The Technology Survey 2011: Facilities, studios and outside broadcasts

The main challenge facing facilities companies is the move to file-based workfl ows: 70% of those who that took part in Broadcast’s Technology Survey 2011 say they will have “serious conversations” about the subject over the next year.

Pinewood Shepperton provides the underlying technology for its TV and fi lm tenants, which has given head of technology Darren Woolfson good insight into the needs of facilities firms.

“So many more people are working in a tapeless environment now,” he says. “As a topic, file-based workflow is much higher up the agenda.”

Just over a quarter of respondents (26%) say they last handled tape “today”, with the same amount saying they have picked up a tape in the past seven days.

For Pinewood, it means that one of the priorities is to provide a faster and more robust network, which has led the company to invest in Aspera’s file transfer technology. “That’s both as a result of requests and our own anticipation of further demand,” says Woolfson.

Despite the shift, clients still want to leave a facility with some sort of physical media, says Craig Church, chief engineer at The Fountain Studios.

“With the shortage of tape stock recently, we have been looking at hard drives,” he says. “It is one route we could take, but then it becomes a question of who supplies and maintains them. It is still a tricky area and at the moment we have found that clients are happy with tape.”

Intrinsically linked to the shift to file-based workflows is the issue of storage. A third of those who took part in the survey (33%) say it will be a major talking point for them over the next year.

“We are looking at completely revamping the way we use storage,” says Halo managing director John Rogerson. “Even though you can add to the old solutions, they just aren’t working, and it’s becoming a bit of a mess using a range of systems.”

“We are trying to keep our workflow as streamlined as possible,” adds colourist and owner of The Look Thomas Urbye. “The more disks you have, the more effort is required, and you can’t charge a client for storage or people copying data. If you spend £100,000 on storage, that is money you won’t get back, so you have to find a way to get content backed up as cheaply and reliably as possible. For me, that is LTO4.”

Timing investment

Half of respondents say they invest in new kit when it is time for a standard upgrade or replacement. Slightly less (45%) say that changing workflows have led to a revision in their technology needs. But only 30% say they spend on new kit to “raise the bar” and put themselves ahead of the competition.

Films at 59 managing director Gina Fucci says that creating a manageable and flexible workflow is key because of the last-minute nature of some commissions.

“It’s not just about price any more - a post house has got to be able to deliver, and there really is no room for error,” she says. “For us, it all comes down to what the clients want. We moved to HD when our clients started to ask for it. But if you fi nd that problems occur, that could be a reason to upgrade kit too.”

When facilities do make a purchase, the main aim is to choose kit that provides a return on investment (60%). Slightly less (55%) say their priority is to choose technology that increases the efficiency of their facility, with a little less still (50%) stating that technology that improves their workflow is a priority.

“Not every bit of kit can give you a return but if it makes your workfl ow more effi cient, then it contributes overall,” says Rogerson.

Once they have decided to spend, the most popular course of action is to ask for a product demonstration, with 70% keen to try before they buy. Researching online and reading independent product reviews are the next most popular options (65% and 60% respectively), while 50% seek the guidance of their peers.

“We do read a lot of product reviews and research, but when something amazing is released, the word goes around quickly,” says Soho Square Studios managing director Alan Coates.

“We would look for a product demo before we buy, but the relationship with the supplier is as important as the bit of kit because it means you will get good support,” adds Rogerson.

Woolfson describes relationships with peers as “crucial” when it comes to investing. “I prefer to deal with companies I like,” he adds. “The individual that I deal with is important, but it’s also about the company ethos. They have to understand the business, and their products are ideally developed with you in mind.”

SD: No longer standard

By this time next year, it seems, standard definition projects will have all but disappeared: 85% of survey respondents say they already work solely in HD, and those Broadcast spoke to say SD projects are becoming a rarity.

“We did an SD show at the beginning of this year and we have another at end of the year but that’s it - two shows in the space of 12 months,” says The Fountain Studios chief engineer Craig Church.


3D: Investment plans

Over the next 12 months, 41% of facilities firms expect to have “serious conversations” about 3D - which, as a priority, ranks it second only to file-based workflows.

But will all the talk be turned into action? In a separate question designed to measure facilities’ commitment to 3D, 40% of respondents say they are “waiting to see what happens with 3D”, while 20% “are not going to get involved in 3D” at all. Only 4% class themselves as “leading the way in 3D”.

One facility that has made a significant investment in 3D is The Look, purchasing a Mistika 2K finishing system in April this year and upgrading other equipment to cope with stereo projects.

“We look to kit that is capable of doing both 2D and 3D, and at the moment, we have got 3D screens in all rooms so that if we need to, we can fire a job across all rooms,” says owner and colourist Thomas Urbye.

Some 10% of facilities say they are investing in 3D infrastructure to support future services, while the same number are planning to move into 3D shortly, and 18% provide associated services.