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Richard Wilson reflects on how the industry has changed in 25 years

Thursday, August 23, 2018 - 16:30

Evolving with the changing landscape

We’ve been going for nearly 50 years now.  Our first job was the transfer of The Rocky Horror Show from the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs to the Kings Road Theatre. We knew we needed to start diversifying from theatre but then 2001 brought with it significant changes to the industry after the Twin Towers attack.  The theatre work vastly reduced and we needed to explore other markets.  Having been introduced to Unique Venues of London 15 years ago, we recognised they were acting as a marketing umbrella; providing a valuable support mechanism for venues to get together to drive more business and, essentially, have a deeper understanding of each other.  Essentially they were supporting our clients and we wanted to be a part of that. Under Lisa’s stewardship, it has been fantastic to see UVL go from strength to strength.

While we are still working prominently in theatre, Aladdin and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are both productions that we supply, we now also have dedicated in-house teams at iconic venues such as Central Hall Westminster, Claridge’s and the Mermaid and are widely-approved across the UVL portfolio. In the past year, we have delivered projects for clients ranging from Google and BBC Proms to Adidas and OMEGA. We also now operate in the broadcast market where our reputation for supplying cutting-edge set technology solutions has seen us work on projects all over the world, including: 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russia (ITV, BBC) – 2018 Olympic Winter Games, South Korea (Discovery, Eurosport).

Events that pushed the boundaries

There have been so many!  The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation which we lit in the moat at UVL venue, Tower of London, in 2014, was a hugely memorable event for us.  We employed simple lighting techniques which had huge visual impact for the millions of people who visited the installation which commemorated the centenary of the outbreak of World War I.

Health and safety plays a much bigger role

We are facing different types of challenges and clients are more risk averse nowadays.  During the BA Concorde launch, the pilot flew down the Thames to avoid excess cloud cover and give onlookers a show.  There’s no way that kind of a stunt would be permitted nowadays – quite rightly, health and safety plays far too much of a role.  We have to be more creative within the parameters of limited budgets and higher expectations but the innovations in technology have enabled us to take the event experience into the next level. We can transform traditional venues such as Banqueting House with dynamic, virtual content to create a fully immersive experience.

Technology is bigger and better with increased investment  

Manufacturers now specifically make equipment for corporate events and set ups.  15 years ago we realised that battery equipment was the way forward for events, so we designed some of our own.  We were the first to work with manufacturers with battery equipment.  This meant that you could do things in the allotted time you couldn’t do before.  The size of equipment has also changed dramatically; AV equipment is now so much more robust and reliable as opposed to 20 years ago. If there was a fluctuation in the main power system, for example, all the projectors connected would turn off.  That isn’t the case anymore.  There’s also been a big shift away from themes and floristry to more of a focus on AV for events.

Now the ROI is huge, as events are part of an overall marketing and communication strategy.  There’s always a core message that the client has to get across during the event and the branding has to be the focal point.  Events also have a far bigger reach now as people are live streaming and sharing content on multiple online platforms.

25 years ago the ROI was for the Chairman to have a great time.  Now, that’s the least of our clients’ problems.  Everyone is accountable.  There are brand guidelines in place so that everything has to be measured and valued.  Events now need to have longevity and be part of an overall marketing strategy.  This wasn’t the case 25 years ago.   

We have been investing heavily, both financially and in R+D for cutting-edge technology to take the industry to the next level. We have seen a higher demand for creating mixed reality and immersive environments and are focusing on the real-time experience for participants. 

Change on the horizon

The public sector is eager to attract more investors and is starting to behave more like a commercial operation. There are lots of interesting conversations going on which we’re excited to be a part of.  We’ve recently renewed our contract with UVL members, the Science Museum, and we’re funding and making the capital investment for the production side.  Now, there’s a new generation of commercial teams which are playing much more of an active role by putting targets in place and setting up departments that can actively drive income into museums.  The Science Museum is blazing a trail in this area, as it’s the first to spend real money on a redevelopment project, ‘Illuminate’.  We’re looking forward to sharing more details on this ambitious collaboration in early February next year.