AV1 occupies a unique position in the industry as a Sydney based supplier, a roadshow production company and an inhouse supplier at the Museum of Contemporary Art, so we can understand all of the points of view in this debate.
We look after a lot of roadshows around Australia, so we come across the “dreaded” TOD charges on a weekly basis. Sometimes the charges are warranted and sometimes not. In some instances, when the venues may grant you access to a space at midnight, it can pay to have an inhouse crew member on site for the set up to assist with rigging, patching and other items. If there are any last minute requirements, the inhouse supplier can get some last minute rentals. So in this scenario, it is worthwhile and worth paying for. Occasionally we will factor it into a quote but sometimes we will absorb it for the sake of the event, not the bottom line.
I think that there is a perception out there that the TOD charge is a nasty penalty imposed by inhouse suppliers (including venue-owned AV departments) for not using their equipment or services. These companies have usually invested a lot to install infrastructure, so that they can capture the majority of the work going through the venue – and they do. In a recent discussion, we indicated that about 5% of the work was conducted by outside suppliers in one particular property – this is comparable to AV1′s set up at MCA.
So 95% of the work is being done by inhouse suppliers (from which a hotel, for instance, may be receiving anywhere between 15-35% commission on equipment and/or labour supplied – hence the hotel being keen to enforce the TOD charges when they lose out on their expected revenue). Given this 95 / 5% ratio, I think that neither the suppliers, nor the venues, should impose penalties to outside suppliers but take the 5% on chin and be there to assist and possibly get a couple of last minute rentals.
I do object to nondescript blanket charges being imposed. Sofitel Brisbane, to name one, imposed a $75.00 per hour charge for lift and electricity use, to be paid to the hotel directly by the visiting AV suppliers. I see this as completely anti-competitive and can understand why small operators in and around Brisbane are suffering. The questions here are where does that money go? Why only AV suppliers? Why not exhibition companies, bands or DJs – all of whom lug large amounts of equipment through lifts and docks and use electricity. If there was a resident DJ in the Sofitel Brisbane, would other DJs be charged this mysterious fee? This is an example of a charge imposed purely to make up for lost revenue from their own supplier. I heard recently that the Four Points in Sydney was doing the same – charging a $500 penalty fee to clients using their own AV suppliers and having to pay a three hour rate for setup and a three hour rate for pack down. On a small event (eg. less than $3,000) this can be a back-breaker for a small organisation.
When you speak to inhouse operators, the story is usually the same in terms of logistics. No senior technicians want to take on the TOD shifts – they want to be operating the shows. With an industry-wide labour shortage, crew planners will usually assign the TOD shifts to junior inexperienced crew. These junior crew are supposed to be supervising setups which can include rigging. The Workplace Health & Safety argument goes out the window. Another situation is that the technician who is on duty at a particular time is assigned as TOD, but is also assigned other daily duties, such as kicking off another event in another room – again a result of staff shortages.
I think somewhere along the line the industry has lost the plot. Instead of imposing these penalty charges, we should be collaborating, for the sake of our mutual clients, for the sake of the event, and for the sake of the industry – not the bottom line.
The answer: Make it a choice. “Would you like to have a technical crew member on site for your event? If the answer is “no”, a production company may bear the consequences (eg. if they can’t find the rigging points and have to have a someone called in specifically). If “yes”, everyone wins, the venue, the inhouse supplier, the production company.
Should MEA get involved? Yes, as an industry body to facilitate discussion on these matters, which they did at the recent national conference. The fact that five people showed up (out of 660) attendees is disappointing. It either shows that the industry isn’t interested in the topic, or isn’t interested in working together on these issues to provide solutions. Should MEA comment? Yes. Any member practices deemed to be unfair, anti-competitive and not contributing to the growth or benefit of the industry should be acted on.