Swiss Role

Dick Hobbs. TV-Bay Magazine
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by Dick Hobbs
Issue 93 - September 2014

Like many in the industry - and everyone concerned with marketing and the press - I am thinking a lot about IBC at the moment. All right, strictly speaking I am thinking about getting a plane to Greece tomorrow, but I know I should be thinking about IBC.

But rather than write about the exciting new technologies we will see when we get to Amsterdam in mid- September, I want to look back. This year’s IBC is an anniversary edition, and that is always an excuse for the old guys to tell the newcomers to the industry how they have never had it so good.

The anniversary is that it is 20 years since IBC became an annual event. The first IBC in Amsterdam had been in 1992, but from 1994 onwards we all head to the Low Countries every September, not just in even years.

If you have joined the industry at any time in these last two decades, then you might not know that there used to be an alternative to IBC, which took place in the oddnumbered years. If you do, then it is probably through old guys like me, boring the pants off you when someone utters the word “Montreux”.

For yes, the event with which IBC alternated was hosted in the delightful Swiss resort town of Montreux, a lovely town of rare beauty, by the side of Lac Lman, looking across towards the Alps, the Mont Blanc range, and the French town of Evian, where the water comes from. What could be nicer than to spend a week in mid-June in such a perfect spot?

Sadly, it really did not work out quite like that. It started out as a venture by the Montreux Tourist Board to fill the hotels in an otherwise quiet week in mid-June. The town had a dinky little convention centre down by the lake, which was famous for hosting The Golden Rose television programme awards. It made perfect sense to host a television technology event too.

Except it got too successful. The hotels found that for one week every two years people would pay almost anything to get a room in town. The hoteliers obliged by raising their prices to eye-watering levels - even by Swiss standards - without staunching the demand. The restaurateurs followed suit, as did the bar owners.

Those who were not fortunate enough to have been put down for a hotel room in Montreux along with a place at Eton and membership of the MCC found themselves staying further and further away. I always managed to book rooms in Lausanne or Aigle, but there were those who found themselves sleeping in Geneva, an hour’s train ride away, or even driving to Evian: a different country and with border officials who delighted in slowing the journey to the show for those who were still trying to shake off the previous night’s incredibly expensively acquired hangovers.

The dinky little convention centre very rapidly became too dinky for the job. An assortment of tents, temporary buildings and, ultimately a very sweaty wooden shed on the roof provided the solution. Which is how I got very close to causing a disaster.

This was the early years of playout automation, and the company I worked for had borrowed a Sony LMS robotic tape library for the demonstration. Which would have been excellent, were it not for the fact that our stand was on the upper level of a two-storey wooden shed on the roof. The weight of the LMS was about four times the published floor loading of the hall.

I ended up with a file about 60mm thick in faxes (anyone remember faxes?) with the organisers while we agreed the solution: load-spreading steel plates located over cross beams to support my LMS. Everyone was happy and I was in a sweet and sunny mood as I rode the train around the lake from Geneva Airport.

Until I discovered that the Swiss freight forwarders had ignored my oft-repeated and very clear instructions to leave the LMS in its case on the ground floor until I got there to supervise operations. Rather, they took one look at the LMS in its crate and decided that their fork lift truck would not go underneath it. They manhandled the crate onto a much smaller pallet which the fork lift truck could pick up. Then they took it up to the top floor of the wooden shed and left it in the middle of the floor.

The gentle, laid-back Swiss could not understand why suddenly there was a mad Englishman running around screaming for help and shouting that this was about 10 times the floor loading and the whole building could come down. Mercifully it did not collapse before we could get the machine out and on to its steel plates.

But I still have the odd nightmare of living out the rest of my days in a Swiss jail. And why, if no-one is watching, I still give the remarkable solid floors of IBC an affectionate pat.

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Contributing Author Dick Hobbs.

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