Skycam is a computer-controlled, stabilized, cable-suspended camera system. The system is maneuvered through three dimensions in the open space over a playing area of a stadium or arena by computer-controlled cable-drive system. It is responsible for bringing video game–like camera angles to television sports coverage. The camera package weighs less than 14 kg (30.86 lbs) and can travel at 13 m/s (29.08 mph).
Invented by Garrett Brown (also the inventor of the Steadicam), Skycam was acquired by Winnercomm, Inc. in 2004. On January 12, 2009, Winnercomm was acquired by Outdoor Channel Holdings, Inc., parent company of the Outdoor Channel.
"Skycam" is a trademarked name. However, with the expiration of the original patents, other companies have entered the market, and the term "Skycam" is used generically for any cable-controlled camera system. Fox Sports refers to their system as the DLP Ultimate Picture Cam, its title sponsored by the Texas Instruments projection method.
Skycam, and systems like it, have been in limited use since the mid-1980s when the technology was first patented, but until the mid-1990s progress was slow due to limitations in computer and servo motor technology.
Skycam was first publicly used in fall 1984, at a preseason NFL game in San Diego between the Chargers and 49ers. NBC debuted the first wire-flown remote-controlled camera used in sports coverage at the 1985 Orange Bowl. But its use did not become widespread until February 2001 for the XFL. ESPN first used Skycam in 2001 for an NFL pre-season telecast and then consistently in 2002 for Sunday Night Football broadcasts. Since then, ESPN and sister-network ABC have made widespread use of Skycam for NCAA football, Monday Night Football, and Super Bowl XXXVII respectively, as well as auto racing including NASCAR and IndyCar series events.
Systems from Skycam and CableCam have also been used for the NBA and NHL final series and the beginning of the 2005 and 2006 NASCAR season broadcast on Fox. CableCam was used on the famous 17th hole at the TPC at Sawgrass for NBC's coverage of The Players Championship in 2005. CBC used a CableCam in their broadcasts of the 2005 and 2006 Grey Cups. CBS used a SkyCam for their coverage of the 2010 NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four games in Lucas Oil Stadium.
In Australia, the Nine Network trialed Skycam for three of their Friday Night Football broadcasts of the Australian Football League for the 2004 season. It was also used in the State of Origin series.
Skycam consists of three major components: the reel—the motor drive and cables, the spar—the counterbalanced pan and tilt video camera, and central control, the computer software used by the operator to fly the camera.
The system consists of four reels anchored at high fixed points at corners of the stadium or arena (the cables are attached to fixed spars formed by tall extensible lift platforms when permanent anchors are not available). Each reel is a cable spool with 4.5 horsepower (3.4 kW) motor and disc brakes with its own computer capable of a .01" positioning resolution. The cable is a braided Kevlar jacketed single mode optical fiber with conductive copper elements and is capable of supporting 272 kg on a single cable.
The 36" tall spar contains the Panasonic HD camera, the pan and tilt motor, and stabilization sensors. Weighing only 25 pounds, the package also includes a power distribution module and electronics for fiber optic signaling.
Central control is an industrial grade, Windows XP computer workstation that provides camera flight and video control. Both a pilot (the one who flies the spar in 3D space) and the operator (the one who controls the camera pan, tilt, zoom and focus) use this system for controlling the overall video shot. The central computer system uses a custom software package to control each aspect of the camera system, including motion, video, and obstacle avoidance.
- During the October 14, 2007 game between the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints, the CableCam system made a "controlled descent" onto the field as a result of human error. No one was hurt from the incident, the first ever resulting in the stoppage of a game.
- In the December 20, 2009 Las Vegas Bowl between the Oregon State Beavers and the BYU Cougars, Skycam had to be taken down as a result of high winds. Gusts were reported at over 40 miles per hour.
- In the 2011 Insight Bowl on December 30, 2011 between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the Oklahoma Sooners, Skycam crashed onto the field with 2:22 left to play, almost striking a player. The game was delayed for about 5 minutes as a result, as the camera and its cables were removed from the field of play.
- At the 2013 Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, on lap 126, a cable supporting a FOX Sports CAMCAT on the front straightaway broke, causing a cable to fall into the turn 4 grandstands, injuring ten spectators. It also fell on the track and caused damage to the race cars of Kyle Busch, Marcos Ambrose, Mark Martin, and others. NASCAR red flagged the race and also gave teams a 15 minute period to repair the damage to their cars without losing laps or position. The CAMCAT did not return for the 2014 season following the incident.
- Cone, Lawrence L. (October 1985). "Skycam: An Aerial Robotic Camera System". BYTE. p. 122. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
- Robert Evatt, "TV client buys Winnercomm: Outdoor Channel pays an undisclosed sum for the Tulsa company", Tulsa World, January 13, 2009.
- "CBC will be stringing viewers along". CFL.ca. 2005-08-08. Retrieved 2006-12-03.
- ESPN - Saints win first of season behind big games from Bush, Brees - NFL Football Recap
- Hiestand, Michael (October 16, 2007). "Sunday night Cablecam snafu 'won't happen again'". USA Today. Retrieved May 23, 2010.
- "No one hurt after camera falls at Insight Bowl" Houston Chronicle (December 31, 2011)
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