September 2006 - Global Outlook: Europe

Fire! Fire!

By Ed Hall

A few years ago, I launched my first live television channel from a studio in central London. A month or so later, I was sitting in my office when I noticed that the TV screen had gone blank. When I rang the studio to find out what had happened, the answer was bizarre. Someone had plugged a kettle in and switched it on in the guest’s waiting room, and the whole building had fused.

The post mortem was not pretty. Surely the studio should have been on a different circuit, right? No, the gallery was on the domestic ring main. Surely the UPS should have kicked in, correct? No, it turned out that it had been running after a power failure the previous weekend and the fuel tank was empty.

As the channel had only been on-air for a month, we had not yet taken the time to put in place alternative broadcasting plans to deal with a loss of studio output. The screen stayed dead for nearly three hours. As a young and inexperienced chief executive, I was fighting to keep my temper under control.

But what if we had really lost the output for days or weeks? A U.K. channel several years ago had a fire that completely destroyed its studio and warehouse. How much money would you lose if the channels you broadcast on went dead tonight?

Disaster recovery is a crucial part of any mature business. If the city of London or Wall Street suffers a dramatic failure, such as we have sadly seen after 9/11 in New York or the Bishopsgate bomb in London, then there are facilities standing by for entire offices to pull up stakes and head for Docklands or New Jersey. If AOL loses a server farm, another redundant system comes online elsewhere to replace the lost capacity.

So how robust are your plans? Can you switch to another call center in minutes? Do you pay less for airtime on channels that have no alternative transmission facilities? If you broadcast yourself, what happens if the fire bell goes off now, and it’s not a drill? If your server crashes permanently, how certain are you that your customer data will still be available to you?

Since we sold our channels in 2005 we have been working with a number of companies that used to be our competitors to help them manage and improve their businesses. One thing that has surprised and alarmed me is how few of them have taken this area of their business seriously. Maybe it’s because as an industry, we are so short-term in our thinking. We’re too concerned with the next product, the next show, the next price point change, the next offer or promotion. It’s all about now and rarely about tomorrow.

There’s another reason to take it seriously as well: how many times have you met other executives at ERA conferences who talk about the IPO possibilities of their new venture? Well, try floating a business with no formal disaster recovery plan in place and see how far you get with the brokers and analysts. It’s worth the time and trouble now, after all, one kettle in the wrong socket and you could be losing millions.

Ed Hall is chief executive at Canis Media Group in the U.K. He can be reached at +01494878078, or via e-mail at [email protected].


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