Rental houses, resellers and system integrators can help guide you through the world of evolving technology

To lease or buy: Rental houses, resellers and system integrators can help guide you through the world of evolving technology

Edmond M. Rosenthal

Three cheers for new media and advancing technology. Otherwise, rental houses, equipment resellers and system integrators would be having a harder time coping with a depressed economy. Instead, they are making the most of their clients’ need for guidance as they test the waters of such new areas as high definition and new media. And, if these service-oriented companies weren’t heavily into the education field before, they certainly are now.

VCA FUSION: SERVING THE LIFECYCLE OF MEDIA

Serving the New York and New Jersey areas, VCA Fusion (www.vca.com) is a reseller and system integrator that also deals in rentals and equipment servicing. Executive VP Dave Berlin says all of these operations are co-dependent For example, when clients have equipment failures in the field, it has people to diagnose and remedy the problem, and it can provide redundant equipment Key manufacturers represented included Miranda, Grass Valley, Leitch, Avid, Sony Broadcast, Media 100, Panasonic, E-Studio and V-Brick.

Berlin says the more than 200 manufacturers represented occupy all of the places in the lifecycle of media — from production of the content to broadcast and distribution, and even consumption of the content at various display venues.

“We’re doing a lot more consulting with our clientele in alternate means of communicating,” he says, “such as streaming video and intracompany video. Clients are more concerned about getting a return on their media assets.” These clients, he notes, include advertising agencies as well as corporate and educational clients.”

He adds, “As stations convert to digital broadcast, people in production and post production will have to work differently. And a big part of what we do is promoting the new technologies. We typically run one user group and one seminar per week” Principal subjects recently have been digital creation tools and how to share information through high-speed Internet connections.

One major system integration project for VCA Fusion was unraveled by the World Trade Center attack It had been working in a midtown building on a project for Morgan Stanley that included a master control operation and networking. After the attack, the financial firm decided to sell the building and decentralize throughout the city and suburbs. But Lehman Bros., formerly in the World Trade Center, acquired the building, so VGA was engaged to re-engineer the facility in a hurry for Lehman, including much redundancy so that there is no interruption of business.

WEXLER AND THE CLIMATE OF REALITY TV

Focused primarily on rental of equipment to video shooters, Wexler Video (www.wexlervideo.com) in Burbank came out of a 2001 growth year despite a decline in business after September 11. President Chris Thompson reports rentals picked up again in December. Reality programming has been a boon to Wexler including Survivor, The Amazing Race, Fear Factor and The Real World.

“Reality shows require understanding of the location that the shows are going to,” Thompson points out. “You have to be concerned with whether the equipment works for the client in a wet location, for one thing. When you send stuff to a tropical rainforest, you make different microphone selections, choose different batteries and concern yourself with rain housing for the cameras. And we’re always trying to be flexible. This has meant creating an infrared camera system that’s switchable from a daylight system. It’s also meant wiring cars to drive across country with self-contained systems that can record from different angles in the back seat”

Involvement with pilots for the next TV season has included Fox Network’s Bernie Mac, which is shot on Sony’s 24p high definition camera. For this project, Wexler has supplied a number of film-type accessories, including specialized power distribution and microwave transmission for the camera so it could be put on a Steadicam.

MIDTOWN VIDEO EMBRACES NEW MEDIA

Midtown Video (www.midtownvideo.com) in Miami has been a rental company and reseller since 1984, being the exclusive Sony Broadcast rep for South Florida and carrying hundreds of other lines. But the big push these days is in new media — CD, DVD and CD-ROM replication systems and compression and conversion equipment.

“Programming is going out on everything these days,” comments co-owner Debby Miller. “Businesses are sending out training programs on CDs and DVDs, for example. In professional and high-end video, there was a much smaller customer base than there is for the new media, and also for DVCAMs” Because of the new media, along with lower-cost, user-friendly equipment, Midtown has moved more heavily into the corporate and institutional market.

Workshops and seminars, which generally had been held quarterly, are now typically every other month as the company deals with new products and vendors ranging from nonlinear editing systems to HD cameras and their support equipment. This includes visits from such suppliers as Media 100 and Sonic Solutions.

The lagging economy, according to Miller, has resulted in a flat resale business but about a 15 percent gain over the previous year in rentals. She reports larger-ticket bids for sales and rentals — three-camera shoots, for example, with more accessories and fullblown systems, including teleprompters and jibs. “Maybe people are in a catch-up mode from postponed projects,” she comments.

BEXEL: HD RENTALS FOR FEATURES

Despite recent signs of a recovering economy, business hasn’t completely caught up, according to Tom Dickinson, VP and GM of Bexel (www.bexel.com) in Burbank He reports, “Customers who were doing $100,000 with us last year may be doing $80,000 this year. People are watching every dollar.”

For now, reality TV is a big spur to rental demand, he notes, calling for large packages. But, as these programs come and go, Dickinson sees a longer-term expansion in high definition rentals for feature films. He notes this is requiring a different mindset: “In feature films, they have much more demanding criteria for quality Clients spend a lot more time in our building, checking out the package and approving every item. So our people have to have more of an understanding of film.”

Bexel recently hired a person from the film industry and already had two film vets on board. Others have gone to seminars on film production. Dickinson adds, “In high definition, we have to have a better understanding of the whole process of shooting, editing and transferring to the final medium so that we can impart that to the client and point out the prospective pitfalls.”

MOVING PICTURES: ENGINEERING SERVICEES FOR 24P HD ACQUISITION

Another rental house facing the recessionary climate is Moving Picture Electronic Services (www.movingpic.com) in Fort Lauderdale. President David Wells comments, “Rentals are flat, but we’re hoping for a bump in business as production and post houses sell off their equipment and rent on an as-used basis.”

He reports a greater number of requests for the Avid Meridian Media Composer as the demand for speed becomes more of a concern than image quality. Meanwhile, he adds, quality is more the concern in heightened demand for Sony Digital Betacams.

Moving Picture relies heavily on the advertising industry, which has been soft, as have the music video world and electronic press kits, The rental house hasn’t gotten into HD rentals but is offering engineering services for 24p HD acquisition equipment

The shakeout in the dotcom industry and problems with bankrupticies of clients such as the Matthews Studio Group in Los Angeles have made Wells more cautious. He asserts, “We’re becoming more of a C.O.D. company. They’ve got to be a very regular customer for us to extend terms.”

MOVIOLA: FROM THE CRADLE TO THE GRAVE

This trend is well-reflected in the way Randy Paskal, managing director of Moviola (www.moviola.com) in Los Angeles, describes his company’s business: “We do three things. We resell, rent and educate.” Now included in Moviola’s range of seminars is high definition education. The company is selling the AvidDS HD digital finishing and compositing product as well as renting Sony HD cameras, decks and monitors.

Paskal looks at education as his company’s newest business, With post production tools becoming more sophisticated, Moviola is training some 300 persons a month on Adobe, Avid and Apple equipment in its 65,000-square-foot Los Angeles facility. He asserts, “I believe there will be a lifelong learning process for all post professionals as more software releases come out We want to be working with professionals from the cradle to the grave.”

Moviola claims to be the largest Avid reseller in the country operating a “digitial warehouse” that also includes such brands as Sony and Canon. Paskal says the customer base ranges from prosumers through award-winning professionals. As both a rental house and reseller, the company is able to provide rentals with an option to buy as well as offering discounts on videotape with major purchases or rentals. For example, Moviola recently closed a $3/4 million sale of Avid professional products to CBS after first renting it this equipment.

Moviola has been on an aggressive expansion path. It recently completed acquisition of Video Tape Distributors, a nationwide seller of videotape and data media. Last year, in Los Angeles, it acquired Digital Production Resources. Paskal discloses that the company is looking for further acquisitions that fit into its present business scheme.

VIRTUAL MEDIA: RENTALS WITH OPTION TO BUY

Facing a declining economy, particularly in the advertising industry, Virtual Media (www.virtualmediaonline.com) has decided to become “more things to more people,” according to owner Scott Greenberg. With facilities in Orlando, Manhattan and Cranford, NJ, the company is now opening a fourth one in Miami. This will put it both wider and deeper into a reselling, rental and systems integrating business focused on nonlinear storage and editing and media management.

One of its new accommodations to the uncertain market is rental with an option to buy. Greenberg comments, “If, for example, a customer needs an Avid Media Composer for a two-month project and doesn’t know what’s coming behind that project, some of the rental payments can be applied later to a purchase.”

“We understand that some customers are having difficult times and that we have to help them through these times,” he adds. Another accommodation is working with leasing companies to supply a creative package to the customer. This lowers the initial payments so that customers have an easier time getting into new equipment.

To offer a more comprehensive package, Virtual Media works with sister company Pulse Digital, which offers services related to streaming of content. Greenberg notes, “For years, people were editing on Avid and laying off to tape. Now they can also stream the content to another facility or to their client.”

The company now carries Avid’s high definition editing and compositing system, DS HD. There have been no rentals yet but sales are being made to Fortune 500 companies as well as to smaller facilities. Greenberg points to the comfort level in having an interface similar to that of the Media Composer and the ability to use one system for both HD and standard definition output.

RELATED ARTICLE: Technical advisor role takes off at Runway

CULVER CITY, CA — Runway, Inc. is celebrating its 10th year as a provider of technical consulting and nonlinear rental systems for feature films and television. From the beginning, company founder Roberta Margolis made technical support an essential part of the company’s business, and Runway (www.runway.com) became known for its 24-hour, radio-dispatched service department.

In the ensuing 10 years, the evolution of the editing room has made technical support even more vital. Margolis notes that today’s editing systems can do more (which means they need to talk to other platforms), they can hold more material (which means networking and organizing storage) and the migration to HD means a new workflow and a new way to finish.

Runway has responded by adding a higher level of service: the technical advisor. “A technical advisor is part of our package,” says Margolis. “Our consultant works closely with clients to ascertain how much and what kind of media is coming in, how it will be shared, time for turn around and delivery requirements. We help clients with media management, broadband connections and the workflow for HD. Our technical advisor, in away, becomes part of the ‘editing team, filling in the knowledge gaps. In the end we make sure our clients get the right tools for the job.”

Getting into your customer’s business

SOMERVILLE, MA — For 1 Beyond (www.1beyond.com), it was no longer enough to service customers by manufacturing and integrating PC-based multimedia and digital video editing systems and associated products. It had to get into its customers’ business as well.

According to president Terry Cullen, the new production and post operation is essentially a means of seeing things from the customer’s point of view. Its projects, more heavily in post, are taken on with the thought of “helping us to design better systems and to guide us in counseling our customers,” he explains.

What the company is seeing is a changing state-of-the-art for post professionals, broadcasters and filmmakers. One demand that needs to be serviced, Cullen says, is the ability to do such things as color correction, exposure control and titling in realtime. Another is to do realtime rendering in full resolution, full color depth and full frames per second, something that wasn’t possible less than a year ago. Lossless editing in native DV is another demand. Cullen notes many systems are still working in M-JPEG, a lossy codec.

Part of 1 Beyond’s job is making clients aware of the improvements in these areas. And, of course, delivering the appropriate product is part of its business. It is offering systems for as little as $4,000 that perform all of these functions.

A recent development at 1 Beyond is the integration of dual Intel Xeon Pentium 4 processors into its line of native-DV nonlinear editing systems. These can be configured with such realtime editing systems as Avid, Canopus, Matrox and Pinnacle. Cullen says the systems support high computational demand tasks such as animation and a higher level of realtime effects. A complete turnkey system of this type ranges from $8,645 to $11,495.

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