Fourteen different formats and thats without 3D


It started so innocuously. I was sitting with a hire company friend of mine reviewing the industry and where it was heading. “What’s going to be new at IBC?” I asked, as a way of keeping the conversation going. And then it all kicked off.
Kicking off
“What’s new? You should know! New? New! I have bought 14 different formats in the last 18 months – and that’s without investing in 3D! What’s this all about? Never since I started in the industry (in the mid 80s) have there been so many different types of format. And it doesn’t look like settling down for the foreseeable future!”
Deep breaths all round. Then we talked through what he had said, starting with the basics: 35mm, 16mm, 4K, 2K, P2, Varicam, HDcam, XDCAM, HDV, SR, EOS, HD, Red, Alexa … they rolled off his tongue. I feel I should apologise to all manufacturers: the list is not in an order of preference and I haven’t named them all as I didn’t make notes while he was speaking, but he did mention 14 in total, before saying those words that a leasing guy really loves.
“You don’t suppose I’m all right for a 3D rig do you? Well, I need two really … one as back up.”
We’ve never had it so good
The strange thing about this was that he also said that things had never been so good. Everything was out on hire. Why? What are the real economics behind formats, hiring and buying?
In the last five years there has been a sea change in our industry, from how TV is funded to the types of programme, the price of kit, the movement from tape to solid state, and the movement from film to digital. Let’s look first at camera acquisition because everything depends on how, or on what, the programme is shot.
Playing safe
If you, as a freelance cameraman, had been able to predict what would happen over the last five years, you probably wouldn’t have invested in a camera because every production, commission or job seems to have been shot on a different format.
It is more likely that you’d have played safe and waited until the market – and that means mainly the BBC – decided which way it was going. At least four years since the BBC began its Starwinder project to switch acquisition to tapeless HD and we are still waiting to find out which way it will go. As a result, the formats haven’t settled, so inevitably there is no industry standard and hire companies have seen their business boosted.
Pure economics
Funding or buying cameras is a pure economic equation that has existed since broadcasters dispensed with the need for staff cameramen. If the format is new, you hire your camera until it makes economic sense to buy or lease your own. The decision is made simpler once a broadcaster has chosen a particular format, as freelancers can then justify their investment on the premise that there will be a steady stream of work available.
No longer niche?
So this brings us to 3D – and here’s the fact that disproves the rule. When new technology breaks, few hire companies invest – because it’s unclear whether it’s a fad or a trend. The cost of acquisition then becomes very high.
For example, stereographers have been around for years. They have side-by-side camera rigs and the appropriate post equipment to make niche programmes for a niche market at a premium rate and this is exactly what 3D was like until around two years ago. As soon as the likes of James Cameron started making 3D movies, and Sky decided that 3D was for real and launched a dedicated channel, the market suddenly grew exponentially. However the majority of hire companies still hold back to see if this new genre takes off (because no-one really knows how large the 3D market actually is) – leaving the individuals who did invest, and the handful of hire companies that had 3D kit, to make super profits.
Crystal ball gazing
So, is now the time to invest in 3D? Don’t we all wish we had a crystal ball!
I remember the days when people said that mobile phones would never overtake landlines and that email would never beat snail mail. With this in mind I look forward, with huge anticipation, to IBC because 3D is now a reality and has reached cinemas, pubs and now the home. There is a dedicated 3D channel and a steady increase in the number of 3D movies reaching the mass market, but I will wait until after IBC before answering to the question: “Is it time to invest in 3D?”
If you would like to read other articles in this series, visit our website: www.azule.co.uk. If you would like advice on management and business issues, do email me on peter.savage@azule.co.uk and/or write to the TV bay editor.

Tags: iss044 | azule | 3d | finance | business | format | N/A
Contributing Author N/A

Article Copyright tv-bay limited. All trademarks recognised.
Reproduction of the content strictly prohibited without written consent.

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