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Re: AVID Presentation Thurs at KeyCode - the natives were restless.

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Tim Wilson
Re: AVID Presentation Thurs at KeyCode - the natives were restless.
on Oct 16, 2017 at 4:42:50 am

[Scott Thomas] "Wasn't Avid's reaction to FCP, to buy Pinnacle to kill their hardware IO for FCP?
"


Absolutely not. I was not only at Avid at the time, I was the Senior Product Marketing Manager responsible for Avid Xpress Pro, Avid Xpress Studio, Avid Liquid, and eventually the software-only version of Media Composer (internally affectionately known as MC Soft) in this very span. While some of the final shoes dropped after I left Avid to come to the COW in 2006 (eg, the end of Liquid in 2010 -- although they provided phone support through 2012), the dynamics were all in place while I was there.

And while the actual decisions about all this were being made over my head, I was in meetings where the decisions were discussed, and I was the one tasked with implementing them in this part of the market. So yeah, this is all my opinion, but it's a view from from very close to the stage.

The first thing to note about Cinewave is that there are posts in the COW going back to 2002 lamenting that Pinnacle had given up development on Cinewave. There was some excitement when there was on OS-compatibility update in 2004, but no new features in ages. Pinnacle had long since moved on. When Avid acquired Pinnacle in 2005, there were zero Cinewaves in stock, zero on the production schedule, nobody left on the team -- so when Avid took it off the books, it really was strictly a bookkeeping exercise.

Indeed, Carl Calabria, aka The Father of Cinewave, had come to Avid as the VP of Hardware Engineering in 2003, long before the Pinnacle acquisition. (Not long after the acquisition, he became the overall VP of Engineering.) His arriveal at Avid in 2003 may have been the last straw in Cinewave's demise under Pinnacle's aegis, but again, customers had already been talking about the lack of development of Cinewave before then.

With the 2005 acquisition, everybody who was still at Pinnacle was invited to stay on, to keep doing what they were doing. The object was to grow that business, and the revenue that came along with it, by adding additional resources -- including in post, dramatically expanding the footprint of Pinnacle's channel by adding it to Avid's channel.

The real driver behind the acquisition, though, was Avid Broadcast. Broadcast sales is necessarily a consultative process, because nobody on the planet sells 100% of the gear. Other brands are ALWAYS on the ticket (for anything from switchers to satellite uplinks to cables -- nobody makes it all) -- and in 2004-ish, the two things being written on many of Avid Broadcast's tickets were very specific products that Avid didn't have: playout servers and character generation systems (including the database-driven tech behind them, and the 3D tech that often extended to virtual sets). Frequently, those from Pinnacle were winding up as part of the deals.

There are a ton of other little doo-dads in there that Pinnacle made that Avid didn't (post folks have no idea how byzantine broadcast installations can be -- often scores of products, with blueprints and charts galore to track them), so rather than give the money to Pinnacle for products being developed to Pinnacle's agenda, it became attractive to acquire the company, integrate its products and technologies, and drive the development of key product lines that were part of every sale anyway, so let's make sure it all keeps working to our advantage.

Other drivers of the deal were the facts that Pinnacle was struggling on a number of fronts, and Avid's stock was skyrocketing. The deal was struck on March 18 2005, when Avid stock was at $62.95 -- Pinnacle was gonna wind up with about 15% of Avid's outstanding shares, a huge premium over Pinnacle's own stock at $4.97.

Worth noting: Apple's stock at the same time: $5.80. Not a typo. Less than a tenth of Avid's price.

It was also already clear that Apple's needle was starting to move because of iPods, not computers or NLE software. (You can see laments about this in the COW forums going back to 2003.) There's NOTHING that Apple was doing that Avid was chasing, imo. This wasn't how we were talking about it AT ALL.

Please note again, the Pinnacle deal was being driven by Avid Broadcast, where Apple had no play to speak of. And Avid wasn't chasing anybody there either. They had by far the largest market share for the burgeoning newsroom digital conversion space -- not quite at the 90%+ level of feature production, but not far behind iirc. (Speaking strictly of numbers at the time -- I don't know Avid's newsroom market share is these days, but they have a much wider product portfolio. I wouldn't be surprised if they've actually grown their share since what it was then, as they have in feature and episodic editing).

The acquisition was a chance to immediately grow from a $700 million company to a billion dollar a year company -- yes, small in Apple terms (still "only" $13.95 billion in 2005), but Avid wasn't chasing Apple, and Apple wasn't making a billion dollars a year from broadcast, professional audio, networked video post, storage, et al. Avid had its own agenda, and it was to be a bigger, better Avid.

We can debate the wisdom of that plan, but I'd certainly argue that Avid's downturn starting in 2007 had nothing to do with FCP, either (indeed, Avid's revenue doubled between 2005 and 2007), but rather Avid's own inability to execute on what was apparently overreach in the short run. That they successfully focused their business in the right direction in the longer run (again imo, but I think that this is hardly controversial among their customers; quite the contrary in fact) but have a stock price still in the doldrums is why I continue to hope that they go private (a strategy that helped Quantel/Snell, Dell, and a bunch of other companies who don't rhyme with each other). But that's another story.

Not that Avid was ignoring post in general, or with Pinnacle deal in particular in 2005. Avid acquired Medea in the same timeframe, M-Audio for studio monitoring, etc., had done some aggressive partnership and bundling deals on the software side to go with acquisitions particularly in audio, and with Pinnacle saw an opportunity to expand into the event market, where Xpress Pro was frankly the wrong product. Much too Media Composer-like. LOL NOT that Avid felt a need to compete with FCP on this front using Liquid, since you can't use a Windows-only product to compete with a Mac-only product, and Avid's Mac product line wasn't clicking with the mass market in low-to-mid-post, nor was it intended to.

(Not that it wasn't doing just fine where it WAS intended to, mind you, but I think that FCP folks have long misunderstood the basic outline of what Avid was and wasn't trying to accomplish vis a vis the mass market, eg, not as much as you'd think. They specialize in products for specialists, whereas entire vectors of the debates here hinge on the extent to which Apple targets specialists, or is content with servicing them opportunistically.)

Hence Liquid was an opportunity to not have to leave all the money on the table in a substantial market. The push coming from anyone was from Adobe...but again, this wasn't something that Avid was targeting per se. Liquid was compelling technology to reach a market where Avid had no play...but it was by no means easy money. Adobe had gotten a huge burst of energy from the Macromedia acquisition announced the month after Avid's Pinnacle deal (THE news of NAB 2005), and they made very plain that they were out to run the table in every part of post, not just the event market.

(I should probably note again that this is my opinion, and I'm positive that some other folks who were there at the time would see it differently -- but this was the set of priorities as I understood them then, and the plan that I was executing on a daily basis. And we've certainly seen nothing from Adobe to suggest that they're content having only a few corners of the market to play in! They want it all, and then some.)

Further downmarket, Pinnacle Studio was doing INSANE money selling in $99 boxes in Circuit City. I don't think Avid ever split out the numbers publicly, so I won't do that here -- but you probably wouldn't believe me anyway. LOL It was serious money. Again, not that Avid was trying to compete with iMovie -- you can't compete with a free Mac-only product with a $99 Windows-only product -- but same story. All of the team was kept on, to keep doing what they were doing, now with additional resources, in order to help pay for the overall deal.

I didn't have anything to do with that end of things, but I invested massive effort into developing the Liquid user community, dealer channel support, etc. These were passionate folks, who believed deeply in Liquid tech, which we were also very impressed by. Ironically enough, the newest version of Liquid was very FCPX-like: one window, insanely nimble, with a lot of extra power (albeit presented modally) that neither FCPX nor anyone has really attempted at the same degree -- outstanding CG (DIRECTLY tied to the broadcast engine of Deko that was one of the core drivers of the whole thing), a terrific integrated DVD authoring interface (the best I'd seen), and the best multi-format support on the market -- including uncompressed.

(Also unlike FCPX: there was a button you could push to get the old interface back if you wanted it, simply sacrificing the power and ease of use of the new version...but hey, it was freshly updated and fully supported, even if feature neutral vis a vis the old version.)

It happens that Liquid (with the Blue hardware configuration) was the only Avid product that supported uncompressed video at the time. Avid DNxHD had been rolled out the year before (with the technologically indistinguishable ProRes to come 3 years later), and 2K files were starting to come in at the higher end, but uncompressed was a nice box to check off. At NAB 2005 just weeks later, one of the featured stages in the booth was Liquid running uncompressed on newly-acquired Medea storage!

My larger point is that uncompressed wasn't a priority for Avid in 2005, but it was nice to now have something to offer a customer for whom uncompressed was an immediate need. And that was the point of keeping Liquid around -- to extend to adjacent markets for whom Media Composer was not an option for reasons that included missing feature sets and non-targeted use cases. Nobody using Liquid had seriously looked at Media Composer for a single second, and vice versa.

Hence the idea that buying it to kill is every bit as nonsensical as anything about the purchase chasing FCP. I was there. It didn't happen that way.

The ultimately (if definitely not immediately) disposable product was Avid Xpress Pro. THAT one was responding to pressure from FCP in some ways -- specifically, for a software-only support product for Media Composer -- but obviously not in others.

(You can fill in your own long list of the ways that Xpress Pro fell short of FCP, and I bet mine is longer. LOL Don't forget that I came in from being an early adopter of both Media 100 and FCP. I respected it for what it was, and rode under its flag with pride, but I knew what it wasn't, too.)

It was inevitable that Xpress Pro would go away once MC Soft evolved and natural market forces pushed its price down to below what Xpress Pro had been in its final days.

I exited stage left before all that came to pass, with the 2006 rollout of software-only Media Composer (and Avid Interplay -- a very busy NAB for me that year!). I actually spent the months following NAB 2006 showing MC Soft to FCP user groups, which I'd been presenting to for Boris FX since 2000 -- including the 5th-ever meeting of LAFCPUG, 17 years ago this month! And my very VERY last thing at Avid was after I'd finished my time at the Avid campus, a road trip presenting to the FCPUG run by our old friend Keith Larsen in Connecticut.

To be honest, I was surprised that Xpress Pro lasted for another couple of years, but not at all surprised that Liquid carried for years after that -- again, 5 years as a product, and supported for 2 more years after that. Certainly enough to set to rest the fiction that Avid bought it to kill it. It died a natural death as Avid focused on exactly what they should have been focused on in post, where Liquid lived: dual-platform, team-oriented, feature and TV editing. There's a point at which opportunism turns into distraction, and my guess (having been gone for years by then) that Avid may have stayed on past that point as much for fondness for Liquid tech and customers as for business opportunity.

I really don't want to skate past that. I effing loved those folks. They were passionate people who in some ways went back to the Media 100 ethos I'd come up in, of having taken out second mortgages and going all-in on family businesses as later-life careers. (I was in my mid 30s in the early days of Media 100, and one of the younger folks in the game. Much different now of course.) They were playing for keeps, and their enthusiasm was infectious, and helped keep me around probably longer than was good for me in the scheme of things, but I still treasure every cycle I spent working on Liquid and its community -- and it was a huge part of what I did my last year-plus at Avid.

I was also nuts about the Pinnacle product folks I got to work with, in both post and broadcast. Some of the sharpest, most user-focused folks I've ever come across. In that sense, a great fit for Avid. Even in the admittedly dark-ish days of the early- to mid-aughts, we (and I'm proud to say "we" in this context) at Avid never hesitated to stand in the fire, face to face with our customers, not just behind the rope at trade shows, but in user groups, in their facilities, breaking bread with their employees and families, being accountable from top to bottom.

I remember one VP getting the shit kicked out of him at a customer event on his birthday. He didn't mention that to the unhappy customers to slow them down, which would have been a natural impulse, at least at the bar afterward or something. But no. He was there to be on the receiving end of whatever. What he said to us afterward was that we'd had it coming. We weren't doing well enough. We needed to do better.

And they have.


[Shane Ross] "They are listening, and because of that, we are demanding. And I'm SURE there are many things you'd like FCP-X to do, or some feature you wish it had. But is there a similar way to let Apple know this? Adobe sure has a way for users to let them know what they want."

Apple has ways to take feedback of course, including through the app itself. I personally know that many of the folks there are exactly as customer-focused as you'd wish them to be, but public accountability the way that Adobe and Avid (among others) are doing it? That's not traditionally been Apple's style. ☺ Apple doesn't build its teams or processes that way.

While most Apple customers are happy enough with the outcome, I simply refuse to believe that they wouldn't be happier if they insisted on the same level of accountability from Apple displayed by other industry leaders, and Apple actually did it. Nothing bad comes from public accountability, and it's silly to argue that it does.

Which is of course exactly what Steve Jobs argued repeatedly, from the very beginning to the very end. I'm sorry he's no longer with us, but I'm not sorry he's no longer at the helm. Apple has done much better since then, and I think they can do a lot better still.


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