Global Video Unit on a high after hexacopter takes off

Hexacopter takes from a stadium in Brazil The hexacopter takes off in Brazil, host country of the World Cup

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The Global Video Unit is flying high, quite literally. One of the team's latest innovations, the hexacopter, is off the ground and now being used for short films and news pieces on BBC outlets.

Hexacopter, which resembles a small model helicopter with a camera attached, had its premiere on BBC News in late October, where it flew over a railway line - but the journey to get there was two years in the making.

The process of being licensed to become a hexacopter pilot is not a straightforward one, editor Zoya Trunova tells me. It took several months of planning, experimentation and training. Two members of her team - Tom Hannen and Owain Rich - also had to pass exams, both theory and practical, to become fully qualified pilots, because there are strict rules governing its use.

The idea for a small aerial camera began with a video of someone flying a hexacopter in Cameroon in Africa and from there it just grew. Trunova believes the Global Video Unit is the first to use hexacopter for original journalism, certainly at the BBC, but possibly in the country.

'I think it's something that is developing so rapidly right now,' she says, sitting near her office on the 5th floor of Broadcasting House. The team has had numerous requests to participate in conferences and interviews, she adds. 'Everyone is wanting to use it and learn more about it.'


Her team - which numbers about 16 on a mixture of attachment and continuing contracts - is used to being innovators. They were among the first to use 'data visualisation' to tell compelling stories with graphics. A recent data visualisation piece produced for World Service's 100 Women event in October was reversioned in about 23 different languages.

They are also responsible for a series of four-minute films called My City, which uses experimental filming techniques such as time lapses, to make for arresting and memorable visual images. Each film in the My City series has a similar style and is fronted by a language service journalist who comes from that part of the world. They take the viewer on journeys through different places, from Barcelona to Bogota, and explore what makes them unique.

Hernando Alvarez in Bogota traffic jam Hernando Alavarez took viewers on a journey of his city, Bogota

In Istanbul that meant exploring some of the city's atmospheric bookshops; in Stockholm it was fashion; and in St Petersburg its rooftops.

'We wanted to go for offbeat, not the touristy, well-known sites of the city, but what the reporters feel creates the character of the city and makes it special and interesting,' says Trunova. The only rule was 'no food', broken just once in Barcelona.

The eight-part series premiered on global outlets such as, World television and BBC Travel and its popularity led to a further eight films, which recently scooped an award.

'The award is exciting because it belongs to so many people in language services,' the editor says, adding that there were 16 presenters for the series and a number of people from her team who were involved in helping make it a success. 'It's nice to have an award that basically belongs to World Service language,' she smiles.

Brazil's beautiful game
Jonathan Wells, Owain Rich and ???? Jonathan Wells, Owain Rich and Havana presenter Liliet Heredero at the AIB awards, where My City won specialist programme

Next on the agenda is another series of films that will this time come from Brazilian cities hosting the World Cup in 2014. Jonathan Wells, who produced the last My City series and will produce the offshoot, says that similar techniques will be used, but the new films will have their own identity.

Soccer Cities will be using hexacopter to film aerial shots of the cities from the stadiums where the championship will be held.

Wells, however, won't be the one doing the aerial filming. It's not only that he's not licensed but also that it's harder to pilot a hexacopter than it looks, he explains. The journalist experimented with a small one from a toyshop that only cost about £30, but the thrill was short-lived. 'It was great fun but I ended up flying it into a tree and it broke. It's very, very complicated and [the pilots] have to do a certain number of flying hours and they are authorised by the Civil Aviation Authority.'

In Brazil, the regulations governing this type of filming aren't as strict as in other countries, but they will still need to be careful. 'We are going take off from a centre circle [in a stadium] and then zoom up and reveal the city,' says the SBJ. 'You can also get these great sweeping shots when you can come up over a favela and then reveal the whole rest of the town.'

Break Club

Given how much the Global Video Unit has managed to accomplish, it's rather hard to believe that it started out as a pilot department from the basement of Television Centre only two years ago. Its future now appears to be more certain, with the team continuing to deliver on its original brief of making high-quality videos in multiple languages that can be used across global and domestic news outlets.

A recent big hit was a video about a club in Buenos Aires, where you can vent your daily frustrations with life by breaking things. Produced by video journalists Ignacio De Los Reyes and Roopa Suchak, who is from the GVU, 'The Break Club' was originally made for BBC Mundo and then translated into English so that it could be spread more widely. It received about 53,000 hits, featured on BBC Instagram and BBC World's Facebook page and ran all day on BBC World.

Trunova says the 'curious story' is just the kind of thing they'd like to do more of; it doesn't always have to be newsy. 'What we are trying to do now is encourage language services to do a variety of stories and videos that will work for them and work for others and that travel well on social media.'

Expect there to be more stories like the one from Buenos Aires; breaking stuff - minus one toy hexacopter - is optional.

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