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Drone racing comes to UK TV after $1m Sky Sports deal

Broadcaster has also pledged to bring the first professional drone race to an iconic venue in London

Ben Chapman
Wednesday 14 September 2016 13:38 BST
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DRL - Drone Racing League

Professional drone racing will come to British TV screens this week after a $1m (£757,000) investment by Sky in the Drone Racing League.

The broadcaster will show 10 one-hour episodes on its new Sky Sports Mix channel from this week. The deal also includes rights to show the drone racing world championship final.

The Drone Racing League uses headsets to give pilots a first-person view from their quadcopter drone.

Racers fly custom-designed, handbuilt drones through complex, three-dimensional racecourses, including one ominously called “the Gates of Hell”, set in an abandoned power station.

The current circuits are based in America but the new Sky Sports tie-up also includes a deal with London & Partners to bring the first professional drone race in the UK to an iconic venue in the capital.

Drone Racing League (DRL) chief executive and founder Nicholas Horbaczewski said his was the “most elite, competitive, and thrilling drone racing league on the planet”.

The Sky partnership will bring drone racing to tens of millions of viewers, he said. “With their expertise and our industry-leading technology, media production and development of the best competitive racing, we believe we can truly grow a global franchise around this futuristic, high-speed racing sport.”

Emma Lloyd, group business director at Sky, said: “We’re thrilled to be partnering with DRL to help drive this exciting new sport.

“We're really looking forward to working with the team at DRL to grow the sport and to bring something completely different to audiences across both TV and digital.”

Nicholas Horbaczewski, the DRL's founder and chief executive, expressed his delight at securing the deal. “This is an incredibly exciting day for DRL,” he said.

Drone racing resembles competitive video gaming, or e-sports, and generated about £600m in global revenue in 2015. Live streams of people playing video games on websites such as Twitch made about $3.8bn last year.

F1 drivers race drones

Those looking to watch the sport will have to be early risers – the races air at 4am on Fridays from this week.

Drone racing is already established in the US, with a national championship held in Texas in August, and a world championship set to take place in October, both organised by the Drone Sports Association and screened on ESPN.

Recreational drone-flying has exploded in recent years as the flying machines have become lighter and more sophisticated while their price has tumbled.

The rapid expansion has not been without its problems. In April the Civil Aviation Authority reminded drone pilots they must follow specific rules after it was reported that a suspected drone had collided with a passenger plane.

A British Airways pilot believes the plane was struck by a drone as it came in to land at Heathrow Airport.

Everything you need to know to fly domestic drones legally

Last month police reported a four-fold increase in the number of incidents involving the machines.

Drones have also been tipped to revolutionise numerous industries. Takeaway companies are trialling deliveries of everything from burritos to pizza using automated drones and Amazon has said it aims to deliver small packages by air.

Television companies are also utilising drones to film sweeping vistas and birds-eye views without the need for expensive helicopters or static cranes.

The BBC is making extensive use of the technology in filming Planet Earth II, which is currently in production.

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