Last year five Italian OB companies joined forces to become a major player in aerial live broadcast. Mike Clark reports.
After a test run on the World Cycling Championship in Florence (in September 2013), five Italian companies, each with in-depth expertise in a specific OB production sector, formed WeFly. Thanks to new European regulations, the group can pool its resources and take part as a single entity in tenders for important events, particularly in the sports field, where reliable airborne coverage plays a key role.
Offering turnkey HD production packages, the company comprising WeFly are: CGA, a business with planes and pilots and the necessary experience and certification for European airborne coverage; Fly Shot, owned and run by a pilot with 30 years’ experience, providing logistical and practical organisation as well as procuring helicopters; Team TV, which is responsible for all HF/RF equipment connecting vehicles and intercom facilities (the company also provides custom equipment able to track bikes from the helicopters and planes); Laboratorio Tevere, supplier of all equipment onboard the aircraft, such as gyro-stabilised cameras; and finally, Global Production which coordinates facilities and production. Global also has a fleet of OB trucks that run up to a 30-camera HD vehicle.
Davide Furlan of Global Production reflects on the company’s work so far: “After Florence, WeFly was commissioned by state broadcaster RAI to cover one of the last races of the UCI world tour (Giro di Lombardia), and we fielded four video motorcycles, an audio commentary motorbike, a helicopter with a gyro-stabilised camera, a relay helicopter with another gyro-stabilised unit and a relay plane. At the end of 2013, WeFly was the key player at the Cortina-Dobbiaco 35km cross-country race at the Nordic world ski championships. We covered with two snowmobiles, two helicopters, a plane and 28 ground-located cameras.”
The high-altitude platform
Giovanni Braghetti, sole director of Rome-based Laboratorio Tevere adds, “Our contribution to the services offered by WeFly consists in supplying gyro-stabilised systems for aerial footage and installing them on helicopters and planes. We also provide antenna systems for the transmission and reception of audio and video signals and put our specially equipped helicopters at WeFly’s disposal. For example, for the World Cycling Championship in Florence, we provided gyro-stabilised HD cameras, which we installed on two helicopters (a single-engined AS350 and a twin-engined AS355), auto-tracking antennas for air/land transmission. One of the two helicopters - the AS355 - was ours and was specifically equipped for broadcast/news coverage and transmissions.”
“We supply the high-altitude platform (a pressurised turboprop plane) on which we install the connectivity equipment, enabling it to be used for radio audio/video relay between vehicles on the ground and the control room,” explains Giuseppe Ottonello, manager of Genoa-based CGA, “We use a Piper Cheyenne II, with excellent performance as far as speed and range are concerned, enabling us to stay on events’ locations for up to six hours.”
Marco Bianchi, one of Team TV’s partner/owners describes his company’s management and coordination of all the RF signals. “We handle all communications and ground-air audio/video transmission, as well as providing the specialist technical staff for operating the equipment aboard the airborne relay platforms. This work is done using Gig wave/Link H.264 HD systems, whereas the air-ground systems are Europe. To track the motorbikes, we use terminals developed in house, which integrate commercial equipment with dedicated parts built in our labs. These interface GPS receivers with UHF transceivers, each with a specific station ID, and transmit their positions at set intervals, enabling the terminals on the airborne relay units to track the transmitting stations’ positions on the ground and consequently maintain a suitable position for their reception.”
Renzo Rossi, sole director of Tuscan firm Flyshot, is also a veteran pilot who personally carries out events’ coverage with helicopters equipped with gyro-stabilised systems. “Through the years - working in Italy and abroad with key broadcasters such as Rai and Mediaset – I have covered motorbike races, rallies, regattas and more and built up a group of highly specialised pilots,” he says. “We organise logistics for landing, necessary authorisations, control in the operating area of the position of the helicopters, refuelling, etc.”
WeFly aims to ensure a complete turnkey package for any type of HD broadcast in standard HD with OB vans, SNG, RF systems, graphics for live event coverage, three helicopters and two EASA-certified pressurised planes equipped with all the latest equipment for live coverage.
Global Production’s Furlan concludes, “There are few players in Europe able to field such a range of technology and professionalism, so there is consequently almost a monopoly as far as live race broadcast productions are concerned, so we decided to combine our strengths and skills, dividing the cost - and the risks! - to create an alternative that was immediately able to compete without cutting the market prices.”