The Technology Survey 2011: The Results

The concept of a tapeless workflow has been floating around the industry for at least eight years, but it took a tsunami and an earthquake in Japan for it to come crashing into reality.

The tape supply issues the industry has faced since April’s devastation has affected all parts of the production chain, and this is reflected in our results.

File-based workflow is currently one of the dominant technology conversations people across the industry are having, with 56% of respondents listing it as their top priority (see box, left).

While this isn’t exactly a surprise, it’s fascinating to see how high up the agenda this subject has moved and how different parts of the industry are reacting.

According to Naomi Climer, vice president of Sony Professional Solutions Europe, tape supply will be back to normal by October, but she acknowledges that for operational reasons, many of Sony’s customers are choosing to embrace tapeless.

“File-based workfl ows have become a business-critical, urgent decision for our customers,” she says.

“People are having serious conversations about how to manage without tape. It’s gone beyond a theoretical decision now.”

Climer adds that, in general, a change of approach in workflow is becoming key to companies’ technology buying, and 30% of our respondents single out technology workflow as important for them in the next year. Certain genres such as drama are already migrating to high-end fi lebased cameras, which DoPs are starting to embrace as a credible alternative to film.

Leasing firm Azule Finance has hired out at least 70 Arri Alexas to drama productions in the past year, according to managing director Peter Savage.

“There’s been phenomenal interest - we are averaging at least four or fi ve [units] a week,” he says.

However, while tapeless cameras can work out cheaper than their fi lm and tape-based counterparts, additional in other areas mean going tapeless doesn’t always make economic sense.

The cost and logistics involved in managing, tagging, storing and archiving huge reams of data is proving a challenge for all parts of the industry, and these concerns are reflected in our survey.

Respondents were able to highlight up to fi ve technology challenges over the next year and, after file-based workflow and HD (which scored 44%), it’s clear that conversations are revolving around the challenges that file-based workflows present - such as storage and archiving (19%), digital cameras (21%) and codecs (16%).

Concerns raised by production companies include the expense of having extra staff in the form of data wranglers to keep track of memory cards and rushes on set.

For post houses, meanwhile, updating systems and buying or leasing the extra storage that tapeless requires is not necessarily some thing they would have budgeted for, or for which they can charge clients extra.

As Savage points out: “However much storage you buy in, you can’t charge a penny more for a job, and in today’s climate, a £100,000 unbudgeted spend on storage is going to hurt.”

Others in post point to the fact that creating delivery fi les for tapeless productions can suck up hours in an edit suit, but at present, that’s not time clients are willing to pay for if there’s no editing going on.

According to Mark Lynn, UK sales director at reseller Tyrell CCT, the challenge or post houses and resellers will be to educate a market that currently expects to get workflow consultancy, management and delivery for free - whether they use/buy your kit or not.

“Some people will come to the market and have an idea of what they are trying to achieve and have thought through the solution before the point of buying. But sometimes you are imparting knowledge for free with no guarantee of business or sale out of it. And that is an inherent risk for us,” he explains.

Another challenge will be to come up with services and packages that allow facilities to make money from their investments in file-based workflows.

Savage predicts that this situation may see post houses offering more archiving, digitising and long-term storage services.

“There’s a whole little industry already - archiving and digitising away. These are the unsung jobs that are set to make as much money out of post as the glamorous side of the business.”

In terms of what buyers want from technology, a decent return on investment comes out top, with 69% of respondents specifying this.

However, buyers are less concerned with technology that makes them look good (8%), which confirms that the days of buying technology for technology’s sake are long gone.

“ROI has become a much bigger thing,” says Lynn. “People used to buy technology to stay ahead of the game, hoping that the latest thing will improve their offering, but now they won’t take that chance. They want something that guarantees they’ll get their money back within six months or a year. They no longer upgrade kit to stay at the latest level. They are likely to keep what they’ve got until a job or a client requires them to upgrade.”

One factor influencing this change in buying behaviour could be the increased use of procurement specialists. Particularly at the bigger broadcasters, it is not unheard of for procurement to step in at the last minute during a big tender and demand a drop in price.

“You need to be very close to a sale now so that you can stand your ground a bit more if this happens,” says Lynn. “The manufacturers are all being squeezed too. It’s definitely still a buyer’s market out there.”

Technology Investment: Who’s still spending?

According to our respondents, the two biggest barriers to new technology adoption are budget (28%) and price (21%).

The good news is that 56% are planning to spend more than they have done in the past year - although when that fi gure is broken out into categories, it’s clear that it is the modest spenders (production companies and post houses) that are spending more, with most broadcasters spending less than they did last year.

Production companies comprise 39% of those planning to spend up to £5,000 in the next year and 48% of those spending up to £50,000.

For the majority (37%) this is about the same as last year, although for 30%, it is an increase. Most independent post houses are in the groups spending up to £5,000 or up to £50,000, which 12% state is an increase on last year.

As broadcasters’ cuts kick in, one inhouse post facility reports that while it is spending more than £10m this year, this is a decrease from the year before.

Broadcasters’ spending has largely decreased. This group made up 43% of companies planning to spend up to £5m, 100% of those spending up to £10m and 43% of those spending more than £10m.

But only 12 % say this is an increase, with 34% saying it is less than last year. While most of the money in the ‘more than £10m category’ being invested in technology is from TV businesses, 57% of multi platform companies are investing in kit.