Broadcast systems integrator TSL Systems equips and services TV studios around the world. Managing director Jeremy Rees talks to Tim Wickham about the company’s moves into the corporate and education worlds, as well as fibre cable installation.
You’ve probably watched a TV programme produced in a studio fitted out by TSL. In fact, it would be surprising if you hadn’t. The Marlow-based company works with all the UK’s major TV studios and a list of international clients. TSL is 94th in Southern Tech 100, with annual turnover of £8.5m.
Into the spotlight
When engineers Brian Cuff and David MacGregor left the BBC and ITV in 1986, they decided to set up their own business. Ironically, their first client was the BBC. MacGregor is company chairman and maintains a day-to-day involvement.
As well as sourcing and installing equipment, TSL designs studios, offers maintenance support and consultancy services. A UK team of six engineers typically works on around half a dozen live projects at a time.
“It’s a very competitive industry that is changing rapidly as new technologies are introduced,” said Rees. “We offer a bespoke service with a lot of repeat business won through our strong client relationships. We work with associates and sub-contractors, so have elasticity in our resource pool to cope with the ‘feast or famine’ nature of the market.”
As well as major contracts like building studios at the BBC’s MediaCity, Salford, the company has also completed installations in less conventional locations. An outside broadcast studio for a Brazilian sports channel at the London 2012 Olympics, was installed on the 19th floor of a block of flats near the Olympic Park in just six weeks.
Rees, a chartered engineer, joined TSL in August this year. He spent seven years in the BBC’s engineering department at Television Centre in London and its New York bureau. He had also been vice president of TV technology firm NDS, and a senior director at global technology conglomerate Cisco.
“Joining TSL brought me back to a smaller company setting, working with the kind of cutting-edge technology I can really engage with,” he said.
Technology advances include robotic studio cameras operated remotely, sometimes from a control room in another country. “Our aim is always to stay ahead of the technology curve by gaining expertise in new equipment,” said Rees.
Global demand for TSL’s technical know-how is high. The company’s Dubai office opened in 2007 with a 12-strong team and is now well established serving the region. As part of its contract for the Middle East Broadcasting Center, TSL built a full replica studio in Marlow to carry out pre-acceptance testing before shipping it out to the Dubai Media City.
Growth through diversification
Fifteen months ago, the company started a fibre cabling division that now numbers over 30 people. Beginning by leveraging TSL’s close relationships with broadcast customers, its clients are now mainly companies sub-contracted by British Telecom to install fibre-optic broadband.
“There are a lot of players vying for the installation work. We try to offer something different in terms of quality and our reputation for doing things right,” said Rees.
TSL is also focusing on the corporate and education markets, where an increasing number of organisations want to set up their own studios for delivering content to staff, customers or students. Among these are the University of Gloucester and the London School of Economics, with large corporate clients who include Deloitte and S&P Global. TSL also delivers ongoing support and service to these clients, such as performing regular software upgrades, providing a sustainable repeat revenue stream for the business.
“They see the value in producing professionally made videos themselves. We install the studio and train them to use the equipment and edit footage,” said Rees. “We are also taking on more clients in the sports sector.
He added: “By expanding into new areas we see plenty of scope for the business to keep growing.”