Archive for the ‘Consumer Editing’ category

Customer Support – Not!

May 29, 2011

I recently spent some quality time on the phone with Microsoft customer support in the far east. I’ve used Microsoft mice for years, but I needed to temporarily uninstall their mouse driver. I ended up speaking to five people including a supervisor and the supervisor’s supervisor. None had any Macintosh experience. There is apparently no such thing as Microsoft Mouse/Keyboard support for Mac. After two callbacks, the supervisor’s supervisor finally informed me that the uninstaller exists in the my Utilities folder. It doesn’t have the same name as the mouse driver, but there it is. Time wasted — two hours.

I’ve had similar experiences with Adobe tech support for its publishing program, In Design, where it often seems that all problems can be solved by reinstalling the application or trashing your preferences. If that doesn’t work, then the bug you found is actually a feature.

We’ve all had these experiences. And painful as they are, they are one thing when they relate to your phone bill, and another when they’re about a piece of software you depend on to make a living.

Two weeks ago Avid took over the AlphaDogs Editors Lounge event with a series of simultaneous, small-group meetings where customers could get up close and personal with key Avid personnel. CEO Gary Greenfield was on hand, along with the principle Media Composer product managers and engineers. Anybody present could pose questions to the key decision makers at Avid and get honest answers.

Contrast that to Randy Ubillos’ impressive Final Cut X demo at the NAB Supermeet. He showed off lots of intriguing technology, and the crowd cheered. But no questions were permitted.

Avid and Apple are playing to their strengths. Apple is once again democratizing the market, making it possible for more and more people to edit, and hoping for customers numbered in the millions. Avid is building on its deep roots in the professional community and keeping those relationships as close and current as possible.

I’m glad both companies exist. They’re doing different things and both are important. But when it comes to customer support, I’ll take the up close and personal kind, any day.


Avid’s Consumer Strategy

November 18, 2007

Nancy Hawthorne, Avid’s new interim CEO, spoke to stock analysts at the JP Morgan Small/Mid Cap Conference in Boston a couple of weeks ago and said some interesting and important things. The company “did not integrate the several acquisitions that we did particularly well, and as a result, we have kind of a mishmash of different systems, and the company has not been positioned strategically to operate as a seamless entity in presenting a lineup of products to the marketplace.”

That’s certainly true and it’s great to hear a high-level Avid executive say so. She also talked about the company’s new focus on product quality, again a very positive thing.

She stressed the company’s expertise with big enterprise customers, and, regarding the Pinnacle division, commented, “we do need to understand what role the lower-end technology plays in our lineup. Is it strategically critical to us, or is it not?”

A week later Apple dropped the price of Final Cut Express from $300 to $200, added a mixed HD/SD timeline, and improved compatibility with iMovie.

All of which begs a key question: can Avid make a business at the top of the professional market and avoid direct competition with Apple, or is there really only one, increasingly democratized market that everybody is part of, one way or another? To put it another way, can you envision a future where young people use iMovie and FC Express and then come to Hollywood and switch to Media Composer?

Maybe — but for that to work, Avid would have to be innovating like mad in the professional world, with a product that was clearly and unambiguously superior. If FCP and MC are even roughly competitive, then it seems to me that you have to go after mindshare — which means you gotta get ’em young. Apple hasn’t won this game yet — iMovie ’08 got a decidedly mixed reception when it was introduced, and there’s a huge paradigm shift between iMovie and Final Cut. Avid, coming later to the party, could build something more consistent and scalable.

But either way, whether Avid wants to go after the whole shebang or just the professional market, they’ve gotta get busy with the software, making it sing for the people who use it, namely editors.

My intuition is that there’s only one game in town. Focusing on the pro market can only succeed as a temporary strategy. In the end, you’ve gotta duke it out at all levels. Otherwise the pressure from below will kill you.

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Installation the Old Fashioned Way

October 31, 2007

Why is Media Composer installation so antiquated? The whole thing feels so 1995 to me that I have to wonder what newbies, who are comparing MC with FCP, will think.

In the old days, MC was installed by a priesthood — technicians whose job it was to get our systems working. Today, MC will increasingly be used and maintained by editors — people who don’t want to read a manual just to get the thing running. If Avid wants to compete in this new world it has to win the hearts and minds of editors at the first exposure, and that’s during installation.

Here are some of the problems:

  • No automatic software update. MC is the only piece of software I use that doesn’t go out on the net and check for new versions. You have to go to the Avid site yourself and hunt around till you find it.
  • Uninstall before installing. Want an update? You’ll have to uninstall the old version first. And worse, you have to find and use a separate application to do it. The least Avid could do is let the installer take care of this.
  • Need to register. Seems like dongle copy protection ought to be enough, but if you want an upgrade you have to register, as well.
  • Lots of extra installers. In addition to Media Composer, the disk includes way too many additional installers. What are they for? Some should be included as options in the main installer, others are just trial versions. How does the newbie sort this out?
  • And then there’s the readme. Sixty four endless pages long. Clearly designed for the priesthood, with 20 pages of known bugs. Yes, I appreciate Avid’s candor, but for a newbie, it’s got to be pretty intimidating.

I could go on, but you get the point. If Avid wants average editors to buy and maintain their own software, they’ve got to start looking at the system through their eyes. And that means simplifying and modernizing the installation process. It should be one-button simple — for the initial installation and for upgrades, too.

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How Many Editing Markets Are There?

September 20, 2007

In the early ’90s, Avid triumphed against all competitors and democratized the editing world in the first non-linear revolution. But it didn’t do nearly as well in the second revolution that began around 2000. Apple saw that software-only systems were going to become increasingly powerful, so they cut prices and offered a swiss-army-knife product that undercut Avid’s business model. And they sold systems to people Avid didn’t even know were potential customers.

Meanwhile, Avid focused on the high end, aiming its new products at large installations with hundreds of systems. Today, Final Cut easily beats MC on market share, and looks like the rebel’s choice. But it just hasn’t caught on in Hollywood, and nearly everybody who has tried it has either come back to Media Composer or has made their peace with a product that they acknowledge as at least partially inferior. Yes, you can get the job done, and yes it’s cheaper (especially for HD) but no, for longform work, it ain’t better. And Avid’s technical support and training apparatus, warts and all, is head and shoulders above Apple’s.

The question now, is where Avid goes next. They can and should build on their deep connections with high-end editors. They’ve done way too little for creative editing over the last decade and by presenting Apple with a static target they’ve given them a huge opening. That has to be fixed.

They’ve also got to cement their strategy for their high-end corporate customers. I haven’t used Interplay but I’ve seen it demonstrated several times, and it seems awfully “version 1” to me.

But what about the rest of the editing world, the folks Apple has been cultivating? If you like, you can divide that world into two parts: consumers and, for want of a better word, independents. Avid has not been able to articulate a compelling vision for either of these groups. For consumers, Avid chose to buy their way to market share with Pinnacle Studio. For independents, they’ve been promoting Xpress Pro with only partial success.

Does Avid need these customers? Or should they just let them go and focus on the high end? My view is that the editing world is becoming more and more unitary and interdependent. I don’t think Avid will succeed selling Interplay to facilities doing offline with Final Cut, and independents won’t want to learn a new interface if they come to Hollywood. Consumers who want to graduate to something more capable will want to stay with the same brand and interface conventions they started with.

Avid needs to articulate a vision that speaks to all these markets. The product line that wins scales naturally with different buying segments, keeps prices low, and, critically important, inspires all customers to be as creative as possible. With its many acquisitions, Avid now has the pieces in place to envision that product line, but it has to actually build it — reinventing many of the applications, making the interface consistent and ensuring that projects and media can easily be moved up the price ladder. It has to start working as one company, focused on one vision for the future of editing — for everybody.

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Throw Out the Old

August 27, 2007

The debate over iMovie ’08 continues — with many people expressing disappointment over the loss of timeline, visual effects and sound functions. I haven’t used it and I’m not sure if I ever will. But I love the idea of it. Why? Three reasons:

First, it embodies a clear and uncompromising point of view about what the “end user” really wants. And it fearlessly throws away old ideas to get there.

Second, it comes from the mind of one person. According to Apple, it was initially developed by one engineer, who, frustrated with current tools, including iMovie, created something else, at first just for himself. Groups rarely design great software. People do.

Third, it includes new user interface elements (skimming) that increase human/machine bandwidth. You feel a connection to the software because it does a better job of connecting to your nervous system. Think of the mouse, the iPod’s scroll wheel, or the iPhone’s multi-touch screen. They all connect you to the machine much more closely than what came before. You have a greater sense of control, and you enjoy using the machine more.

Frankly, I’m also unmoved by all this nostalgia for the old iMovie. The notion that it allowed for precise editing is silly. It was impossible to trim a cut carefully or do all kinds of things professionals expect. And it was slow. The idea that there wasn’t a better way was never credible to me.

Finally, the new iMovie is designed to shine in all-digital work environments, which frankly, is where the consumer (and everybody else) is going, sooner rather than later. I’d be very surprised if any home user is shooting on tape five years from now.

Apple now has a new platform. And they’ll add all kinds of features as time goes by. Creative destruction is what new things are made of.

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iMovie as a Gateway Drug

August 19, 2007

The new iMovie seems to represent a different paradigm for consumer editing — faster, less precise, designed for a tapeless workflow. It was discussed in some depth on last week’s MacBreak Weekly podcast and the consensus there was that it might be very useful for quickly throwing together a super-rough cut. It has one very important secret weapon: “Export to Final Cut Pro.” If you’re missing something, and iMovie ’08 is missing a lot of things, then you get yourself Final Cut Express or Final Cut Studio and move your project straight into it, courtesy of XML and Quicktime.

The program seems to be extremely easy to learn. It doesn’t offer a lot of options — it just does the right thing. For example, if it sees a mounted digital video source it just starts importing video from it, no questions asked. We may see producers or directors creating rough “idea” cuts in iMovie, and then handing the thing off to real editors who can make it work. (But there are problems, too. Scott Simmons has posted some interesting observations on his site.)

Rhetorical question: Is there an upgrade path from Pinnacle Studio to Media Composer? I don’t know for sure, but I’d have to wager that the answer is no. You can move a project from Studio to Pinnacle’s Liquid line. But that just begs the question. Doesn’t Avid want to see young editors moving all the way up to Media Composer?

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