Changes At Avid

15 11 2007

There’s been some discussion on Steven Cohen’s blog about Avid’s decision to drop out of showing at NAB. I made a comment that spoke to my worry about what this meant for Avid’s interaction with new users. In their press release about it, Avid says the following:

“We are always evaluating the most effective ways to build closer relationships with our customers and keep pace with the ever-changing media market. Over the past few months, we’ve been collecting data from all of our constituents, and the findings have been clear – we need to connect with users in new ways,” said Graham Sharp, vice president and general manager of Avid’s Video division. “As a result, we’ll unveil a series of initiatives in 2008, which we believe will shake things up for our industry – in every region of the world and across all facets of our business. In the past, we’ve seen how investing marketing resources in alternative, customer-focused activities, can be more effective with our users – and to our bottom line. It’s time for Avid to start giving something back to the industry and these activities will create a more vibrant community where customers and newcomers can learn, share, and understand where the
industry is headed – and how they can help shape it.”

Good words, but I felt that (despite many Avid users’ support of this position on the Avid-L2 group) that sure, they aren’t going to be doing any big announcement splash in Vega. Good things will come, but they can’t tell what they are for four more months. So — “just trust us.”

But most of the industry isn’t really based on trust of vendors and I’m left wondering how they reach new users without the splash of announcements that NAB is a platform for. As I said in a comment:

It’s hard to believe that they would show up in Vegas minus their million dollar booth and announce anything that would compete with FCP. In short, this seems to be an admission that they’re not going to compete with Apple next year in new products.

I’ve since discussed this with someone from Avid who made the sensible point that a multimillion dollar investment in an NAB booth means millions less for other ventures. He said that their research showed that fully one-third of all attendees at NAB were other vendors. Good points all, and I admit being hasty in my comments.

However, the other point that I made still rings true for me:

As a feature-editor centered user who might attend NAB or might not, I like the concept of them saying that they’ll speak more directly to me. As someone who thinks that they should be speaking to many more types of people than me (including my students, who aren’t about to head to NAB without some impetus), I’m not happy.

How will they reach new users? The reality is that Apple has become much better at controlling the press than Avid. When Apple announced that Al Jazeera English had purchased a slew of FCP systems for their field producers, that got tons of press. Similar initiatives that featured the Avid platform could be found only in Avid press releases that were either buried deep on Avid’s own web site and/or ignored by the media. Apple is presenting FCP as a cheap, software only solution. Avid has long had Xpress Pro (and, before that, Xpress DV) — a low cost alternative to their own hardware platform. They now have MCSoft. Yet the perception still exists that Avid is expensive, old fashioned, and for the Big Boys. Apple’s FCP, the prevailing wisdom goes, is easier to use, really cheap, and for the underdog indies.

I’m going to skip the issue of how an editing tool can be indie or not. (I think Super 8mm film might be considered indie, by some definitions.) My point is that Apple is much more accomplished at controlling their message. It isn’t just a matter of monetary pull — that Apple has way deeper pockets than Avid (though that’s true). It’s the thought process that I’m talking about. Look at Avid’s ads — they show clean-cut people, sitting in brick lofts, working on a laptop. Their slogans can be described as puzzling, at best. Their best in recent years was “Make. Manage. Move Media” which was at least one word too long, and four words too confusing. Apple’s slogan a few years ago was “Edit everything. Wait for nothing.” How cool is that? You can rest when you’re dead, right?

This new press release from Avid about not being at NAB is another example of a lost opportunity. Avid claims that they will be involving their users much more, but there is not one shred of firm description on how that will happen. We’re told that we’ll know in February ’08.

Clearly, Avid couldn’t pull out of NAB without the word getting out, and it was definitely better to announce it as an initiative, rather than fend off negative press coverage. But without providing any solid evidence of the other points in their press release, it is all too easy to focus on the negative in the announcement than the positive (of which there can, possibly, be a lot). Had they had one or two bones to throw to the press in this, they could have controlled the message.

What Avid needs now, besides those bug fixes that people always complain about (as they complain about every software application) but a PR strategy that reaches established and new users with a clear, concise, positive message. Someone’s not working hard enough at that.

By the way, I should point out that I am a dedicated Avid user. I love the program and find it is all of the things that people say it isn’t — flexible, powerful, and “indie.” Like Steve Cohen, we come to this party with the hope that there can continue to be two viable editing platforms. In the old days, Lightworks and Avid looked over each other’s shoulders and the users benefitted. I really want that to continue to happen. FCP’s challenge can make Avid better, just as FCP has gotten better because they need to meet Avid’s tool set.

It’s for all of our benefits.

[Here’s another aside, that’s not really an aside]. Over the last year, Avid has gotten much savvier about what they put on their website. Matt Feury’s podcasts are outstanding. They’ve been putting up free video tutorials that are really strong. They are doing interviews with editors, producer and others that are not solely about pushing Avid products. In fact, they are fantastic resources for all filmmakers — new and old, rich or poor. And no one knows about them!!! That, to me, is sad for both Avid and for filmmakers.]

Powered by ScribeFire.

Film Editing Long Distance

9 11 2007

Matt Feury interviews editor/producer Phillip Neel, long time editor on shows such as “Moonlighting”, Twin Peaks, Ally McBeal and Boston Legal, in one of the recently released Avid Podcasts and there’s some fascinating bits of info within this fascinating talk.

Neel talks about how he uses the laptop editing systems to work with his directors on “Boston Legal” long distance. He generally works at his editing rooms in the South Bay opf Los Angeles. But often, he says, he needs to work with a director on the director’s cut of a show who is prepping another show far away from his editing rooms. Neel then brings them to his house where he has both an Avid Xpress system on his G5 Mac, as well as on a laptop. They edit the show there (Phillip mentions that, since he is wireless at his house, his directors can also surf the net while he’s making his changes) and, when they’re done, he simply emails the show’s cutlist/EDL/project files to his assistant back at his main editing rooms for his assistant to quickly add sound effects and music, output and present to the producers.

He also talks about dailies — which Complete Post syncs and then digitizes for them. They then drop it onto a high speed transfer line so all of the dailies are already on their LanShare shared storage system by 6am with no assistant editor syncing necessary.

Two interesting points there, that could really coalesce into one. As the Internet 2 and other high speed web replacements come into our lives, it isn’t far-fetched to believe that more and more editing will be done long-distance. Dailies can be dropped onto one server and accessed from anywhere that the editor/director/producer/studio exec has a high-speed connection. We may find ourselves editing with media that is housed across the world, rather than down the hall or on a Firewire drive on our desk.

Last year I co-edited a film long distance. The other editor and the director were back in Massachusetts and I was in Los Angeles. I had a firewire drive with most of the media on it and edited on either an Avid Xpress system on my laptop or a Media Composer Soft on a G5 (now that I’ve got my MacBook Pro, I’d make it MCSoft on both platforms) and email the timelines/project files back to the East Coast as I needed to. There was some housekeeping to keep both of our cuts and we never fully worked out a system that checked automatically on a daily basis for updated media files (such as when I added a sound effect, music, or a rendered effect) though there are known methods for doing this. But the major problem with the long distance editing was really my inability to sit with the director and have a great interchange.

We were planning on, but were never able to, test a great product called Syncvue, which sits on top of Skype and allows up to ten people sitting at computers anywhere i the world, to individually control the same Quicktime video, while having a Skype chat. This points the way to some ways of helping the personal disconnect.

However, the experience pointed the way to a future where it will eventually be as easy as walking down the hallway. And, amazingly, it will be as easy and accessible for a low budget film as a high budget television series like Phillip Neel’s.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Radiohead’s Experiment Goes… Uh… As Expected

6 11 2007

Radiohead albumYep. You people have stepped up to the musical download plate, swung at the first pitch and tapped it for a lazy single.

As reported today in Valleywag, the results of Radiohead’s download experiment are in. You may remember that the “indie” band decided to return to its indie roots, blow off the major labels and offered their latest album for download for whatever you wanted to pay for it.

That’s right. Anywhere from zero to eight billion dollars! Whatever you wanted.

The results — a lot more of us chose zero dollars than eight billion. In fact, 62% of downloaders paid zip, and another 17% paid up to four bucks. Put another way — nearly 80% of all Radiohead fans out there thought that owning their band’s latest effort (and keeping it in your digital library for all time) was worth less than a Big Mac meal. Which, last I checked, lasted about four hours in your system.

In fact, the average of all payments was $8.05, not completely shabby. But the overwhelming impression that I get from this, is that most of us just don’t think that our music is worth that much. Free is best, but when you don’t want to pay nothing, than two bucks would do just fine.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Two Steps Forward and One Step Back

6 11 2007

Steve Jobs’ recent announcement that he will support third party apps on the iPhone was welcome indeed.  At the time, I thought that it was odd that he had waited so long to announce it (or, on the flip side, why he didn’t wait until Macworld in January) and wondered why THIS timing.  Google’s announcement yesterday about their approach to  the burgeoning telephony market makes many things clear.  It’s going to be a fight between forward-thinking giants.

The “telephone as computer” market is already pretty hot in the Far East and parts of Europe with more and more functions being put on smaller and smaller pieces of hardware.  The US has, as usual, lagged far behind.  But within the last several months it has become clear in what ways this showdown is going to happen.  Apple is going to try and put as many applications as it can bless onto its phone.  Google is going to let anyone put anything on their own phones, so long as Google gets a piece of ad revenue and gets to mine data as much as it wants.  Apple, in short, will go it the Apple way — as complete control of hardware and OS as they can.  Google will go it the Google way — control of data, while letting everyone else fight over the scraps that don’t really matter.

And, into this mix, (and taking the one step back in our title) is the AMPTP, the association of Motion Picture companies (they have the word Producer in their title, but they aren’t really) who have been tangling with the writers in their just initiated strike.

It’s hard to feel sorry for either side — both groups are fairly well-off compared to the general population of people or companies, and much of their discussion seems to be whining.  But they are locked in a struggle for the late 20th century here.  Making money off of the Internet is so… well… nineties.  And while we’re all still building new business models, the traditional entertainment industries seem bound to a self-made promise to keep the old business models as long as they can.  The AMPTP wants to keep as much of the old revenue as possible because they don’t have any faith that new ones can work.  But, just in case, they’d like everyone to back off from them for awhile so they can make some money there (if they don’t completely fuck it up).

As someone who had trouble finding a movie this summer that he could see all the way into the second reel, I don’t find it surprising that the motion picture studios want to cut down on the revenue that its writers are making. Why not, when budgets have become so bloated by bad decision-making that the only way they feel to make money is to chop workers’ expenses (look for more union busting ahead) and eke a paltry living out of copy-protected digital downloads.  No one is up for making partnerships on these new sources of revenue, unless you’re a small company that doesn’t make in ten years what the majors sneeze out in bar bills in a month.  Everyone is waiting until someone else makes a ton of money in Web-based media, and then they’ll try and buy them.  It is by far the dumbest, least intuitive, way to turn a profit that I can think of, and everyone is doing it in this business.

And they’ll keep protecting it until the world blows up.  In the meantime, companies like Apple and Google have to deal with yesterday’s thinking — publishing agreements that are so different across European countries that it could be years before all of their citizens are able to purchase music or films on the iTunes store, music contracts that are so convoluted that the safest way to avoid a lawsuit is to not do anything, keeping innovation beyond the back burner and into the Stone Age.  And, finally — but not really, there are the telcos — the phone companies who are so jealous of innovation that they lock down partnerships and cel phone manufacturers, and mobile content etc. etc. etc.

Whew, I need to go for a walk before I explode.

Powered by ScribeFire.