The TOD Scam!

  • Posted by Simon Byrne
  • On June 1, 2016


Nowadays, it is common for a major venue or hotel to outsource audiovisual services for events within their building.

This is sensible. It reduces the logistics for the venue as less equipment is moving in and out of the hotel, and the hotel has control over the AV operation within their complex. It also creates another revenue stream for the venue whilst avoiding the headache and costs associated with running a substantial AV operation.

However, I’ve heard rumours that some AV companies are paying as much as 36% commission to hotels on both equipment and labour. Venues have become addicted to this easy cash and lost sight of looking after their client’s goals. Consequently, buried in page 12 of the contract (that no venue client reads), the venue along with the in-house av provider put in place increasingly substantial barriers for clients to bring in their favoured outside contractor.

These requirements are purportedly to protect the venue’s walls, chandeliers, carpet, infrastructure etc, as well as ensure occupational health and safety. There could be some truth to this, if the venues and in house providers applied themselves to ensuring that these conditions are met.

The reality is that in most cases, they fall well short.

When I’ve got an outside crew working in a hotel, we are typically assigned a “Technician on Duty” for about $96 per hour cost to my client. They are always young, entry level guys and girls with limited experience. This is not a criticism of them, we all had to start somewhere.

But the reality is, they usually don’t have the experience or training to take a senior role in facilitating the event. Quite often, they aren’t even in the room when loading in as they have duties elsewhere in the hotel. That is, despite that the fact that my client is paying for their time. It is not uncommon for the TOD to not know how to operate the house lights, they are unable to confirm the safe working limits for the house rigging, don’t know where the circuit breakers are and have no authority or understanding of the venue’s fire exit policies. So what is the point of these people if they aren’t there, and when they are there, are of little use?

Then they like to charge for the entire time that you are in the hotel. So if you have a multi day event, suddenly the client is up for a Technician on Duty bill of many thousands for a person who adds no value to the event and usually isn’t even in the room. The highest I have seen is $7,600. That is, on top of the $100k my client paid for room rental.

Another frustration is the tendency to leave the in house AV equipment permanently installed in the ceiling. Other than looking ugly in a 5 star ballroom that clients have spent tens of thousands in hiring, it is often in the way of our production gear. So it has to be removed so as to allow our client’s event to go ahead.

The in-house provider then wants to charge for it’s removal and it’s replacement because “it is a cost to them”. Really? Sure there is some labour involved but it really should not be there in the first place. If the client does not want it in a room that they rented, it should not be there. It makes sense for the in-house provider to leave equipment in the ceiling for their events. It would be a good earner for them. But to then expect others to pay if it is in the way is clearly another mechanism designed to drive up costs for the venue’s client. I once had a venue try to tell me that 4 people were needed to remove just 4 Meyer UPA’s (weighing 32kgs each) on a minimum 4 hours call and that my guys couldn’t do it. This is completely unjustifiable.

Another emerging trend is that the in-house provider dictates “minimum AV requirements”. The reason once given to me was “to ensure that all hotel guests experience the best possible event”.

So for example you’ll be told the quantity, minimum size and brightness of the projection screens “that they’ll accept in their ballroom”. I have a problem with this. Isn’t it up to the hirer of the room to decide what they do, or do not want at their event?

Then there is Occupational Heath and Safety. Clearly everyone wants a safe workplace and a safe event.

Now I need to make a distinction here. The major venues have a responsibility to manage appropriately, the OHS issues that arise out of having outside contractors coming into their buildings.

As part of managing these issues, venues will often ask for copies of plans, production schedule, public liability insurance cover and safe work method statements. All good stuff that if used properly, contributes to ensuring that all involved have a solid understanding of how the event is to be delivered.

However, in requiring this material, the venue has assumed an obligation to inspect these documents carefully and make an assessment as to how they are to be applied within their space and operations. More often than not, this does not happen so it becomes a bit of a joke.

In addition to this, many venues require that your crew undergo site specific “Occupational Health and Safety Course”. These “courses” are usually very poor and would be of little use in an emergency situation. Basic stuff is missed like emergency numbers, meeting locations, accident reporting etc. So it is clear that the venues don’t take these seriously either. Once again, cost is driven up with little value derived.

Despite these extra challenges, clients often still like to bring in their own contractors. This is because the in-house provider cannot deliver the event that they are after, or the outside contractor provides better value, often both.

Don’t get me wrong, some venues get these issues resolved really well and welcome outside contractors with a view of putting on a great event in a cost efficient, safe manner.

Unfortunately, most do not.

This article first appeared in CX Monthly Tech News June 2016

I am a contributing writer to CX Magazine. CX Network is the voice of technicians in entertainment and audio visual across Australasia.

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