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Sat 16 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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‘Hot ticket’ gear

According to a number of our global projects which track activity among broadcast equipment rental houses, the market is thriving.

According to a number of our global projects which track activity among broadcast equipment rental houses, that market is thriving.

In the DIS Consulting Corporation reports on studio TV cameras (Studio Cameras World 2007), professional camcorders (Professional Camcorders World 2007) and displays (Video Displays World 2007), we have sections devoted to the rental market segment. And, in each of those genre-specific reports it is the ‘hot ticket' most often sought packages that tend to be the most requested and thereby, most often rented.

Rental houses, therefore, respond by inventorying extensive numbers of those most requested models or series and the accessories - lenses, microphones, batteries, shot boxes, Camera Control Units and special viewfinders/on-board monitors, cases or bags - that coordinate with and complete such systems. Editing systems are also popular rentals, especially various Avid systems and Apple's virtually ubiquitous Final Cut Pro.

And, of course as shipping or delivery is a rental house's stock in trade, they must keep and replenish a warehouse full of shipping containers and transit cases to get the gear safely from point A to point B and back in working order.

While it is true that there are many renters who seek relatively inexpensive gear to rent - such as DV-CAM, HDV or mini-DV camcorders - the rapidly declining cost of that level of gear has made those rentals fewer, and reduced those types of systems in inventory, as more and more customers find that they can simply go out and purchase them.

A common predicament for rental companies is the plethora of recording formats, aspect ratios, specialty lenses and divergent screen sizes. In order to stock all the possible permutations, they must make daunting investments to be sure they cover the universe of possible requests. With more than 30 recording formats utilised today and so many potential kit combinations, keeping up is nearly impossible.

That said, the higher-end systems - such as HD-CAM (Sony's premier HD series), Varicam (Panasonic's P2 HD production systems) and high-end gear from Thomson-Grass Valley Group and others. Digital cinema customers, for example, now find they can even rent a seemingly esoteric product like the Red Camera system and apply that equipment to their newest movie project.

Given that the higher-end production gear is so expensive to purchase, especially when fully kitted out, and the market so fickle, many customers actually choose to rent instead as they need specific equipment or to use that approach to augment what they own.

Many others, who have begun to select a specific system will often use rental as a tactic to test out the applicability of their chosen set-up instead of making an outright purchase. This sometimes even occurs in smaller settings where dealer-distributors also rent. There such uses are sometimes seen as rent-to-purchase schemes.

To hedge their bets, rental houses are continuingly investing in multiple units of the most popular equipment. It is not unusual, in big production markets like Los Angeles, New York, London or Munich to find rental houses stocking 30 or 40 or more of the hottest packages, to accommodate the intense demand for those systems.

Most of what they offer is camcorders. And, today that means HD models or series primarily. That doesn't say that there isn't a demand for studio cameras, but that use is a less frequent. Keeping up with what to stock is a challenge.

Douglas I. Sheer is CEO and chief analyst of DIS Consulting Corporation in New York.

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