Amen Corner: The Three As
Posted Jan 8, 2008

In the world of postproduction and motion graphics, which affect many of this column’s readers in their day jobs as event videographers as well as in their work at their local houses of worship, there are three major players: Adobe, Apple, and Avid. Adobe, of course, is famous for Photoshop, Flash, Illustrator, Premiere Pro, and After Effects. Apple, the newest player in the field, after it acquired Final Cut from Macromedia, has continued to push the envelope with Final Cut Studio. And as for Avid, the company has long dominated the high-end nonlinear editing market, and it has thrown its hat into the prosumer and consumer ring since acquiring Pinnacle Systems and its Liquid and Studio lines.

As we move into the new year, though, some very interesting things are happening, which will create both uncertainty and opportunity in the world of postproduction.

The biggest news, which was announced in mid-November 2007, was that Avid was pulling out of its annual massive display at the 2008 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show. The mid-2007 departure of long-time CEO David Krall, who had come to Avid with the company’s acquisition of Digidesign and had instilled in the company a much-needed dose of levity that Digidesign was famous for but Avid sorely lacked, set the company adrift again. Recurring complaints, eerily similar to the same customer complaints of an arrogant and listless company in the pre-Krall era, re-emerged in late 2007, but they had roots in NAB 2006 when Final Cut Studio surged and Avid’s response was to ignore or belittle the competition.

Whatever the reason, Avid’s November announcement that it would forego exhibiting at NAB, along with its announcement that it wouldn’t reveal any other strategic plans until February 2008, make the company look like it’s scrambling to return to the halcyon days of innovative, market-leading product announcements and strategies.

"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 Greater Boston-based video division. "We are always evaluating the most effective ways to build closer relationships with our customers and keep pace with the ever-changing media market."

On the other side of the country in Silicon Valley, just down the road from Apple, the departure of Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen also surprised quite a few industry watchers. Chizen leaves at a point when his company is doing quite well; he has said publicly that his departure had been planned for at least 6 months. But the company is also at a critical juncture, as it moves into service areas that some of its customers may feel are in direct competition with them.

During a pre-CS3-release training seminar at Adobe in mid-2007 and then again at October’s Adobe MAX 2007, Adobe provided hints about the new course it hopes its partners and customers will follow. It showed off Adobe Media Player (AMP), which is due to be released in early 2008. While the player itself allows multiple ways to access content (on-demand, live streaming, and offline viewing), the service model that Adobe will use to engage its content delivery network (CDN) customers still has some unanswered questions about privacy and viewing aggregation that could torpedo the project.

The company is also focused on bringing its tools to the web with Premiere and Photoshop nearing limited online versions. Flash has been integrated into Acrobat to streamline the content review process, and H.264 and AAC have been added to meet the needs of customers like the BBC, which will use the codecs to stream via either Adobe’s in-house CDN or a partner CDN. Meanwhile, Adobe’s Serious Magic acquisition has yielded positive results in this space with the Visual Communicator 3 release.

Another initiative, the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) is set to bring web-based products to the desktop. With all these balls in the air at the very time that the CEO is leaving, the company needs to be careful to maintain its momentum.

Speaking of momentum, the beginning of 2008 finds Apple, with its Final Cut Studio 2 and subsequent late 2007 release of Final Cut Express at a slashed price of $199 (the latter including support for the AVCHD H.264 tapeless format), in top form. Apple, at least for the last 2 years, has seemed to be the continually successful company of the trio.

Yet, even though Apple has made a successful transition to Intel processors, and the computer hardware can now run Windows and the new Mac OS X Leopard with equal ease, the company’s Achilles heel has always been the question of the long-term viability of its closed architecture and—indirectly—the longevity of its charismatic leader. For now, though, Apple will continue strongly, with additional features and enhancements to its products appearing regularly.

So, there you have it: the three A’s that may affect the beginning—and ongoing—innovation and product landscape for the new year’s postproduction world. Feel free to send your thoughts on the topic, as well as other topics you’d like to hear about in future editions of The Amen Corner.

Tim Siglin, co-founder of Transitions, Inc., is a contributing editor to EventDV and Streaming Media. He has 18 years of film and video experience and heads a digital media business consultancy in Kingsport, Tenn.