Six leading figures in technology and post-production talk to Andy Stout ahead of this year's Broadcast Video Expo about the prospects for the year ahead.
  • Adrian Bull
    Chief technology officer, Europe, Ascent 142

“In the probable absence of making any large-scale investments in 2009, what we are doing is regrouping, looking internally and seeing how we can offer the best service we can to our clients,” says Ascent 142's Adrian Bull.

It's a good template for other businesses. “Siloed operations can't work anymore,” he says. “We need to know exactly the skills we have, the people we have and the relationships we have with manufacturers, clients and vendors and leverage our scale.”

Bull identifies opportunities despite the climate, notably in passing on the efficiencies that file-based workflows provide and exploiting Ascent 142's capabilities in new ways (such as the company's Global Media Exchange), not to mention the weak pound making the UK globally competitive once more. “Feature [films] are coming back to the UK now that they are seeing a 30% reduction in their costs,” he says.

Adapting the business model to fit new realities is another strategy. “Rather than billing via ratecard or managed services, we're looking at how our clients are making money and how we can work more strategically with them,” he says.

Broadcast Video Expo and shows like it are important too. “Because of our size we know what the large manufacturers are up to, but it's always interesting to see products from the smaller, independent companies we might not be aware of.”

  • Mark Bainbridge
    General manager of media & broadcast, Sony Professional, UK

“We're coming off the back of our best quarter ever,” says Sony's Mark Bainbridge. But the manufacturer is refusing to be complacent and is making efforts to widen its focus on non-broadcast markets, including education and government.

Sony is also working harder with companies such as Fineline Media Finance to help provide access to credit facilities for potential customers who plan equipment purchases but may be struggling to find the credit required.

Bainbridge sees 2009 as an opportunity, albeit one that requires taking into account shifting parameters. “Commoditised products are still selling strongly, but elsewhere people are analysing the ROI in much greater detail. It's a longer sales cycle and we are talking much more to procurement teams and financial directors nowadays.”

The structural shift to tapeless and then file-based tapeless has yet to be stymied by the financial climate, with a “huge” backlog of orders for the XDCAM HD422 PDW-700. He also identifies much interest on the systems side of the business for 1080/50p. “Customers are focusing on where they will be in a couple of years,” he says.

He believes Broadcast Video Expo “has rejuvenated the idea of the local technology show. There was a good buzz about it last year, and we hope for a repeat performance this year.”

  • Simon Kanjee
    Managing director, Evolutions

Evolutions kick-started 2009 by announcing it had won £1m of new business including shows such as Ultimate Gap Adventure, an eight-part Channel 4 series from Studio Lambert, and Shine's Britain's Biggest Loser for ITV1, both of which will have full post completed at Evolutions.

But while managing director Simon Kanjee is optimistic for his own company, he's less certain about the rest of the industry. “Every piece of work will be much harder fought for and there is every chance that there will be fewer facility companies operating at the end of the year than there are now,” says Kanjee, who is also UK Screen broadcast special interest group chair.

His contention is that a winnowing out - “there is over-supply” - will lead to a stronger sector. “The old adage is that in hard times strong companies survive and it's the weak ones that struggle,” he says. “The business continues to be about having the right relationships.”

The capacity to handle lower-cost, high-volume programming is one good discipline for facilities to master, according to Kanjee, as the commissions tend to come in much larger blocks - a 40-part low-end commission being just as welcome as a six-part high-profile one.

“No one has too much visibility at the moment, and all our clients are saying the same thing,” he says. “However, new TV will be made and commissions will still come out of broadcasters, just perhaps not at the same volume as before.”

  • Steve Owen
    Director of marketing, Quantel

“It's going to be a challenging year our customers and for us, customers have new demands that they didn't have before - stereo 3D and working with RED data, for instance - so they have to invest to meet them,” comments Quantel's Steve Owen. “The worst thing for post is to turn work away,” he adds.

“As a post company you need to be able to take on new kinds of work, but the key is also to be able to do it profitably. That's why we're working hard on optimising and speeding up the RED workflow with our equipment, and also why we're seeing more and more traction in demand for working with stereo 3D.”

Quantel was pretty much the first company to restructure in the face of the current economic climate, and Owen maintains this puts them in a good position on both the post and the broadcast side of the business. “State broadcasters aren't stopping what they're doing. They still need to compete, they still need to launch new channels and so on.”

Quantel is maintaining its visibility with promotions such as its sponsorship of the bar at Broadcast Video Expo, which works well. “As it's a local show you get a wide spectrum of users as well as chief executives and engineers there, and connecting with users is a big thing for us,” says Owen. “It's by talking to them that we know - for instance - that working with RED data is proving difficult and that stereo 3D is going to happen much more quickly than anyone thinks.”

  • Mark Thomas
    Chief executive, BBC Resources

“We face an additional challenge in 2009 as the business was shaped and structured for a sell-off, which is now no longer happening,” admits Thomas. “We are currently halfway through a major restructuring to bring the company in line with our customers' future demands.”

Despite the pain of losing about a third of its headcount, this is where 2009 provides as much opportunity as peril, with Thomas stating that he is seeing “strong and unforeseen interest” in BBC Media Solutions. “It's the consultancy element that's growing: using our experience to integrate systems and work with manufacturers to get the right systems and workflows in place for the right jobs,” he reveals. System integration is clearly a big opportunity for those with the right skillsets in the year ahead.

HD content is still a driver, with the company having invested in a second 5.1 sound suite and Thomas reporting that BBC Resources' three HD studios are all doing brisk business. An increasing amount of work is being pushed through from indies, though production budgets are tightening and he is trying to protect margins like any other business.

“Beyond that, it's about reinventing the business to better match our customers' future needs, but exactly how that will happen is still under discussion.”

  • Gareth Wilding
    Sales director, Fineline Media Finance

For finance specialist Fineline Media Finance, 2009 looks set to be an interesting year. “We're a big fish in a small pond,” says sales director Gareth Wilding. “Banks are looking to maximise their returns and minimise their risks, so media doesn't tick all their boxes right now.

We might have a smaller pot of cash and want to do the same thing [as the banks], but we have found ourselves talking to people we wouldn't have in the past.”

That includes some seriously big companies that are trying to provide credit facilities for their customers as the more conventional high street channels run dry. “Everyone has to be careful though,” says Wilding. “It's all about managing cashflow and people have to be very careful about who owes them money.”

One of the major priorities in 2009, he points out, will be making sure that if you are in a business such as post-production you don't end up as a creditor to a company that has gone into liquidation.

While Wilding concedes that there is already a lot of pain out there, he says there is still opportunity. “People have to be wary of undercutting, though. There will be plenty of work for those left standing at the end of this.”

This year's Broadcast Video Expo will provide a useful indicator of the state of the market, adds Wilding. “It's a very important show at this time of year in this current market. It will show us the level of confidence in all areas of the industry, which will be interesting.”