Ask the experts: Life behind the rate card

16 July 2014

Ask the experts: Life behind the rate card

From time to time, most people in broadcast and production need to rent in some equipment

It might be to extend capabilities an extra camera channel, for example or it might be to bring in something you do not normally use, like an EVS server, for instance. Now picking a dry hire company sounds awfully simple. There are several in the business: surely all you do is find one that keeps the kit you want at a price you like? Well, I suggest that it is not quite a simple as that. At Presteigne we now have 23 years of experience in providing rental services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So forgive me if I offer a few thoughts about what goes on behind the rate card.

Technology, it is a pretty obvious thing to say that we are working in an industry where the technology changes every day. And many people will choose to rent equipment because they expect to get the latest available from the rental house. So the first question you have to ask is whether your supplier is up to date. Do they spend time, as we do, tramping the halls at NAB and IBC, and many long hours in meetings with our key suppliers? Are they influencing the future development of products, or are they just buying kit as required? What about software releases? Is the equipment running the latest versions? Has it been checked for bugs? Where equipment has to interwork, are the releases compatible?

With today’s complex equipment, what about set-up. An EVS server in its raw state may well not do what you want it to do, and if it is delivered just a couple of hours before the production starts that could be a real problem a potential disaster. So you need to be able to tell the rental house not just what you want but what you want it to do. Indeed, for complex pieces of kit like servers it is better for you to tell us what you want to achieve and we will do all the set-up for you. That means the phone has to be answered by people who know what they are talking about. And specialists in difficult areas should be on hand to pick up the call if you really want to get into detail. That support has to be readily available. If you need something tomorrow or even today you really do not want to be waiting for a call back.

QA Servers are not the only things that need setting up before going out on a production. Cameras and lenses, for instance, also need careful checking. Is it correctly calibrated? Are the focus and zoom motors working smoothly? It may seem like an obvious point, but is the equipment clean? A bit of sticky tape residue on a camera body will not affect the functionality, but it does suggest that no-one has looked at it recently. If it looks grubby on the outside, does that mean that no-one has checked the important parts. Dirt, dust and smudges on sensors, back lenses and media slots can be the difference between success and failure, or at least irritating delays cutting into the production budget. So expecting the kit to arrive in a good protective case, with no dirt or marks, is not superficial. It gives you some reassurance that it is well looked after. To really find out, though, ask your renter about their quality assurance plan. Is every single piece of equipment assessed carefully through a comprehensive checklist when it comes into the building, and checked again before it goes out? And no, I am not claiming that in our company nothing ever goes wrong. So if something should develop a problem, how quickly can your renter get you a replacement?

Speed of service is probably the most pressing issue we hear about from our customers. A lot of people will want something right away often the same day. That means we have to have kit on the shelves that is clean, checked and ready to be loaded into a van within minutes of the order arriving.

Wireless Productions are increasingly looking for more and more wireless cameras. They give a real freedom to the operator, whether it is running up and down a touchline or getting in among the crowds at a music event. Some sports absolutely depend upon wireless cameras. We have a regular relationship with the University Boat Race. Viewers expect to see the view from the referees boat, and get pictures from each of the competing eights. Renting a wireless camera is not a simple selection off a rate card. You need a trusted partner who operates a range of wireless systems and can put together what your production requires.

What works at Twickenham does not work on a riverbank, or an ocean racing yacht, or at Glastonbury, or on a rally car. Which is why we have a specialist RF department to solve these problems. It means we can provide the complete package of the right camera (often a miniature camera needing a special mount) and the wireless link both on the camera and the diversity receivers.

Radio microphones have always introduced a degree of complexity to any show, but with productions demanding ever greater scale and flexibility, at the same time as available spectrum is shrinking, you need considerable expertise behind your radio mic supplier, to advise on trouble-free usage and licensing. We cater to the highest profile light entertainment shows, often supplying upwards of 50 channels of radio microphones and IEMs, and provide all necessary frequency planning and equipment preparation.

Price? No, we cannot avoid talking price. Yes, some rental houses are more expensive than others. But consider what you are paying for when you deal with a top company: the latest technology, continual upgrades for existing hardware and software, and preparation of kit to your specification a good inventory, so that what you want should probably be available when you want it a QA programme that means every piece of kit is fully checked by an engineer the moment it comes back into the rental house, and is perfectly calibrated and ready to go out on hire intelligent staff answering the phones who understand television production, know what you are likely to need, and where necessary will come up with clever packages to get the result you are looking for fast delivery, and fast backup should something go wrong. I am definitely not suggesting you ignore price, and we continually keep our rates under review so that we are providing the best value.

But as John Ruskin once wrote, there is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that mans lawful prey. Next time you need to rent equipment, I hope you will consider what goes on behind the scenes before your piece of kit hopefully clean, calibrated and working reaches your hands.

ASK THE EXPERTS with Mike Ransome, CEO, Presteigne Broadcast Hire

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