Change is as good as the rest
As we celebrate 25 years in business during 2016, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on how the industry has changed during that time.
However, we mustn’t reflect for long. Change, as we used to know it, now comes a lot faster, and sometimes harder, than it did in 1991. Anyone living in the UK will readily acknowledge that!
It could be postulated that 1991 was actually the jumping off point for accelerated change. It is, after all, when Tim Berners-Lee introduced “www”, the first web browser, with the first website going online in August of that year. The world has changed in an incalculable number of ways since then, sometimes incrementally, but more often with breathtaking speed.
Technical advances in the broadcast industry are no different. Although it wasn’t immediately apparent in 1991, those three consecutive letters, www, have inexorably changed what we used to define as broadcast, and that includes the expectations placed on hire companies like ours.
And that’s not a bad thing. In fact, quite the opposite. At 25 years and counting, we’re stronger than ever, and contrary to technical change being a problem, it’s thrilling to see – and anticipate – what’s coming next. A large part of our success is that our longevity gives us the experience to know what our clients need now, and what they are going to need six or 12 months further down the calendar.
The major impact that this pace of change has had on us is the ability to plan stock. Technologies of every stripe have much shorter shelf lives than they did 25 years, or even 25 months, ago.
Not so long ago we could stock, for example, a range of high-end camcorders and expect them to remain in service for up to ten years, which made planning, budgeting, and depreciation calculations pretty straightforward.
Now, with the advent of HD, 4K, IP, and who knows what, the introduction and depreciation cycles are much, much shorter. We really have to stay on our toes to ensure we can deliver whatever our clients need, and those needs are getting more creative, and sophisticated, by the month.
That may sound complex, and it can be, but the upshot of that complexity is also one of the benefits of Mr Berners-Lee’s invention. We have systems, software, and processes that not only enable us to track and respond to the latest trends, we can research, plan, and forecast far easier and with much greater accuracy than we ever could with pen, paper, or even Excel.
Remaining current has always been a priority, world wide web or not, which is why we invest so much in training. However, these days we don’t use as many chalk boards. I’m not even sure if we have one in the building, although there may be one from 1991 at the back of a storeroom with “Digital?” “HD?” scrawled on it.
I’m not kidding. To quote from a white paper issued by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology” in April 1991:
“The rapid advances made in computer technology are well known. Lately, it has become possible to apply the digital technology used in computers to many other purposes. Digital telephone exchanges and compact discs are obvious examples… Digital TV is a natural extension and would be compatible with computers, digital telephony, and thus the business-related TV market.
“The UK Government's view is that it is not for politicians to pick winners in technology by setting standards which preclude other options. The Broadcasting Minister has also said that the opinions which matter most are those of the broadcasters who have to pay for the introduction of any new technology, and the viewing public.”
The introduction of any new technology was also a matter for those who had to plan for - and invest in - the technology required by the broadcasters and production companies who supplied the content for those emerging digital platforms.
However, when the first DigiBeta cameras came out in 1993, we were ready for them, and they were ready for us. They were built to last and, with regular maintenance, worked flawlessly for a decade. But the pace of change today requires a balancing act that is on one hand more precarious that it would have been in 1991, but on the other hand is much easier to get right if you base your decisions on a combination of deep experience, constant learning, and the manifestation of new technology as it applies to our business systems and processes. Speed of service is also more important than ever, and will continue to be so. That’s why it’s important for to know that what works for a studio in Soho may not necessarily be the right choice for an OB in Southampton. There is no longer any time for trial and error.
So, to mangle a cliché, the more things change, the less they stay the same. If you embrace that notion, as we have, 25 years no longer seems like such a long time. If what Berners-Lee unleashed in 1991 continues the rate of change apace, the next 25 years will seem to accelerate even faster.
We’re ready for that, too.