Medialease’s Paul Robson believes that UK facilities companies should work in tandem rather than against each other if they want to attract more broadcast work.
You don’t need me to tell you that 2012 is going to be a massive year for Great Britain and in particular London. Not only will we witness the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations (and get an extra day’s holiday as a result) we will also invite the world to our own back yard for what will be biggest sporting event the planet has ever seen: The Olympic Games.
Now, while not everyone in the country will be jumping up and down about this, the television industry is likely to receive a significant boost as result – not least the service companies.
From outside broadcast facilities providers to camera hire companies via crewing agencies and audio rental houses there should be plenty of work to go around as all eyes focus on our capital city.
The thing is, although we’re well equipped as an industry to cope when it comes to talent, technology and experience, with the odd exception all broadcast service companies are Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). This means that when it comes to scale they are going to be found wanting. UK broadcasters may be big. But facilities companies are, generally speaking, quite small. Even the big ones. If you see what I mean.
This is not meant to be a criticism.
The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world, it requires an almost unimaginable level of broadcast coverage and it doesn’t come around very often. We aren’t set up in this country for that sort of scale.
As a result, when some of the London 2012 contracts went out to tender they asked for a quantity of service that most facilities companies in this country wouldn’t ever have dreamed of.
The good news is that we’re a resilient and innovative bunch in this country. Faced with a big job we haven’t shied away. Instead we’ve formed unofficial partnerships - sometimes with competitors - in order to win contracts. I’ll give you an example.
For the opening ceremony there were contracts available for providing multiple audio monitoring and intercom systems. The requirements were huge. And no single UK firm could possibly have provided all of them.
So, what did companies do? They teamed up for their bids. In the end this mammoth contract went to a combination of three UK audio rental companies (all competitors) and an Australian company that has worked on TWO previous Olympic Games opening ceremonies.
The Aussies bring experience of doing the Olympics while the Poms offer local knowledge, kit and talent. It makes a lot of sense.
Why am I telling you this?
Because I believe that we should see more of this type of partnership across the facilities market as it would bring huge benefits.
It happens in other sectors. Broadcasters and producers frequently do deals with companies abroad in order to finance a TV show. Some production companies even work together to make programmes when they don’t have all the necessary experience in-house, just look at Lime Pictures and Objective Productions doing ‘Fresh Meat’, the Channel 4 comedy.
In movie visual effects it happens all the time because even one of our biggest Soho firms cannot fulfill all the shots requirements of a Hollywood blockbuster by itself.
And, you may recall, Band of Brothers, the 10x60-minute HBO drama from 2001, saw lots of British firms work together.
Yet, in general facilities terms there are not many examples. I read recently that Sequence Post and Wise Buddah had tried to team up in order to offer a “full post-production” service but with boutique sensibilities. Coach House Studios, De Lane Lea and The Look announced something similar in 2010.
If you can find the right partner/s there are good reasons for companies to work together: you can offer services to producers that you don’t already offer without the need for massive capital expenditure; you can continue to provide your ‘personal’ services but on a bigger scale; and you can potentially double the number of projects you work on. What’s not to like?
Fight the fear
Well, I guess there’s the fear of potentially losing profits and the fact that it goes against the norm. Plus there is the complication of finding the right partner that you trust and respect and that can provide the same high quality as service as you do.
But to me it seems a lot like the grand finale in the Channel 4 game show ‘The Bank Job’.
Two people, both with suitcases full of money, have to decide whether to work together in order to keep their winnings or to try to fleece their ‘partner’ so that they can keep all the cash for themselves. The latter strategy could result in them waking away with nothing. The former guarantees success.
To me it’s a no brainer. I only wish UK facilities companies thought the same way.
Medialease managing director Paul Robson details why there is a real need for easy-to-hire, pay-as-you-go storage options when it comes to digital production.
Hold the front page. Breaking news. 2011 is the year that film finally died. Sort of.
If, like me, you’ve heard the proclamation about the death of film just about every year since you came into the media industry, you’re probably quite skeptical about that statement.
However, there genuinely is evidence that 2011 could be the beginning of the end for celluloid as we know it. The first indication is that the quality of digital acquisition has officially got ‘better’ ‘than film.
With cameras like the Red One hugely popular and the Arri Alexa doing great business, Sony’s F65 finally tipped the balance in the favour of the zeros and ones.
The new 8k sensor digital cinema camera is the first new image capture system that matches the Academy IIF-ACES Specification. That gobbledygook essentially means that it has better colour and dynamic range than film.
The second indicator is that Aaton, Arri and Panavision have all ceased production of film cameras in order to concentrate on high quality digital shooters.
Put those two things together and the future looks pretty bleak for film.
It may not be dead but I would say its status has certainly changed. Instead of being the go-to option for quality, film is now simply one of a number of creative tools available to those that can afford it.
Now, while the digital trend and the changing status of film, is tremendous news for certain equipment manufacturers, this shift does have implications for the rest of the production workflow.
On location, when using digital cameras, you need additional ‘data wranglers’ or DITs (Digital Image Technicians) to look after the memory cards, to ensure that footage is in the right format and to maintain a consistent file naming convention.
In post-production the impact is bigger still. 100% digital production requires masses of shared storage which, although more agile than standalone workstations and local storage, is not cheap. And it’s not something that can be easily charged for.
The way forward
I have a solution. It’s not wholly original. But it’s one that might aid the post community. Producers hire their kit and only opt to buy it when it makes sense. Post houses should be able to likewise, freely hiring extra storage when they need it and only investing when the time is right.
A huge SAN with masses of storage is great when that VFX heavy movie or drama is being post-produced. But when it’s sat doing nothing except sucking up power and money during the quiet periods, it seems like a daft investment.
As an alternative, buying a basic SAN and being able to rent extra capacity on top when you need it (and send it back when you don’t) would be hugely beneficial. And the cost could potentially be passed on to the producer on a project-by-project basis.
I know these types of deals are available. But they need to be more commonplace. And, although I’m not 100% sold on it, there is an argument that a cloud based system could be part of the answer. We need to get over some data protection issues and the fact that you need a local back up to be totally secure.
But the ability to scale up and down will be invaluable if post-production is to avoid being drowned by the data influx of the digital revolution.
This article first appeared in the November/December issue of InBroadcast
Medialease managing director Paul Robson argues that animation isn’t the only part of the UK television market that needs financial assistance.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the UK animation industry and the need for tax breaks. It is said that if this crucial sector is to survive it needs to be given a financial helping hand so that it can compete with cheaper alternatives abroad.
I agree with this. Government should definitely step in, especially in these times of austerity. They didn’t do it for Britain’s once great manufacturing sector. And look what happened to that.
However we should not just stop at animation. There are other parts of TV that could benefit from tax breaks.
Drama is one of them. Each year millions of pounds are lost to South Africa, Hungary and other parts of the world because those countries offer tax breaks for shooting drama and we don’t.
In the long term, if animation and drama continue to be made overseas, this trend will start to impact on the number of available qualified, skilled people in this country as there won’t be enough breeding ground here for new talent and we’ll start to fall behind the rest of the world.
Both animation and drama are culturally and financially important to the UK. Let’s recognize that with some financial incentives that allow producers to keep their productions – and their production spend - at home.
I’ve just seen an article in the Express from a week ago about the BBC considering moving EastEnders to Salford! That’s a wind up surely? — Paul Robson on Twitter
Medialease’s Paul Robson, in his regular InBroadcast column, provides some thoughts on how post-production will shape up over the next few years.
Post-production, as we know it, is dying. I hate to say it. But it is. Not in all aspects, but certainly in the traditional areas of cutting, simple audio and basic finishing.
How have I come to this conclusion? Simple really: most producers already have their own offline editing capabilities and many have enough technology in-house to do basic audio. Some can even do parts of the online, a bit of duplication and even an early grade.
As I see it, for daytime and lower budget TV all post-production work will be brought in-house by producers eventually - because it’s so much cheaper than outsourcing it and it’s easy enough to operate and run without a huge technical support set-up.
It’s been happening for a good few years already and there’s no way of stopping it, which is probably why offline is nothing more than a lost-leader these days…
To read the full article please see September’s Edition of the InBroadcast eZine.