Fox Television Stations have almost 90 trained drone pilots in its arsenal and more than 100 “visual observers” which tag along on news shoots in order to assist and increase safety. Traditionally, helicopters were the go-to aerial tool for television and film productions, but with the advent of affordable, capable unmanned aerial vehicles, the landscape is changing, even in news production.
According to TV News Check, Fox employs UAVs at 13 of its 16 news stations, as well as at 11 Fox News Channel offices. The reported end goal is to ultimately employ trained drone crews at every required newsworthy location. Besides the obvious financial motivation of switching from helicopters to drones, is the UAV’s ability to reach vantage points its larger predecessor simply can’t reach thereby often providing shots and footage more visceral, informative, and engaging.
“I like to say that the first day belonged to the news helicopters, but the next 45 days of the story belonged to the drones,” proclaimed Doug Evans, a reporter, anchor, meteorologist, and now, drone pilot. It was WAGA-TV, a Fox owned-and-operated TV station in Atlanta, Georgia, that started the initiative to equip and train all Fox stations and Fox News Channel bureaus with drones. “I see it as a way for some of our very creative and talented storytellers to add a perspective to stories that they haven’t had in the past,” said WAGA General Manager Bill Schneider.
Overseeing this program is Sharri Berg of News and Operations at Fox Television Stations. She claimed that UAVs will inevitably become a “standard tool of news gathering - on the roster along with trucks, cameras and streaming backpacks.” Regarding the unhampered nature of drones concerning their ability to position themselves anywhere, Berg is in full agreement. “While the drones are not as robust as helicopters, they give you the ability to be in more places at once with more flexibility and differentiation,” she said.
WAGA Vice President of Engineering and Operations Neil Mazur claims Fox has completed over 600 drones missions. “Some of our stations are flying multiple times a day, others not as often. They’re used for breaking news, enterprise, sports, weather, and, of course, promos because we do a lot of image work,” he said.
We’ve been seeing UAVs at play on our televisions and on the big screen for quite some time now. Recently we saw a truly impressive short-film focusing on and partly shot with drones, as well as reportage on a massive 50-car pile-up using the aerial tool. According to Schneider, the increasing consideration of employing a drone as opposed to the traditional helicopter has already affected what and how something is being reported. “In the editorial process, they are going through that kind of conversation that you and I are having right now. How can we utilize the drone? Is this a helicopter story? Is it neither? I think it becomes part of the DNA or the fabric of the editorial process,” he explained.
To many of us, this has been a long time coming, but it’s heartening to notice that even the old school of reporting has caught on that using drones instead of helicopters to capture footage is obvious in hindsight.