start of course was captured with a crane in previous years. It provided a good but limited picture. To improve it, ORF opted to use a third drone.

And this is really what we saw at the start of this year, says Theis. It was crazy and something special. It really shows the angles, the speed, and everything. So this is a very good position.

The essence and benefits of the drone shots are clear for Theis. It provides a more immersive experience (as can be seen in the clip above from the SVG Europe Sky Sport Austria Summit 2024).

You can feel the speed and how dangerous parts of the race are, he
LINK: https://www.svgeurope.org/blog/headlines/kitzbuhel-2024-how-live-drone...
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