VT Operator

The Job and What's Involved

Video tape (VT) operators work in television production and post-production. They work on a wide range of programmes, including news, live shows and outside broadcasts. VT operators also work in post-production facilities houses, and are sometimes known as technical runners or tape operators. As the industry moves towards total digital production, the name and nature of the role may change.

VT operators perform a variety of tasks, including preparing tapes and programmes for broadcast or for sale to other countries. Operators may also be required to add inserts, captions and titles, operate slow-motion equipment for action replays, for example during a sports programme, record incoming satellite feeds and keep archives of material.

Depending on the project, they may be expected to:

  • Operate, patch (temporarily connect) and unpatch recording and playback equipment.
  • Set up and prepare machines for use by editors and clients.
  • Dub tapes and make copies of programmes.
  • Digitise material (convert all media into digital form).
  • Monitor picture and sound quality, ensuring it meets the correct technical specifications.
  • Edit tapes.
  • Manage equipment.
  • Identify and fix faults.
  • Keep accurate records and label tapes appropriately.

VT operators work in studio galleries, editing suites and machine rooms, usually surrounded by large banks of equipment. They must understand how to read oscilloscopes, audio meters, TV and video signals, and know how they work. They also need to understand compression, aspect ratio and standards converters, and be able to use VT recorders (VTRs) in both normal and abnormal settings.

VT operators work with a wide range of people, including directors, producers, researchers, vision mixers, sound supervisors, presenters, sales and administrative staff, management and clients. They need to be able to explain technical issues in a clear way to non-technical staff.

VT operators often work 12 hour shifts to include weekends and nights. This generally adds up to about 40 hours a week.

Most of the time is spent working indoors, in modern, high-tech studios, editing suites and machine rooms. They may also assist on outside broadcasts. The work can be highly pressurised, especially when working on live programmes.

A newly trained VT operator may earn around £20,000 a year. Many VT operators work on a freelance basis and their earnings may vary widely. The Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) can advise on rates of pay. The recommended minimum for a 40-hour week is £481.

VT operators may have to work additional hours to meet deadlines, in which case they are usually paid overtime rates.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

VT operators work for post-production facilities houses and in the television industry. This consists of terrestrial broadcasters, cable, digital and satellite broadcasters, and independent production companies. Most of the work is based in and around London, but there are also opportunities in large cities, such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Liverpool.

Competition for jobs is fierce. A large proportion of the workforce is highly qualified and more than two thirds of media professionals are graduates. Some vacancies are advertised on broadcasters' own websites or in the national newspapers, as well as in the trade press, such as Broadcast and Televisual. Specialist websites such as www.productionbase.co.uk and www.broadcastfreelancer.com also advertise vacancies. Vacancies in the facilities sector are often sourced through using industry networks or by making direct contact with employers.

A typical route into the industry, particularly post-production, is to start as a runner or junior assistant. After gaining experience and demonstrating the necessary technical aptitude, individuals may be able to apply for trainee or assistant positions.

The BBC and other major companies may offer work experience placements. Details are usually available on their websites.

Education and Training

There are no specific entry requirements for the role of VT operator, but many professionals working in television and post-production have higher level qualifications. IT or engineering degrees are particularly useful for this role.

Qualifications such as an HNC/HND in video technology or in electronics and electronics engineering may be relevant. There are a wide range of courses up to postgraduate level that focus on various aspects of the media industry. These include:

  • The Diploma in creative and media.
  • City & Guilds (C&G) qualifications, such as the Diploma in media techniques (7501) or Certificate for audiovisual industries induction (7502).
  • BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in media production.
  • HNC/HND, foundation degrees, first degrees and postgraduate qualifications in media production, video technology or broadcast technology.

Entry requirements for these courses vary:

  • HNC/HND courses generally require one A level or a BTEC National Certificate/Diploma in a relevant subject.
  • For degree courses a minimum of two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C) or equivalent qualifications.

Applicants should check specific entry requirements with individual institutions.

Skillset, the Sector Skills Council for Creative and Media, has established a network of Screen and Media Academies that offer the highest quality film and media skills training. Details are listed on www.skillset.org along with a comprehensive database of media courses.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

VT operators usually train on the job and learn through working with experienced colleagues. It is essential to keep up to date with new developments in technology and software in such a fast-moving industry.

Some companies deliver in-house training. There are also many short courses available from training providers such as BBC Training and Development and Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication. Courses are sometimes run by equipment and software manufacturers and by membership organisations, such as the British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society (BKSTS). Freelances have to fund their own training, but may be eligible for support from Skillset to cover part of the fees.

Skillset's First Post training programme, developed in conjunction with employers, provides practical training for junior employees working in facilities houses. Other new entrant training schemes may be available at a regional level. Applicants should check with Skillset's regional offices through website: www.skillset.org.

Broadcasters, such as the BBC and Sky, sometimes offer technical training schemes.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A VT operator should have:

  • An understanding of all media formats.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • Strong organisational skills and attention to detail.
  • Initiative and the ability to solve problems.
  • Advanced information technology skills.
  • The ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Diplomacy and sensitivity.
  • The ability to stay calm under pressure.
  • Knowledge of relevant health and safety legislation and procedures.

Your Long Term Prospects

Experienced VT operators may move into specialised technical or operational roles. Alternatively, they might move into editing or directing.

Although it can be difficult to get into the industry, the role of VT operator can provide a good starting point for many other jobs in broadcasting and post-production.

Get Further Information

4talent (for artist profiles, careers advice,
training and funding information)
Website: www.channel4.com/4talent

BBC Recruitment,
PO Box 48305, London W12 6YE
Tel: 0870 333 1330
Website: www.bbc.co.uk/jobs

British Kinematograph Sound
and Television Society (BKSTS)
- The Moving Image Society, Pinewood Studios,
Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire SL0 0NH
Tel: 01753 656656
Website: www.bksts.com

Broadcasting Entertainment
Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU),
373-377 Clapham Road, London SW9 9BT
Tel: 020 7346 0900
Website: www.bectu.org.uk

The Engineering Careers Information Service (ECIS),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire
Tel: 0800 282167
Website: www.tomorrowsengineers.org.uk

Independent Television Association,
ITV Network Centre, 200 Gray's Inn Road,
London WC1X 8HF
Website: www.itvjobs.com

Skillset, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Free careers helpline: 0808 030 0900
Website: www.skillset.org/careers

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