After returning from NAB last year (2007) I gave Avid 3 years as a significant player in the NLE market. The combination of the major inroads FCP had made, including the announcement of Final Cut Server and the ineptitude shown by the Avid marketing department, converged to create the impression of a grave future. This year’s NAB would mark the shift from 3 to 2 years left in my countdown. So I have been asked by many whether my opinion has changed. Before I answer, let’s take a trip down memory lane to last year.
Avid could not compete with Apple on pricing. There is no way Avid could stay in business selling Media Composer for $1,300 and Interplay for $ 999. That meant Avid had to sell a product that had more going for it. It needed to have more features, more reliability, and more performance. Since they were charging Mercedes Benz prices, they needed to be providing Mercedes Benz service.
Instead, Avid was offering Adrenaline which provided none of the above. At nearly 10 times the price! The management of the company had refused to predict the seriousness of the FCP challenge in spite of being warned for many years by their client base.
So what did Avid have going for it? Not service, which was sub-par even though Avid charges a healthy premium for “Assurance.” Not reliability, the Adrenaline was so buggy that a large section of Avid’s user base refused to switch from their technologically ancient (but dependable) Meridien systems. Not features, as the major “upgrade” of the last several years was to add compressed HD performance to the Adrenaline. And lastly, not performance as it turned out all the Adrenaline BOB actually did handle was compression and decompression of the Avid media.
Into this scenario comes FCP studio and FCP server. Amongst the many improvements were 3D support in Motion and fully featured color correction in Color. All added to the suite for free. Final Cut Server appeared to be everything that Interplay was supposed to be (Avid’s big bet on the future).
I walked away from that NAB realizing that Avid’s future in the NLE market was doomed. It seemed apparent to me that they had been putting so much of their R&D into server products like Isis and Interplay, that they had sacrificed their NLE market in the process.
At the end of 2007, I was lucky enough to be invited to a special lunch meeting with then GM of Avid Video, Graham Sharp. He explained his decision to not have a presence on the convention floor in 2008. More importantly, he revealed the results of a large customer survey that Avid had commissioned to a third party company which showed Avid having the lowest customer satisfaction rating that survey company had ever seen. Graham was determined to do something about it. He had spent the last year (2007) having the engineering team focus on bug fixes only. He understood the product had to be solid if they wanted to stay in the game. And he was being more candid than any Avid management had been in the entire time I’ve used their products.
In early 2008 Avid saw the entrance of a new CEO from outside of the industry. Not long after, Graham was replaced by Kirk Arnold, also from outside of the industry. Taking Graham’s moves to the next level, the new team started to embrace the customer base in a way Avid hasn’t seen since it’s early days. This new level of customer interaction, coupled with a fresh perspective from outside the industry, has led to some groundbreaking moves such as…
…Price drops!! The new product line-up from Avid is actually priced right. Running at about 2.5 times the Final Cut equivalent with hardware. This is still a large premium to folks who don’t need the added value that Media Composer offers, but for the rest of us it is spot on. While Avid won’t wrest away any FCP clients with this approach, it will stop the bleeding of their customer base to the competition… for a while. What they have done is buy themselves some time.
At the beginning of this post I promised my new prediction for Avid’s future. While I am more optimistic about Avid’s future in the NLE world than I have been in a while, I’m also afraid it may be too late for them. They need to innovate hard and fast if they want to get back in the NLE game in a serious way. One of their largest weaknesses is in handling file based workflows all the way through to the end deliverables whatever they may be. The Apple and Adobe solutions are far ahead of Avid in this area. The other big nut they have to crack is to convince the market at large that there is a value added in Avid that is worth the extra cost. That marketing challenge has been beyond Avid’s abilities for many years now. Maybe some “New Thinking” will help them here.
On the other hand, there are some very talented people at Avid. And they really have the spirit needed to keep the company alive and thriving. Many have been unsuccessfully pushing against the system for so long that it may take a while to let them open up again. But the company still has great assets in many of it’s employees.
In closing, I’m sticking to my “two years left in the NLE world” prediction for the moment, but I’m hoping the new team is going to prove me wrong.