Who is the Customer?

I don’t know about you but I’m starting to wonder if I’m Avid’s customer anymore. It’s not that I don’t use their products. I do. A lot. But the more I look at Avid’s corporate communications, and what they introduced at NAB, the more I wonder whether they see me that way. If this sounds awfully basic, it is.

Most of the action at Avid in recent years has been on big iron: Unity, Isis, Interplay. On the Media Composer side the only new feature shown this year was ScriptSync. Otherwise, what we got were plumbing improvements — the ability to run DNX 36, for example — and platform changes — porting the Media Composer to Mac Intel. Those things are important, all right, and they’ve helped keep the Media Composer competitive. But they don’t inspire editors. We saw no changes to our aging mixing or title tools, no improvements to the timeline, no changes to the editing feature set at all.

Avid’s tagline used to be “Tools for Storytellers.” Then, as Oliver Peters points out on Avid-L2, it went to “Make, Manage, Move Media.” That says it all.

Avid is playing to their base — to the people who write the big checks. But as I see it, Avid cannot succeed as a general purpose media company if it doesn’t have a best-of-breed editing application at the core of its business, an application that inspires editors and empowers them to do their most creative work.

Do we really think that big producers will force their editors to use Media Composers when the editors tell them they can be more creative and productive with Final Cut or Premiere? Do we really think, long term, that those big customers are going to continue to buy Avid networking and asset management systems when all their workstations are running the other guy’s programs? It just doesn’t make sense.

Avid has a tremendous amount of engineering talent under its collective roof, but it has had a lot of trouble bringing that talent together. DS has some great features (many of which ended up in FCP), Pro Tools has some great features, Media Composer has some great features. Avid just doesn’t seem able to bring all that functionality together in one product.

But they’re going to have to do something. For the moment, they still have the lead: trim mode, matchframe, track patching, syncing dailies, media management — all work far better in Media Composer. And the incremental improvements they’ve made lately have been helpful. But FCP has Sound Track, DVD Studio, Compressor and now, Color. It has a very nice segment mode and the ability to search across bins, and it costs less.

It’s time for Avid to show us what it can do. The company used to be in the business of inspiring editors. It needs to start doing that again.

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6 Comments on “Who is the Customer?”

  1. Mark Raudonis Says:

    Wow. What a change in tone from your first posting here on your blog: “Avid vs Final Cut”. In that posting you sounded optimistic… even fiesty about Avid’s position as the dominant NLE. Now, you’re essentially conceding the race.

    This NAB was the tipping point where even the greatest skeptics had to notice, “Hmmmm. Something’s happening over there”. Reading the “L2” one can hear the groundswell of voices appealing to AVID to “wake up”. Me thinks it may be too late.


  2. Acmade Says:

    I have been an Avid user for many, many years, but I am painfully aware that I am NOT an Avid customer. Most of the things you mention as Avid advantages — trim mode, matchframe, track patching, etc — don’t even register on the radar of the average NLE customer. Apple’s success shows that these features are not that important anymore.

    This is my main concern as I move more and more of my work onto FCP — the fundamentals are so easily overlooked as technology marches on. As an example, look at playback performance, one of the most basic aspects of an editing system. The old Lightworks machines were designed to play, shuttle and scrub video and audio with maximum responsiveness and as close to an analogue feel as possible.

    The Avid was a definite step back in this regard. Suddenly you couldn’t scrub several audio tracks at once. Networked storage introduced unacceptable lag in playback controls. But somehow we got used to it, because Avid offered a lot of advantages over Lightworks.

    Now look at FCP. I can’t even get acceptable audio when shuttling at double speed. But I still went out and bought FCP Studio, because it offered a lot of advantages over Avid.

    I believe that not only has development of these fundamental features stagnated, but that we will have to learn to live without many of them as we move onto new, commodified editing systems. They will be sorely missed by a handful of people, but most will not care.

  3. Steve Says:

    Mark — I haven’t given up on Avid, just as I didn’t give up on Apple in the mid-90s, when a lot of people thought they were going to croak. What I’m trying to do is look at the structural issues that are keeping the company from being more competitive. The day Avid loses the NLE race is the day we all lose. It is competition that is improving our applications.

    Acmade — you make very good points. Some of our priorities have certainly changed. But “play latency,” which is what I used to call the time it takes for the system to start playing, hasn’t changed all that much in my experience. There’s a little window of time that you will accept. After that it’s too slow, probably by anyone’s standards.

    Avid, partly because the Media Composer was so flexible, used to speak to the majority of editors. But, as the tools have been democratized, the community has expanded and changed.

    The question is, which company offers the most compelling vision — which allows me to be most creative. Inspire and empower. Those are the operative words.

  4. Martin Baker Says:

    IMHO from this NAB onwards, Apple’s competitor is no longer Avid, it is Adobe. Avid do not have a competitive offering to Final Cut Studio 2 so they’ve ceased to become a competitor.

    Here’s a real world example – all the indications are that the BBC have dumped Avid for Adobe as the PC option for their “creative desktop” initiative. FCS continues as the Mac option.

    What really surprises me is the continuing loyalty that I see from some Avid editors when the company has shown little to zero loyalty towards their customers. The time for Avid to make changes and step up to the plate was 5 or so years ago and they failed to do that. In 2007, to start thinking about that is waaayyyy too late. Once customers move to alternative editing systems, Avid are not going to be able to get them back.

  5. KGB Says:

    Corporate arrogance.

    If you [simply] make it, they will [therefore] buy.

    Too bad.

  6. Brad Says:

    I may be joining the discussion a little late, but Avid’s position on Media Composer seems to be that it’s already perfect. Avid seems blissfully unaware of any improvements that they can make. So now the only improvements to be made are to the back end of things, like new HD compression, and media management tools.

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