Support for the creative economy

Written evidence submitted by PLASA [SCE 086]

About PLASA

PLASA is the global trade association for the professional entertainment technology industry. It comprises of companies in the entertainment and installation industries representing the leading providers of professional audio, AV, lighting, projection, staging, special effects and related disciplines. It has over 1,240 members worldwide.

The professionals in this sector rank among the most talented in the world, maximising developments in technology and communications to produce highly innovative and ground-breaking products.

PLASA offers a comprehensive range of services to its members, including support and advice from specialist advisers, writing accredited technical standards and providing updates, a range of research projects, business and technical seminars, and specially negotiated rates on a range of business products and services. At the start of 2011, PLASA and ESTA-the leading trade association representing the North American entertainment technology industry-merged under the PLASA name.

PLASA is committed to encouraging everyone in the industry to adopt and promote good business practices, and to promoting financial growth for the sector with a focus on long-term sustainability.

Developing the legacy of the Olympic and Paralympic Games

PLASA members were responsible for the supply, manufacture and production of the audio and visual content of the London 2012 Olympic Games. They developed the most memorable moments in the Opening and Closing Ceremonies; from the fiery appearance of the iconic Olympic rings in the Opening Ceremony, to the 70,500 LED Tablets placed at every seat to integrate the audience into the projection element of the shows; the scenic effects which included the industrial chimneys that rose from the ground to the Olympic Cauldron itself-these were mobilised by companies in our sector. Through moments such as these, along with the incredible pyrotechnic displays used throughout, PLASA members brought the Games to life with spectacular, innovative and world-leading lighting and sound production.

The Olympic No Marketing Rights Protocol has prevented each of the companies involved from being able to proudly publicise their involvement in London 2012. PLASA is calling on the Government, LOCOG and BOA to urgently lift the marketing restriction, to allow British companies to publicise their work at London 2012.

PLASA believes that lifting this restriction is one of the best ways in which the legacy from the Games can be developed.

Barriers to growth in the Creative Industries

There is a sense within PLASA’s membership that the creative industries fall between Departments. The Olympics marketing issue is the latest manifestation of this. Whilst there are trade missions currently taking place in Brazil, with the view of securing some contracts for Rio 2016 for British companies, the companies involved in London 2012 are still prevented from publicising their involvement.

The creative industry is very fragmented, largely due to the high proportion of SMEs in the sector. This means it is more difficult to ensure messages get through to those in the industry, and that there are many small companies all struggling to keep up to date with updates from multiple departments.

PLASA believes the Government should work pro-actively and collaboratively with those trade associations already operating in the creative industries to deliver messages from Government, and gather views from the industry. Identifying a single point of information would ensure SMEs are better able to process the information available to them.

Access to finance is, as for all industries, a challenge for the creative industries at present. PLASA would support measures to increase access to finance for SMEs in the industry.

PLASA would also support an increase in trade missions organised by UKTI and the UK Government. Many manufacturers in the entertainment technology industry are based in the UK. Their products are world leading. PLASA believes the UK Government should be supporting these valuable UK manufacturing companies by assisting them to build their international profile further.

Intellectual Property

PLASA supports the recommendations of the Hargreaves Review on Intellectual Property, in particular the recommendation that accessibility to the IP system should be improved for smaller companies.

UK companies lead the world in designing and manufacturing entertainment technologies. Significant levels of funding go towards developing innovative designs and applications, often by SMEs. These designs are often exploited by others in countries which are not subject to UK copyright law.

PLASA welcomes the positive words from the Government on the need to act on intellectual property, and the role that innovation and design in the creative industries could play in driving economic growth. However, to date PLASA do not believe enough action has been taken, and more focus is needed to develop a new structure quickly.

Tax relief

PLASA would support more tax relief for the creative industries. These should be focussed on supporting innovation, research and development and manufacturing. Support for these aspects of the industry will see a ‘trickle down’ effect for the rest of the industry, as they benefit from new and innovative products.

PLASA believes there are two avenues to ensure the UK continues to lead the world in innovative technology. Protecting intellectual property (as discussed above) is one means. The UK should also be supporting manufacturers to develop new products and keep ahead of the market. The Government must foster research and innovation to keep the UK industry at the forefront of developments worldwide.

Establishing a strong skills base

PLASA has previously been an officially recognised awarding body for qualifications. However the large numbers of regulations which are frequently updated mean that it is often financially unviable for trade associations to maintain this status when training only a relatively small number of people.

There is an appetite within the industry to train new entrants into the industry. Whilst a move towards industry standards means that those new entrants receive industry specific training, it can also mean it is harder for people to move between industries. There is a need for Further and Higher Education to maintain a central role in training people, but there is a place for greater industry involvement in ensuring that this meets their requirements.

Whilst the technical aspects of the skills base are important, there is a need to make sure that business skills are developed within the industry, to ensure those in SMEs are able to build their businesses.

The role of ‘clusters’ and ‘hubs’

PLASA believes that trade bodies create natural hubs. They provide a network of contacts, and environment for sharing knowledge and expertise. PLASA believes that this natural ‘hub’ environment should be cultivated and facilitated by Government, and that this approach would ultimately provide better value for money than creating artificial ‘hubs’.

Creative Industries Council

PLASA has some limited involvement with the Creative Industries Council, mainly on issues relating the education.

Whilst PLASA supports the aims of the Creative Industries Council, PLASA are concerned about the focus of the Council on the more high profile ‘talent’ than the backstage component of the industry. Because of this, there is a feeling within the production side of the industry that there is a lack of urgency within the Council, and that real sustainable progress in developing and expanding the industry is not being made.

PLASA is committed to promoting the role of the creative industries in the British economy, and in supporting its members to build sustainable businesses and train the next generation of industry professionals.  

Olympics Case Studies

Tait Tech’s ‘Landscape Video’

Tait Technologies brought two elements to the Opening ceremony; the application of video pixels across the audience; and the highly theatrical application of LEDs to the NHS sequence.

The principal item was the Pixel Tablet. Tait was first approached by Danny Boyle two years ago while he was investigating different technologies, LED video being one of them. What was developed with the Pixel Tablet system was ‘landscape video’: where video emerges from its two dimensional world to become three dimensional, with the audience becoming integrated into the show itself. Designed to work in any venue, this item has become part of Tait’s future rental portfolio.

There were 70,500 seats provided with an LED Tablet, all linked to a central feed via a coiled cable at the seat, down into a branch line installed along each row. The Tablet head contained nine RGB LED clusters in a 3 x 3 configuration. The company had just 14 weeks from the signing of the contract to arriving on-site and commencing installation-during this time Tait remarkably went from design, through commissioning to delivery.

The Tablet system was installed semi-permanently, in that it would reside in the stadium for almost three months, and required more stringent, durable cable management. The team completed the installation to fully operational status in just 18 days, laying 370km of mains and data, 13km of custom-built cable trays, and over 70,000 Tablets and their holders. Immersive did the pixel-mapping for the event, while Avolites Media used a 3D model of the stadium to define target coordinates. Each individual LED was HD mapped; the most complex video-mapping ever attempted.

While perhaps not quite so jaw-dropping, the beds and pillow LED devices had their own challenges. About 300 single and 20 double beds were pushed around in choreographed fashion by NHS volunteers. The duvets on the beds had a total of 15km of self-powered LED in them and the pillows also included LEDs; the rechargeable battery pack was in the bedframe, though some pillows were independently powered so they could be used independently of the bed in the routine.

At the end of the event, the 320 beds left were destined to end up in hospitals in Tunisia.

Olympic Rings forged in HELL

After the lighting of the Olympic flame, perhaps the next most iconic moment of the Opening was the fiery appearance of the Olympic rings, built by HELL (Howard Eaton Lighting Ltd.). The rings were created from fibre glass-clad steel frame trusses, built in-house. Seven 90kg segments formed each 12m diameter circle. Attention was focussed on the centre ring, which was ‘forged’ from molten steel during the industrial revolution scene: the other four rings were already flown above and concealed on the stadium roof.

Artem provided the pyrotechnic accompaniment that recreates the smoke and sparks that would occur in a real forging process, while HELL created the illusion of flowing metal using LEDs. Each ring had RGB LED coverage on all faces, with the centre forged ring and trough having additional amber LED strips. The additional amber provided a powerful authentic colourisation of the molten metal, and the LED sequence was controlled to advance the light/molten-metal in a realistic way. The flying of the forged ring to join the other four was part of Stage One’s Qmotion remit.

The rings were produced to look good as individual objects, with the moulded fibreglass used to form the ring’s outer surface created at the correct opacity so that people could not see the LEDs, or any of the underlying support structure, when lit from any viewpoint. Likewise HELL had to work out the mounting structure for the pyrotechnics-nearly a thousand holes and supports in which to mount them. The results on camera were very effective.

After the games the steel frames went straight to be melted down, the fibreglass stripped for recycling, and all the PSUs, LEDS and DMX drivers returned to HELL for future projects. Although the company does lots of work like this, they have never produced anything on this scale, for such as large audience, before.

November 2012

Prepared 28th November 2012