The Ultimate Bank Job
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.