What's in a Name?
Philip Stevens learns how a name change produces a fresh focus to equipment provider Presteigne Broadcast Hire
25 years ago, Mike Ransome set up Presteigne as a rental company offering shooting kits along with peripherals. Since then, the company has become part of the Avesco Group, been involved with the purchase of Charter Broadcasting, taken part in major projects fulfilment and, this month, has changed its name to Presteigne Broadcast Hire. So, what's behind that history and, more importantly, why the change of branding for this Crawley based company?
"When I set up the original business there were few rental companies in the broadcast market", explains Ransome, now chief executive of Presteigne Broadcast Hire. "However, broadcasters, studios and outside broadcast companies simply couldn't justify the expense of purchasing a range of different cameras to suit their requirements, when they would not need them continuously. So, they purchased a smaller number and hired in when extra capacity was needed. As a result, rental companies started to become a necessity."
As technology changed at a rapid pace, rental companies were taken more seriously and expansion for Presteigne was needed. But being a small company meant financing was not always easy. "Two years after I set up my company, we became part of the Avesco Group and were able to expand as funding was easier to obtain for larger organisations and that injection of cash was vital - as advances in technology meant more and more kit was needed in order to fulfil demands from our clients.
" Providing that equipment for major events such as World Cup and Olympic Games led Ransome to consider a deeper involvement in such projects. "In 2008, we acquired Charter Broadcasting and began to supply complete systems for these key tournaments." The new company, Presteigne Charter, was formed in time for the Beijing Olympics where both parties already had significant commitments. Indeed, considerable cost savings were achieved through this amalgamation. "We had always been in the flyaway market, but now there was an opportunity to build on that experience. In fact, we were the first to build an HD flyaway unit when that technology was introduced."
Although business was good, and reputation of the company was respected on a global scale, this involvement with major events did present some drawbacks. "There were, what I call 'even' years and 'odd' years," states Ransome. "The 'even' years were the ones filled with high profiles events, while the 'odd' years were those where there were fewer such projects. We had built up systems that were in significant demand in the 'even' years, but which were idle for long periods in the 'odd' years." Ransome goes onto explain that the capital expenditure to maintain the commitment for high profile events is considerable. It began to be more difficult to justify the expense and the depreciation of the equipment needed. "We came to the conclusion at the beginning of 2014 that it really wasn't on for a rental business to be involved with major systems. Companies such as systems integrators are probably better placed to meet those demands. Or maybe even OB companies and the like. Our core business is providing all kinds of broadcast equipment for rental." He continues, "Our strength, with our dedicated and loyal team of engineers, is to provide kit that is well presented and which works straight out of the flight case. We will never be the cheapest, but everything is well prepared and checked thoroughly before it leaves our premises."
With all that in mind, the company is now known as Presteigne Broadcast Hire - to reflect the true nature of the business. Ransome declares that the company's mission is to remain at the forefront of technology and to provide its client base with the best solutions that are on offer. But it will not just be the 'traditional' rental equipment - cameras, lenses, visions mixers, audio consoles, etc - that will be on offer. It will also include expertise that, in many ways, has been pioneered by Presteigne - for example, a new wireless mesh technology that enables a large number of differing sources to be routed over one RF network. "We used the system for the BBC at the Sochi Winter Olympics and the Formula One, but more recently, we used it for our customer CTV to provide flawless coverage of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race on the River Thames," says Ransome.
The company provided eight RF cameras in three fixed locations, plus two cameras on each of the two racing boats, four cameras on vessels following the race and cameras on two helicopters. "To manage all of this we implimented a wireless mesh which effectively covered the whole of the race section of the river," explained Martin Sexton, manager RF and special camera services at Presteigne. "This was driven from five hubs along the bank, connected into permanent BT fibre circuits, with the signals auto-switching as the move from hub to hub." Using RF technology from leading companies including Cobham and the Net Caddie IP system from Bluebell Opticom, Presteigne was able to use IP for every source. Sexton continues, "The IP mesh network also reduced the number of technical operators required, as camera parameters could be controlled remotely from the outside broadcast truck rather than needing engineers on the chase boats." Although Presteigne worked with its technology partners, it developed, tested and proved the mesh network in-house. According to Ransome, mesh technology is the way to go. "Although in its infancy, the potential is enormous. And we are working hard at getting rid of the 'niggles. Broadcast is moving in to the IP world and we will be with it all the way." He says that improvements in speed of coverage and latency are the next priority, as is developing the telemetry for camera operations. "Yes, we've changed the name to reflect the true nature of our core business. But that doesn't stop us developing technology and equipment that will be in demand for rental in the months and years to come. If clients want to hire specialist equipment, it is up to us to provide it."
This will be a busy summer for the 'new' company. Vast amounts of equipment have already been shipped for use in Brazil for the World Cup. Tennis coverage at Roland Garros and Wimbledon will rely heavily on equipment for the outside broadcast providers at the Commonwealth Games will come from the facility located in Crawley. As Ransome says "This is one of those 'even' years, and the plan is for things to get even better!"