Ed Tischler, Director, Gravity Media UK, on why organisations who want to stay on the cutting edge of production tech should rent, not buy.

When it comes to property, to rent or to buy is a question that has been pondered by many generations. If people buy then there may be little money left over for anything else. If they rent, then they are giving their money to someone with little chance of seeing a return. And so we arrive at the media and entertainment sector, and the need to constantly evolve to stay ahead of the technology curve. The best way to evolve is to embrace innovation. The adoption of new ways of working and new technologies have never been more relevant. But the associated capital expenditure needed can be prohibitive to many organisations, especially those that are having to work with shrinking budgets or limited periods of utilisation.

Traditionally media organisations would purchase their own hardware such as cameras, lenses and live production tools, and then sweat these assets hard in order to extract maximum value from the investment. But this approach poses several problems, that don’t really fit with these types of businesses anymore.

Playing the long game
First up, organisations have to get it right. There’s no room for error in the procurement process, and as solutions get more advanced and complex, this is increasingly difficult to achieve. In a confusing marketplace where many standards are still being agreed, if businesses make the wrong decision, then it could hinder them for years. Organisations need to make sure that they don’t get locked in, so must be confident that the technical roadmap of any particular vendor is also aligned to their own. Having a diverse portfolio of assets and hardware may actually be a better fit within their workflow.

Secondly, advances in technology move faster than buying cycles, so it won’t take long before that expensive piece of kit is outdated. With manufacturers keen to sell in their latest and greatest wares, the pressure is on to keep up and users can very quickly fall behind in terms of having access to new beneficial features.

Thirdly, maintaining this equipment can be a drain on resources, particularly having to cope with any downtime while kit is being serviced or repaired. If the kit isn’t physically functioning, then it’s not performing commercially.
Cost is another important factor. Buying the latest technology can be expensive, and often beyond the reach of many budgets. But it can also help to bring in new business from end users looking to work with the latest workflows and formats, and ultimately this can help deliver the growth that every business is looking for.

A new way
This is why long-term hiring of equipment is becoming increasingly attractive to those involved in the creation of content. Much like phone upgrade programmes that ensure users always have the latest handsets, or personal contract purchases that let people lease new cars and then hand them back after a certain period of time, renting helps organisations flex towards the latest technology and work within a broadcast space that ordinarily would be cost prohibitive.

By using a specialist service, much of the evaluation work has already been done. Rental companies will have done their homework, and invested in what they are confident is going to deliver the best performance, and in turn, the best returns. If they have good relationships with the manufacturers, then they’ll probably have earlier access to these new tools as well, meaning the end users can get their hands on them sooner. When a newer model is released, or an alternative solution emerges, that rental agreement can be updated so that creative toolkits remain at the cutting edge.

To see how this works in practice, let’s take a TV studio as an example. The studio faces competition from rival facilities for work, so being able to offer the latest production infrastructure is highly advantageous. More and more these days with the likes of Netflix and other OTT services the demand for progressive video formats like 4K and 1080p are ever-increasing. Even if a production is being delivered in HD, there are business and quality advantages to be had in capturing it in UHD. Investing in the necessary cameras and lenses may be hard to justify, particularly if the existing HD units are still performing as they should. But by only offering an HD service, the studio is in danger of losing projects, falling behind the technology curve and not meeting the aspirations of producers who want a higher quality. This is an increasing occurrence as the consumption of content evolves.  
And what happens when this kit needs maintaining? It’s got to go back to the workshop or manufacturer, taking it out of action until it’s fixed and returned. This may take days, and if there’s no spare, it could result in productions being turned away or increased overheads potentially harming future bookings or revenue for the studio.

Long-term business benefits
By renting equipment, the onus is on the hire company to provide a fix and fast. It’s their responsibility to source a replacement. This ensures minimal disruption, and keeps customers coming back as they know they’ll not only get their hands on the latest technology, but also, it’s unlikely there will be any technical issues to overcome while on set. It’s important to bear this in mind when sizing up rental partners. The larger the inventories of stock they carry, and the greater their geographical reach, the quicker they can respond to any issues, no matter the location. The more innovative and forward looking the hardware, the greater the edge businesses can gain over their competitors.

The cost of rental is also likely to be more appealing to those involved in procurement, people who may be less inclined to want to invest a large amount of capital in a costly purchase.

While all of these exciting new tech buzzwords get banded around, many seem a long way off before they’re accessible. Therefore, consider the option of renting them. Content creators want to use the latest solutions to best showcase their work, and those that are unable to offer them will miss out. Businesses these days value flexibility over assets, so it’s essential that they put themselves in the best position to move with the times. The answer to the question of staying relevant, and ahead of the competition, could well lie with a hire company.

Ed Tischler