Media and news organizations have long been leaders in the use of drones. Companies in these highly competitive industries are always seeking out new ways to tell stories to attract more subscribers and viewers. Independent creatives are also pushing the envelope on the ways that drone imagery and data can be harnessed to inform and entertain.

Here are a few ways drones are adding a competitive advantage for media and news, along with some advice for getting a program off the ground.

Transforming news reporting and storytelling

Drones continue to transform aspects of reporting. They provide access in areas that aren’t safe for humans — like the inside of an erupting volcano, hazard zones, and disaster areas.

They also offer new vantage points that make news reports more compelling. A climate change story told from the ground cannot convey all that a wide perspective from the air does. Such views can help audiences better understand abstract concepts like severe drought.

Drones have also democratized news collection, putting powerful cameras in the hands of the general public. Stories that used to escape notice are now captured on individuals’ drones and published by big media outlets. Take, for example, this socially distanced “isolation disco” party in a Newcastle, UK neighborhood gone a little stir crazy during a COVID lockdown. Drone shots have even changed how activists stage events and attract media coverage, providing powerful imagery that news organizations are gobbling up.

Some outlets are expanding drone use beyond image capture. They’re harnessing aerial data to create 2D and 3D models of areas and using thermal cameras that can detect body heat to locate people in the dark.

Beyond the newsroom, sports broadcasters, YouTubers, professional filmmakers and visual artists are seizing on new capabilities as drone camera technology advances. Aerial photography is making new angles possible — everything from following the high-speed, surprising trajectory of a driven golf ball to capturing the athletic artistry of synchronized swimmers with top-down views. 

In the advertising realm, drones are not only filming commercials, but they’re also becoming message media themselves. They’re used to display banners and deliver marketing materials at conventions.

Starting a media drone program? Here’s what you need to know.

In 2015, three BBC journalists were brought in for questioning for piloting a drone over a no-fly-zone in Davos during the World Economic Forum. It was a serious breach of security — but even lesser infractions can result in stiff fines and consequences.

This incident is an example of why organizations with drone programs need to set clear standards to keep people safe and head off needless risks, as well as training and guidance to avoid mistakes and missteps. This should be part of the first step toward launching a drone program.

If you’re getting started, be sure you create standard operating policies and procedures, document them, and make them easily accessible. (Skyward can help you set these up with our Take Flight package. It includes in-depth resources to get you started, as well as expert consulting to tailor them to your company’s needs.)

A few additional items that media and news organizations may want to consider including in their documentation:

  • A statement on journalists’ rights in gathering news with drones, such as First Amendment rights in the U.S.
  • Thoughtful policies on protections for those who could be harmed by journalistic drone usage, such as Fourth Amendment rights in the U.S.
  • Ethical boundaries for projects like wildlife filming, when the presence of a drone has potential to harass animals, change their behavior, or even endanger them.
  • Consideration of other national, regional, and local laws, rules, and requirements, especially as they relate to media collection and use.

Make sure you understand what the media market needs

You won’t get approval from upper management to stand up a drone program solely because you want cool shots from the air. Drone value has to be proven through specific use cases that show how they cut costs, improve ways of doing things, save time, or make operations safer. News companies employ drones because it offers them a competitive advantage and more importantly, lessens their dependence on crewed aircraft like helicopters.

Make sure you have a list of solid, practical uses for drones before you launch your program. Stalling out because you don’t know how, when, or why to fly a drone can lead to your program’s downfall.

Hire drone crews or train them

An early decision for media and news companies is whether to contract out some or all aspects of a drone program, or to invest in training and building a full program in house. While setting up an in-house drone program may require greater time and effort up front, it often saves money in the long run and allows greater control over results and the availability of your drone pilots.

Once their programs are off the ground, most companies find ways to use drones they didn’t originally envision, so it’s important to have reliable, well-trained pilots on hand. (If you need help launching a drone program for the first time, see if Skyward’s Program Start package is right for you.)

Be prepared to keep up with innovation

Drones are a fast-moving technology that is expected to continue rapidly evolving. Today, drones are able to build 3D models and 2D maps, and they’re collecting stunning aerial cinematography. Tomorrow, they’ll be connected to wireless networks to unlock the next level of aerial videography. And Skyward is here to support your drone program along the way.

Want to learn more? Download Skyward’s guide, Drones for Media.

Skyward Drones For Media Guide