Chapter 7: Equipment Back
Once you have defined the channel's strategies, funding, policies, and program goals, purchasing the equipment is the next phase to plan.
Note: Since equipment and model numbers are constantly changing, references to equipment made in this section should be considered as examples for updated products.
Basic Issues to be Considered
Each channel is different and works within a fixed or limited equipment budget. Each operation must optimize limited resources in terms of quantity and quality of production. The channel should always consider the total budget when considering equipment purchases. Within the budget an adequate staff and resources that will fully utilize the equipment also need to be considered. Planning for initial and future equipment purchases is essential. The following are some planning considerations that affect equipment budgeting.
Technologically Advanced Equipment and the Life Expectancy
Technology is constantly changing and advancing in the video field. The purchasing process is complex and may take awhile. With that in mind, it is possible that the equipment you purchase may have been upgraded by the time it arrives. Do not get stuck with a discontinued model that cannot be upgraded. In your bid document include language that makes it clear that it is the supplier's responsibility to ensure, at time of delivery, that all equipment ordered is the latest version.
Generally, the life expectancy of video equipment is five years. However, a piece of equipment that lasts and functions beyond five years may receive little manufacturer support after three years. With proper maintenance and repair, many pieces of equipment can last well beyond five years.
Government access channels tend to have small capital budgets and few opportunities to replace equipment over the years. This leads to extraordinary efforts to keep equipment functional and working. Usually when extra money is available it is used to expand facilities. This can work for a while, but eventually the equipment is not repairable and/or parts are no longer available.
Quality Versus Quantity
User skill is the first consideration. Generally, the more expensive the equipment, the more technically sophisticated it is. This type of equipment requires extensive training, and skilled personal to operate it. If trained professionals will use the equipment, then it is appropriate to use sophisticated equipment. In contrast, channels that depend on volunteers and interns, an emphasis should be on the less expensive, easy-to-use equipment. All things considered, it is important to establish a realistic budget and combined with several of these issues to create a well-rounded, professional channel.
An example of this issue is in Santa Monica, California the channel emphasizes broadcast quality produced with sophisticated equipment paying part-time staff below the market rate. The channel is able to attract skilled personal because the technicians want the opportunity to use and learn broadcast quality equipment. In addition, volunteers get "free" education of state-of-the-art equipment as they use it.
Amount of Programming and Ability of Equipment
The amount of programming produced can dictate the kind of equipment that is needed. For example, if there is high production volume, there may be a need for two on-line edit bays or multiple cuts-only edit bays as it is more efficient and time worthy.
The capability of the equipment should be considered for the type of programs produced. There may not be adequate funds for a mobile production van and a production studio, so the decision might support a simpler facility and lower cost equipment.
Generally, government channels with larger capital budgets tend to buy fewer, more expensive pieces of equipment from well-established manufacturers. Those with smaller budgets tend to buy less expensive equipment with multiple functions. Budgets often dictate a choice between two types of equipment, integrated video systems and individual pieces of equipment
Budgets often dictate a choice between two types of equipment:
Integrated Video Systems
An integrated video system is a collection of different items of video equipment that must function together. Examples of a typical integrated video system include public meeting coverage systems, studio control rooms and linear on-line editing systems.
These systems also require signal distribution, black, synch and electrical grounding. More complex than connecting A to B. Usually, functional drawings must be drawn to determine how one piece of equipment will relate to other equipment. Once the location in the rack ( a shelving system) is determined, wiring diagrams must be drawn with wires individually numbered and labeled. The wires must then be bundled neatly to avoid a mess of cable behind the rack. These types of systems are complex and are best purchased as a complete, functioning system.
In most cases a consultant is hired to prepare your functional drawings and bid document. The consultant will work with you to determine the amount and types of equipment you need. The consultant will recommend a range of manufacturers and models that will fit your system. The consultant will review the bids received from dealers, system integrators, and assist in determining who to purchase from. In this type of situation the bid is not awarded solely on the basis of price. The bidder's qualifications, project team, and ability to provide the type of system needed is all considered. The consultant will preview and approve the drawings for the system, monitor, installation, test and accept the final system. A consultant is considered to be the preferred method for acquiring a system because the consultant works for the city and does not receive a commission or bonus from any manufacture. The consultant is paid to do what is in the best interest of the city.
Another option is to work with a dealer that provides system integration to develop the integrated video system. Dealers usually have good relationships with manufactures, assist with setting up demonstrations, and get product specifications for your consideration. Many times the dealer will provide demos, budgets and proposals for different configurations of equipment at no cost.
A drawback of using a dealer is they may not represent all of the products that you might want to consider for your system. This may limit what is considered or pressured to buy a product that is inappropriate for your system. In addition, the dealer may recommend a product that will give them a higher commission or bonus.
When an integrated system project is put out to bid as "one-system" the vender is responsible for delivering a functioning one-system. This type of bid should be written with the vender held responsible for listing additional pieces of equipment that are required to make the system functional but may not be listed in the bid document itself. If not, they will provide those pieces at no charge if they are discovered later
If you have a knowledgeable staff with a good understanding of technical systems, drawings and signal flow, your staff can serve as the consultant in putting together an integrated video system. This provides you with a cost efficient way to put together a working integrated system. If you use this option there will not be consultant to hold accountable for the system functioning and operations, the station manager takes this responsibility. It is important to have complete trust in the staff's ability.
Individual Pieces of Equipment
Individual pieces of equipment are interchangeable with other pieces of equipment and are not reliant on an integrated system's infrastructure in order to function. Most field production equipment, microphones, lighting, support, and grip equipment fall into this category. In this case they are called Box Houses.
Box houses are businesses that sell equipment directly to you in the box. No demonstrations, no salesperson, just the equipment. The advantage is price. Box houses are great when you know exactly what you want for the lowest price available.
The disadvantage is that personnel are not very knowledgeable and cannot provide reliable assistance. You can order the wrong piece of equipment and find it difficult to find accessories. If you order the wrong accessory, figuring out what you really need, and returns can be a problem. In addition, box houses provide no service, repair or warranty service. You have to go to the manufacturer of each item.
Other Equipment Options
Leasing or utilizing a lease-purchase agreement is another option several cities consider. Leasing offers the chance to spread out their payments for capital equipment over several years. This works well when synchronized with the government budget processes.Used Equipment
Another way to stretch an equipment budget is to purchase used or "B" stock equipment. "B" stock equipment is video equipment that has been lightly used and is usually available from the manufacturer. An example of "B" stock equipment is equipment that was used to cover the Olympics or used as demonstration equipment at the National Association of Broadcaster's convention. The equipment is priced lower than new equipment, reflects current models, and is under manufacturer warranty.
There is a mixed experience from buying used equipment. In some cases, a channel may prefer to spend money for equipment that is used but of higher grade. Others opt for new, lower grade equipment at a decreased cost. This is an individual decision. There are usually consequences when buying used equipment. Warranty service can be difficult to implement. If the equipment turns out to be a lemon, there is usually no recourse. Moreover, there is a shorter life span. For some durable, low failure equipment, such as switchers or patch panels, buying used is ideal. Santa Monica, California could not have continued to broadcast professional quality without buying used equipment.
For some types of equipment, outsourcing may be a viable alternative. Outsourcing provides services and capital equipment through a monthly payment plan that fits in the channel's budget. Over time, this can prove the most cost-effective alternative to buying capital equipment and hiring staff.
An example of this is FrameRate Corporation's contract electronic bulletin board service. The City pays an initial start-up fee and then a monthly service fee. FrameRate provides a turnkey state-of-the-art bulletin board at the channel's site. The city submits text for the bulletin board messages directly to FrameRate Corporation via fax or the Internet. FrameRate then returns ready-to-use graphics for the bulletin board system within 24 hours. For cities that cannot afford the cost of an electronic bulletin board system and the staff resources needed to create quality graphics, this is an easy alternative to implement. Please see Product Quotes for real Quotes from Kristen Tetherton at Burst Communications California.
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