Avid Scared Out of the Water?

At the end of one my favorite movies, The Hunt for Red October, an American hunter-sub performs an emergency maneuver that has it popping out of the water like a giant whale. One of the rescued Soviet sailors screams, "The Captain has scared the Americans out of the water!!!"

That scene reminds me of Avid's recent announcement that they won't be on the show floor at NAB. This announcement was made a few weeks ago and sent huge waves through various online forums as everyone chimed in on what they thought of it. I don't concern myself too much with Avid anymore, as their price point for the software I want isn't at a price I'm willing to pay. But I was once a Symphony guy, the Avid vs Final Cut article is the most popular pages on this website, and the Symphony is an NLE I directly compete with, so I started reading the commentary around the net.

The most thoughtful comes from Frank Capria at Capria.tv. He has some good insights into what Avid hopes to gain out of this strategy. He believes theirs a risky strategy and details some of the shoals they need to avoid. I add: It's not like NAB is going the way of the Consumer Electronics Show where many companies feel they can't get their message out anymore. NAB is very relevant and good products do get their message out from that platform. If Avid is bailing on NAB, then something is not right at Avid - and they now admit it.

What I haven't read is a good reason Avid's been forced into this realization. I don't think it's the pressure from Final Cut...

My last NAB was two years ago - and Adobe unveiled the start of their Studio package. And honestly, it was a very very strong showing. The audio editing tools surpassed Soundtrack Pro, Premiere (today) is only a rev or two away from seriously being able to replace Final Cut. Their DVD solution is said to be top-notch. And of course, After Effects and Photoshop are the winners in each of their classes.

When you plot out from NAB 2005 to October 2007, Adobe has continued to execute - adopting Apple's "Studio" concept to help lock-in users, Apple continues to improve its Pro Tools division, most notably with the acquisition of Color. With Adobe and Apple poised to take direct aim at each other at the sub-$3000 NLE market, Avid's failure to execute in integrating apps it has acquired doesn't bode well for them.

But the story doesn't end there - at the high end, Avid has mismanged the DS and Symphony offerings. They confused many of their customers and never quite differentiated those platforms enough. But at least they had more breathing room. In the $60,000 - $80,000 NLE market they have a proven, turnkey toolset and not much competition - but AutoDesk is changing that...

I was recently involved with a FCP + Smoke/Flame integration demo at a local reseller. I spent 10 minutes of a demo modifying a timeline with effects and text within FCP. Using the same media, the Smoke was able to import that timeline (via XML) and ingest the media and play it back on its drives. The rest of the Smoke demo was very impressive - it's come a long way since I last saw it in v3. And it's a Symphony killer - at least in terms of feature set. (It's also very complex, deep machine that is a tougher transition for the Symphony editor to make than the transition to Final Cut - slowing its adoption rate and giving Avid some time.)

But with a basic turnkey Smoke system running on Linux for $90,000 (compared to that system costing $180,000 five years ago) and impressive media sharing capabilities in an FCP shop, the top end of Avid's market is starting to get squeezed as well.

It seems to me that Avid's NAB strategy this year akin to them stopping living life like the Red October and deciding to become the American hunter sub getting scared out of the water. They're about to get torpedo'ed and they need to differentiate. Fast. The process needs to start last week. And it did, with their announcement

For Avid, the only thing worse than not being at NAB is being at NAB and looking like they have nothing new to offer - for the third straight year in a row.

- pi

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