How to Broadcast From The Edge of Space

Red Bull Stratos-Capsule

In theory, everything should have worked out. But you can never be too sure when broadcasting a live, remote production from the edge of outer space.

If you were one of the 33.3 million people who has watched the Red Bull Stratos Jump on YouTube, where daredevil Felix Baumgartner took a supersonic free fall from 128,000 feet in the air — a height that blurs the line between the heavens and earth — you know that not only was the jump a success, but also the broadcast.

In fact, it was flawless.

“I never witnessed any dropouts,” says Andreas Hilmer, director of marketing and communications for Riedel Communications, the German-based broadcast communications manufacturer charged with providing a live, multi-cam broadcast, of the unprecedented jump. “We knew the technology worked, but obviously could never test it at such a height. No one on our team knew if it would work until the cameras went live.”

Hilmer and a team of Riedel executives will break down how they were able to broadcast the event at this year’s NAB Show. The session is scheduled for April 9 at 1:30 p.m. in S227 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

In an interview with Playout, Hilmer talked about what it’s like to work with energy drink company Red Bull, who footed the bill for the project, what type of equipment setup was used and how it compared to other remote productions they’ve undertaken.

But first, watch the unbelievable leap.

What’s it like working with Red Bull?

“They’re really crazy,” says Hilmer. “But they’re also extremely professional and know what they want to get. They’re very demanding.

“When they came up with their demands for this project, they really wanted to have a full scale production with several camera perspectives. They said, ‘This is what we want to have and you can do it.’

“We were thinking, no one has ever done this. It was definitely one of the most complex projects. Not from a size perspective, but from a details perspective.”

What were the biggest challenges with this production?

Hilmer says Reidel has put on larger productions in the past, but never had to worry about physics when setting up their cameras, antennas and radio links.

“We had the boundaries of weight restrictions and energy consumption. It was something we needed to cope with.

“We had a transmitter in mind that we wanted to use, but it required too much power, so we had to make it more energy efficient. We had to be very power-conscious. For example, we knew we needed to be able to turn the cameras on and off to save energy.

“A lot of our efforts on this was on the R&D end.”

The broadcast used 12 HD cameras by Red and Luxe Media Plan (LMP), nine of which were for live broadcast. The other three were just recording footage. Three Canon digital cameras were also used for still photographs.

All of the video cameras fed into Riedel’s custom remote control router solution to create the multi-view signal. While there were nine cameras recording live, only three video downlinks were used because of power consumption and because it’s tough to transmit nine cameras at the same time 25 miles above ground.

The signal was brought down to mission control in Roswell, N.M., where Riedel’s MediorNet fiber infrastructure was used to transport the video.

What will broadcasters learn from this production?

“Even though this is a very extreme example, I think broadcasters can learn a lot from it for very normal applications — especially for remote productions,” says Hilmer. “The challenges are essentially same.”

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