Avid to unveil new strategy, bails on NAB

Of course it’s not news anymore. Avid’s forgoing the 2008 NAB show floor. The full announcement is here.

The company said it would reveal the full details of its 2008 [strategic] plan to the public in February, which will set the stage for a blitz of new user-community initiatives, technical support programs, highly-personalized events, and innovative product announcements throughout the year.

Like other frequent NAB attendees, I found the palace intrigue surrounding the decision more interesting than the actual decision. And the palace intrigue wasn’t really that interesting. I won’t miss Avid on the show floor, and don’t know anyone who will. I can’t remember the last time I actually learned something new at the booth without buttonholing an Avid exec. Booth demos are merely musical versions of the press release.

For two years in a row, the typical attendee could sit through the complete Interplay demo and have no idea what value Interplay would bring to his or her organization. Like the Popeil Pocket Fisherman or a set of Ginsu knives, Interplay seemed to solve all problems but no one knew how.

Most of what Avid does well doesn’t lend itself to simple explanations against the cacophony of the NAB show floor. 2006 attendees’ ears are still ringing from the at first catchy, then quickly irritating cover of “What a Wonderful World” Apple used in 2006 that drowned out every conversation in Nevada.

That an attendee remembers the soundtrack, but not the plot says that maybe NAB has outlived its usefulness as learning environment. Maybe Avid’s ahead of the curve.

If Avid uses the resources spent on NAB to develop better products and establish better relationships with its customers, it’s a good move. If it’s merely a cost-cutting maneuver that brings customers an off-Broadway version of the Vegas show, then it’s a wash.

There are risks to this approach.

  • When you’re not at the party the other guests are given the opportunity to explain your absence. We’ve already heard folks declaring this move as a harbinger of Avid’s exit from the NLE business. In light of Final Cut Studio’s recent success, it’s easy to believe Avid might be throwing in the towel. Had Avid done this two years ago, or waited until it had regained some momentum in the NLE space, this move would be easier to peddle to the masses.
  • NAB is expensive and Avid appeared to spend more there than anyone except Sony. To some this will lead to speculation that Avid’s running out of cash. Many are speculating the company is up for sale. (I’m not. Word on the street is that a group of investors wanted to take the company private earlier this year. If the company was on the block, more would have come of those attempts.)
  • Avid might appear less interested, not more interested, in connecting with customers. As Apple continues to push its message of democratization of the means of production, smaller Avid customers may be lured to Final Cut.

It’s a high risk strategy, but now is a time for bold moves by Avid. If it can gets its story out more effectively with roadshows, and if it can divert engineering resources away from the annual artificial NAB deadline to allow for more reasonable development cycles, this could be a great move. Otherwise, it’s just window dressing.

It’s going to take more than improved communication regain momentum for Avid. The total marketing approach needs to be revisited. Pricing strategy needs to be re-examined. While Media Composer can command a premium, it’s not a $4,995 value for enough facilities to justify the price. Adding to Avid’s marketing challenges, Composer’s hobbled sibling, Xpress Pro doesn’t match up as well against Final Cut Studio in a battle of the bullet points.

The line needs to be simplified. Avid must find a way to get Media Composer in the hands of independents. One solution would be to sell Composer’s high-end features a la carte possibly lower the base price of Composer to somewhere around $1,500, sell Animatte, ScriptSync, and other specialty features separately. A full studio solution needs to be developed. Adobe’s phone should be ringing. After Effects and Encore run on both Mac OS and Windows. A little bit of metadata exchange can go a long way towards generating some buzz.

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