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A Skycam at work during a Washington Huskies football game in Seattle.

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.[1]


Skycam HD at an ESPN on ABC–broadcast University of California, Berkeley football game.

"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 National Football League game in San Diego between the Chargers and 49ers, televised by CBS.[2] NBC debuted the first wire-flown remote-controlled camera used in sports coverage at the 1985 Orange Bowl.[3] 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.

Prior to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, it was proposed that Skycam be used at the Ceremonies and Track & Field. A test run was held at the Coliseum. The images were terrific. However, during its last test, it sped very fast low to the ground and the entire length of the field. It "crashed" into the football goal post at the Peristyle end of the Coliseum and fell to the ground in pieces. It was not used at the Olympics that year.

Systems from Skycam and CableCam (invented by Jim Rodnunsky and a competing product) 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.[4] 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.

The first use of Skycam for an MLS broadcast was on April 2, 2005 for an ESPN broadcast of a match between DC United and Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. [5] However, the use of Skycam soon proved to be controversial a few weeks later on April 23, 2005 when the camera crashed to the field of the Home Depot Center during a match between the LA Galaxy and Chivas USA. [6]

Skycam has been used infrequently for MLS broadcasts since then, including the 2015 MLS All-Star Game. On April 2, 2016, Sporting Kansas City debuted the league's first semi-permanent Skycam installation at Children's Mercy Park, in a match against Real Salt Lake.[7]

Technical overview[edit]

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 600 lbs on a single cable.

Mobile spar[edit]

The 36" tall spar contains the Sony HD camera, the pan and tilt motor, and stabilization sensors. Weighing only 45 pounds, the package also includes a power distribution module and electronics for fiber optic signaling.

Central control[edit]

Central control is an industrial grade, Linux 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.


See also[edit]



External links[edit]