Tag Archives: Avid

Everything you know about media is changing dramatically

I mean it. Everything. The media and entertainment industry as we have come to know it is being disrupted, and so is this blog, more on that later. Where to start? Because I did say everything is changing.

Broadcast is dead

Until I spent time this week wandering the exhibit hall and attending talks at INTX 2016 this week, broadcast’s obituary was going to be buried a little deeper in the post. I frontload so heavily because I know how long the average reader spends here. Although I am tempted to name my posts something like “20 things are changing in the media and you won’t flippin’ believe number 19” and then present it as a slide show, I respect your time enough to make but the important stuff first.

We’ve been declaring broadcasting has been braindead for years, but now it’s time to start harvesting the organs. Sports and regional news won’t cover the bill to keep the ventilator pumping indefinitely.

The spectrum currently used by digital television would be put to better use quenching consumers’ insatiable thirst for wireless bandwidth. To that end, the FCC has allowed broadcasters to opt into the Broadcast Incentive Auction. The idea here is simple. Give up spectrum so it can be licensed to wireless providers for 5G service and make some money. As a disincentive to hoarding and holding for a higher price, the first part of the auction is a reverse auction, so it pays to get in early.

As infuriating as it might be for a taxpayer to watch broadcasters profitably sell back to the public airwaves they lobbied so hard for and swore they could not live out, you have to feel a little bit sorry for the dinosaurs now that the asteroid is in sight. I’m partial to the EU’s approach of reallocating the spectrum over 700 MHz for wireless and simply assigning new VHF channels to broadcasters, but here in the US corporations are people too, so we just can’t act in the public’s interest for the sake of the public interest. We have to think of the lobbyists.

Variety had a great explainer on the auction in March. My favorite numbers gleaned are below.

info graphic

The final act of this play will be streamed

Once the video over IP’s latency problem with live events is solved broadcast will have completely outlived its usefulness. We will have reached a point where even the Super Bowl can’t save it. Currently IP network latency delays live events up to thirty seconds. As an MLB.TV fanatic, I have to put the mobile down to enjoy a game otherwise I’ll witness the Twittersphere lighting up before I even see the batter step into the box to crush the game winning home run. For sports to remain a communal activity in the age of social media, latency has get down to about two seconds.

That date is very near. Using a combination 4G LTE bonding and some really nifty video file wrapping tricks, the Israeli startup Zixi has reached that bar with image quality that rivals today’s Xfinity and FiOS pictures. It’s just a matter of adoption. I put it at 24 months for Zixi or a rival technology to make broadcasting over the air obsolete.

The passing of traditional broadcast is interesting enough. In fact, I could stop here and call it a post except that I said everything was changing. And, dammit, everything really is.

Move over Viacom, Fox, and Disney

Amazon, Netflix, Google, Apple, Netflix, Facebook, and Microsoft all want to steal your lunch money. Wall Street believes they will, and these things become self-fulfilling prophecies in short order. They all already own or aspire to own a significant portions of the entertainment value chain. Microsoft and Facebook are longer shots but somewhat more interesting because they are not just looking at the traditional media value chain, but are approaching M&E through significant investment in gaming and VR. For them it comes down to whether VR technology will be ready for primetime soon enough. If one of them wins, just read Ready Player One to see how the story ends. Google’s gotten into VR as well, but it gets lumped it with the others due to its ownership of the world’s most successful online video platform. And how many OVPs does the world really need? Hint: The answer is not greater than two. One rare bit of investment advice from this publication… short OVPs and go long on CDNs.

It going to come down to who can afford to front the large sums of money to create tent pole content, who can store and protect it throughout its lifecycle without losing it to theft or in a theme park fire, who can monetize it effectively, and who can deliver it efficiently. That’s what will determine the winners. Amazon with Elemental and Apple with all its video expertise are positioned for an epic battle. Apple has the edge in video smarts while Amazon has the edge in distribution, pricing, and packaging smarts. How will Apple compete against free two-day shipping for underwear and great programming for $99 a year? Whatever the tech giants come up with will certainly beat a $300 a month cable bill.

Where’s Google in all this? I can’t help but feel that Google will mess it up. Media and entertainment is all about user experience. Google simply doesn’t value design and user experience enough. YouTube and Gmail are still ugly after all these years. While an email client can be ugly and a little clunky as long as it’s free and the user never loses anything, the presentation layer for the night’s entertainment should be inviting.

IaaS the big play

The real money in media then is infrastructure as a service. What Avid, Grass Valley, and the like have done in the past must now become exponentially bigger, more robust, and more open. Avid is right. The industry is crying for a platform. Unfortunately for Avid, it’s crying for a platform a mid-sized tech company doesn’t have the resources to provide. Amazon with Elemental is already closer to realizing Avid’s dream than Avid is. A lot of small players have the necessary pieces built to connect to a network, a larger company, not viewed as  a direct competitor by potential partners is better positioned to roll them up into a unified platform offering.

Simplifying it a bit, whoever can provide the storage, rights management, and monetization tools will win. Dell-EMC is extremely well positioned to contend in that space with its hardware, virtualization expertise, and storage smarts. It makes the servers and intelligent storage. It owns VMware and Virtustream, so it will be able to provision data centers like no one else. Dell-EMC should be able to take a commanding early lead repurposing hardware in real time as audience usage patterns change. Add an acquisition like Telestream or Harmonic, and we have a new media and entertainment powerhouse.

IBM is the cicada in all this. Once every few years IBM shows interest in M&E only to shift focus shortly thereafter. With the right timing, IBM could get lucky.

Over the next few years, the remaining media-specific tech companies will have to become more focused on their core competencies. Their customer bases are buying less, forcing them to compete in a race to the bottom in a shrinking pool. While all are moving as nimbly as they can to make the transition from signal-based to IP video, they are faced with R&D resource limits and the drag of legacy customers such as large state broadcasters moving more slowly to the future.  These legacy customers account for significant portions of media tech’s revenue stream and cannot be ignored until the business transformation is complete.

Acquisition and Post are about to be disrupted too

Camera evolution is the total wildcard that can change the whole production and post process dramatically. When light field cameras get high enough resolution and come down in cost, the cost of shooting will drop dramatically due to shorter set up time and the need for fewer cameras. Composition, focus, lighting, tracking and green screen will all be handled in post, much of it algorithmically. Editing becomes a smaller part of the post process with DPs, directors, and VFX taking on larger roles once shooting stops. As post production for the 2D display requires more 3D capabilities, look for the post solutions market to bifurcate with Adobe taking the lion’s share with a combination of Avid and Autodesk tools owning the extreme high end. Don’t be surprised to see Media Composer land at Autodesk, or Autodesk’s media and entertainment business go to Avid. A number of former (and extremely talented) Avid engineers are now in Autodesk’s media and entertainment development organization.

Adobe has a leg up in the light field world. These cameras have been in development for some time. Light field still image capture is already available to the market, and Adobe has tools under development to enable Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere, and After Effects to thrive in this new world.

How media is created, distributed, and consumed is all changing. No career in media will be untouched. No company will be sheltered from the disruption. Be agile. Embrace the disruption.

Everything includes this little nook in the internet

I will follow my own advice by embracing disruption and becoming more agile. It will no longer be focused exclusively on media and entertainment technology. Instead I will draw upon my experience of the past fifteen years in technology design, development, and product management. I will adjust my gaze away from LA and put more focus closer to home in the technology hotbed of Boston.

The death of big broadcast iron

gearsIABM DC releaed its 2016 Global Market Valuation and Strategy Report February 24, and the news for media technology companies was not good. Overall spending for media technology products and services was down 4.3% year over year. The report also noted that product revenues have been in decline since 2012, but this is the first year since the report shows a decline in services spending as well.

Much of the decline can be attributed to disruption from the bottom of the market. What were previously considered lower end tools, such as Adobe Premiere Pro in editing and Axle in asset management have matured a surprisingly brisk pace and have proven themselves ready for prime time.

Technology disruption also plays a part in the overall decline. As IP-video takes hold, the need for satellite links can be replaced by bonded 4G connectivity. “@Home” production of live sports is also lessening the demand for infrastructure. A sign of things to come is Boston-based NESN (MLB Red Sox and NHL Bruins) and LiveU’s announcement in December that portends the demise of the OB truck.

The network will utilize multiple cameras feeding back to NESN’s Boston-area studios via bonded cellular technology.

NESN plans to use multiple LU500 portable transmission units to pilot live “@Home Productions” on the majority of Red Sox home and road spring training Games in 2016 as part of a new innovation and business model for sports coverage. NESN and LiveU successfully developed and tested this new means of remote event coverage last spring during Red Sox Grapefruit League games in Florida and during the summer from minor league baseball AAA Red Sox games in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

If the experiments continue to show progress by the 2018 season these major market franchises might be leaving the heavy iron in the garage. Be assured, sports broadcasters throughout North America are watching this closely as they begin their own cost-cutting efforts.

There’s a case to be made that the news is not as bad as it seems for the larger media tech players such as Avid, EVS, and Belden (Grass Valley). Budget pressures are spurring consolidation of independent broadcasters. These large station groups are likely to settle on a single vendor in each product category. Though the industry is notoriously conservative, all it takes is one disruptor to win a deal to get everybody looking at the new, more cost effective solution. Over the past year there has been a perceptible uptick interest in connecting the Adobe Creative Cloud tools to existing shared storage and asset management infrastructure.

Adobe Creative Cloud Market Size 2018 (projected)

Adobe’s estimated Creative Cloud 2018 revenue projections by segment ©2015 Adobe

Though it’s difficult to extrapolate media technology spend from Adobe’s reported growth in enterprise term licenses, Adobe has pinned much of the growth in Creative Cloud adoption of enterprise term license agreements (ETLAs). These licenses typically have a 36 month term with each customer, giving competitors a very small window once every three years to make a play to convert the enterprise to its solution. Adobe is projecting success in the enterprise, projecting $3.8 billion in recurring revenue from Creative Cloud for teams and enterprise by 2018.

Adobe has been well-rewarded for its brave decision to migrate all Creative Cloud customers to a subscription model, but it will run into some headwinds among some of the large station groups. As one station group executive told me, “Everyone thinks we’re eager to jump to OPEX from CAPEX with our technology spend, but that’s not true. We’re focused on keeping OPEX down.” In a consolidating industry, acquisitions are funded by stock transfers. Share price is tied to operating margins, hence the desire to keep OPEX down. Offering a choice between SaaS and perpetual license models, Avid should be able to maintain its current position, and perhaps grow it, in the station group segment.

Consolidation won’t last forever. There are a finite number of independent broadcast stations remaining ripe for purchase, and nobody is launching new ones. What we’re seeing is similar to the consolidation of newspapers during the 1990s in the early years of this century. As customer bases shrink and profits sink, cost cutting through consolidation takes hold throughout a market segment. No one was buying up newspapers for the long haul.

There is one significant difference between broadcasters and their newspaper cousins that makes a broadcast station a better long term investment. Spectrum, a finite resource. Its value will increase over time. Broadcasters aren’t in the broadcast business as much as they are in the spectrum investment business.

The place to be in media technology these days is IP-based video cloud-based SaaS offerings that multi-platform and OTT delivery. The days of big iron in broadcast, like the days of big iron in post are over.

Creativity and execution

I’ve had the honor of working with some of the most brilliant people on the planet across several industries, and have often marveled they they are not the most successful.

“People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit.”

George Allen,  NFL Coach

Tenacity. Give me a half-baked idea that gets to market over the perfect idea stuck on a whiteboard.

“A little less conversation, a little more action.”

Elvis Presley

It really is possible to talk an idea to death. In business school they place a huge emphasis on business plans. Business plans serve a singular purpose. They validate ideas, but not through addressable market analysis and discounted cash flows. If you’re still passionate about your idea after all that analysis, odds are it’s a pretty good idea.

Every book on entrepreneurship tells the reader the business plan is a living document. Yeah, it lives in some folder on some hard disk. The most action it sees is getting scanned for viruses once a month.

Making the magic happen

After almost three years working among some of the best product managers, designers, and engineers at Avid, I’ve learned that great ideas will always come. We joke that if you build a company around a bunch of rock musicians and filmmakers cool shit is bound to happen. But the fact is that emphasis on execution is the path to success. Creative people instinctively hate process, but a healthy dose of process can be liberating. Media Composer 5.x and Pro Tools 9 were conceived from brilliant ideas, but they were born on ruthless execution.

Every effective team in any company has its own tricks. Here are a few I’ve seen work over the years.

Write it down

Creative people are easily distracted. The trick is to manage the distractions, and the best way to do that is to record everything. That stray thought, although profoundly brilliant, will hang around much longer if you’re afraid of losing it. Jot it down. Record a voice memo. Anything. What’s important is that you find a tool you enjoy using. Most productivity gurus recommend having one, single repository. That’s never worked for me. I use paper notebooks (with numbered pages), Livescribe notebooks, online notebooks, Post-its, photo albums on my phone, and good, old file folders. My index for this system lives online in an Evernote notebook.

Though it sounds like I use a confusing jumble of tools, it’s really a simple system.

  • Old fashioned computation notebook: I use the numbered graph paper pages for sketching. I often staple magazine clippings, Post-It notes, and other paper items to the pages. (I don’t use Livescribe notebooks this way simply because the electronically archivable dot paper notebooks are so damn expensive.)
  • Livescribe notebook: I use these mostly for meeting notes. The smart pens have built-in audio recorders, so that as I fall behind in my note taking I can start recording. The ability to electronically search hand-written notes in invaluable.
  • Blackberry: The camera records whiteboards, clever billboards, store displays, movie posters, and book covers. Anything I need to be reminded of. At the end of every week or so, I take what I want to keep and upload it to Evernote or Flickr.
  • Evernote: Once an idea gains some traction its detritus is gathered into a single entry in the online notebook. Every few days I catalog all the stuff I’ve recorded that’s worth keeping in Evernote. I just add a note on a topic and index where all the physical and electronic clippings live. Evernote’s super fast at searching hundreds of pages of notes. (It’s worth mentioning here that Springpad is another online notebook I use frequently. I find it stores personal data like restaurants, movies, etc. better than Evernote.)

As confusing and cluttered as this hodgepodge of recording methods sounds, it’s remarkably simple. And it’s visual, so it can be very inspiring.

Have a framework for action

Personal productivity methodologies like GTD (Getting Things Done) and Action Method are more like cults than tools, but if you take the parts of them you like and ignore the stuff that just feels too OCD-ish, they can be effective. OK, I admit I’m a recovering GTD addict. Action Method is now my tool of choice — simply because it looks like Greenhopper’s Jira, the tool we use to track Agile/Scrum development at Avid. At the end of the day it’s an online to-do list that cost $99/year unless you can persuade a fair number of colleagues to use its collaboration features. Most people will do just as well with the free, but visually ugly Voo2do.

Set aside playtime

My mid-afternoon lulls are the stuff of legend. I crash like no one else I know. So I set aside the time from about 2:00 to 3:30 as creative exploration time. I’m not going to get anything productive done in that time, so I find a way to put it to use. That includes those oft-forbidden office activities such as scanning Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Once I was caught perusing Monster. I was trying to figure out what other companies in our space were working on by checking out what positions they were filling in the down economy, but I’m not sure my colleague believed that at the time.

Have a sacred creative space (or two)

Ideally your special place is at the office, but as Jason Fried of 37 Signals noted in his TED talk Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work, that’s rarely the case. Go ahead, use your first dedicated playtime to watch Fried’s talk.

My sacred creative space is my home office. It’s in the corner of the basement – away from the madding crowd. It’s got a great view of the conservation land behind my house for me to stare out at and ponder great things. But what’s really special is that I’ve set up two workspaces in it – one for the left brain, and one for the right.

The left-brained desk has my PC laptop and an iMac with all the expected office software. The desk phone and mobile phone are kept there. It’s where I take Skype and iChat meetings, and where I make conference calls. The right-brained desk and rack contains all my audio and video gear for Media Composer and Pro Tools. It’s where I edit my digital photos, and where I build my experimental little apps. It’s where I try out competitors’ products, and play meaningless games. Nothing to be done under deadline is taken on at that desk. It’s play space.

It’s amazing how my attitude, my posture, and my frame of mind change depending on the chair I occupy.  When in the work chair, it’s all about execution. When the going gets tough, I use the other chair as a carrot.

Work where you can get stuff done

Unfortunately most offices are not conducive to creativity. Has anyone ever had a good idea in an hour meeting with more more than a few people in the room? Work at home. Work at Starbucks. Work in the cafeteria. Just get away from Outlook.

Good luck. Please feel free to add comments about what works for you.


Avid Agility is released

Avid Agility bookVery rarely is the reincarnation of a classic pulled off successfully, but Steve Cohen’s done it with Avid Agility: Working Faster and More Intuitively with Avid Media Composer. To a generation of Media Composer editors, his Tips and Techniques manual got us up to professional speed with what was at the time a revolutionary piece of software. I don’t remember when I got mine. All I remember is sending a check and receiving a photocopied and bound text. Any specific tip, technique, or console command escapes me now — it was at least a dozen years since I read it, but the memory of it changing my approach to non-linear editing is fresh.

In keeping with tradition, Avid Agility is self-published, and it’s a good thing. Free of editorial constraints Steve is able to focus on what he finds important rather than having to write for the broadest possible audience. This book is aimed at those editors who want to use the tool to improve their craft. It’s not a technical reference manual covering I/O, codecs, etc. It’s all about how to use Media Composer to its fullest in pursuit of better storytelling.

Avid Agility is the first book I know of that goes into depth covering the new features of Media Composer 5 — the Smart Tool, Advanced Key Frames, etc. It’s an easy read, logically laid out, and useful to novice and experienced editor alike. Steve’s made several pages and the table of contents available on his site. I highly recommend this book.

Wooden pencils and NLEs

Think of commodities and hardly anything fits the bill better than the wooden pencil. It hasn’t changed in years. It’s difficult to imagine anyone making a purchasing decision on anything but price. Now try to imagine being the product designer at a wooden pencil company. On the worst day, virtually any job on the planet from toll taker to undertaker is light years more interesting.

Perhaps not.

In last week’s Economist, the Future of the Pencil outlined how Faber-Castell stays atop of the wooden pencil market. From non-toxic paint pledges during the age Chinese manufacturing lead scares to adding little rubber dots to help school kids get a grip, the eight-generation family-owned business continues to innovate — and maintain some pricing power where you’d least expect it.

I’m just as uninterested in wooden pencil market dynamics as the next guy, but the lesson any designer or creative professional should take from all this is that there’s room for innovation and creativity in nearly every endeavor. Two and a half years ago a lot of people were saying the non-linear editor was done. It was complete, a commodity. Cash cow it and innovate elsewhere was the common wisdom. Like the designers at Faber-Castell, the newly hired leadership team at Avid thought differently, and if not for that I’d have a pretty boring gig. Whether it’s editing directly from XDCAM media or editing on the cloud, the NLE market remains vibrant. And I remain gainfully employed.

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