Is there still a business for Media 100 in editing?
State of the Editing Market
The Non-linear Editing market is in a very interesting position right now. On the cusp between the first wave - integrated hardware based solutions - and mass market commoditization.
Starting the first wave was Avid. High priced (out of necessity) and appealing only to those who were already well established in the editing industry. Those that could afford an Avid were, and are, in the high end of the market: film editing, episodic television and very high end marketing. Frequently sourced on film and finished in an on-line editing room or by negative cutter. Avid created an excellent off-line system with 'bullet-proof' EDL management and film matchback. They created the market with an excellent computer reproduction of a linear edit bay interface that was very comfortable to those buying Avids. The economics of editing off-line on an NLE were compelling and made the proposition attractive even at the price point.
Avid created the Non-linear market. They were not the first non-linear editing device but they were the first that had widespread sales at 'modest' investment. But, most of Avid's sales were for that off-line market. Avid progressively improved the picture quality of their Targa Truevision sourced AVBV hardware to 'acceptable' for finishing but even AVR 75 and 77 showed artifacting.
Which left the way open for Media 100 to come in with a system aimed at finishing on the desktop. Media 100's high image quality drove a lot of purchasers who thought they were buying an "Avid competitor".
In fact, in as much as Avid popularized the Non-Linear concept, Media 100 created the finish-on-the-desktop market. Now both Non-linear editing and finishing the edit on the computer are taken for granted.
The advent of the DV formats - DV, DVCAM, DVCPRO - radically and rapidly changed the whole NLE market. So rapid was the transition that Adobe got caught with Premiere 5's initial release as late as 1999. Premiere 5 didn't catch up with DV at all until the 5.1 release.
The DV codec is the Postscript of the digital video world. In the way that Postscript fundamentally changed the printing industry, DV is changing the production industry. DV is one codec regardless of whether you're using a cheap home camera - Digital 8 even - or working with high end professional cameras like, for example, Sony's DSR-500. Digital from the camera chip(s) onward, DV never suffers image degradation and encoding errors from analog noise so that, while significantly compressed, it looks better than digital versions of analog systems at much higher data rates.
And more importantly, DV datarates can be accommodated on low price, off-the-shelf computer hardware. No additional hardware needed.
Along with the DV Codec, the FireWire interface completed the equation. FireWire essentially extends the reach of the computer to make the DV device a computer peripheral and makes integrating DV codec footage a simple 'file copy' process.
Apple's visionary CEO Steve Jobs saw the trend and immediately set out to make the Macintosh the 'digital hub'. This was a move that won him no friends at Avid and Media 100 where suddenly a key supplier is a driven competitor. For John Molinari it must have been particularly galling to hear Steve Jobs express almost exactly the "Blood Secrets" philosophy in a MacWorld Keynote speech.
A very different marketplace
Today we have a very different Non-linear marketplace than even 3 years ago. Three years ago there were three options: high end, moderately to very expensive solutions from Avid for the 'editors'; Media 100 with great picture quality meeting needs of a larger group of people who need to manipulate video; and the rest.
And that is a key point totally missed by most 'industry insiders'. The 'industry' is about to be revolutionized as it was once known. Within a very short period "video production" will take on attributes of written literacy. All read, most write, few write professionally. Those that do write professionally do so for many different reasons - from classified ads to literature, product brochures to movie scripts; advertising to PhD Theses. Professional writers create a diverse range of content.
People tend to forget that common literacy was most uncommon until the last 50 to 100 years. Until then, reading and writing were highly prized skills reserved for specialists. (Much like video editing has been in the recent past.)
This is the model we should be taking note of. Video Production will move from the Priests and ruling class to universal literacy. Everyone will consume and produce video at some level throughout their life. Video communication will be ubiquitous in the workplace - not produced by the 'video department' but by everyone in the office.
All this change is driven by the ability to edit video on off-the-shelf, relatively low price computers with no specialist hardware, at quality that is "good enough" for most needs.
Into this mix, Apple introduced Final Cut Pro - the software that was originally to power Media 100's own push to Windows when still with Macromedia and known as KeyGrip. Apple's CEO recognized the power of FireWire (an Apple invention) and determined that Apple's niche market would be in media production at all levels.
Final Cut Pro is only a small portion of that plan, but one that interferes considerably with Avid and Media 100 in particular since their user base is, for the moment, strongly Macintosh based. Final Cut Pro has the advantage of being perceived as professional enough and powerful enough to be taken seriously by 'editors' while affordable enough for 'anyone.
For all its popularity - and it is without a doubt the strongest selling Non-Linear Editing Application - Adobe Premiere has not had the general market perception as being a professional editing tool. This is despite having the strongest real-time hardware support and despite the large user base.
And of course, there are innovations like iMovie, which will meet 80% of corporate and domestic editing needs, and Microsoft Producer which is set to change corporate communication away from the 'video production department' to the desktop.
A little into the future
Video editing software is being commoditized. Instead of high priced packages, the cost of entry is dropping, the difficulty of competing is decreasing and there are more and more solutions than there are problems.
Avid has a mature market with Media Composer. Few new seats are being sold and most that are out there are AVBV based. Avid's big seller at the moment is the software-only XpressDV, a Windows-only direct competitor for Final Cut Pro. A little up the ladder is the Meridien based Xpress - an MJPEG hardware based combination with the Xpress interface. Xpress is a 'feature reduced' version of Media Composer.
The risk for Avid at the moment is that the brand will be diluted with the sales of XpressDV. Now for around the same investment as for Final Cut Pro, anyone can be an "Avid Editor". For the moment the Avid brand carries substantial value and the interface is much loved by user base.
Avid has already demonstrated software-only real time effects with XpressDV and 'off the shelf' computer hardware.
Premiere has great hardware support and the 'bang for buck' from hardware is definitely there on the Windows platform with Premiere as the editing interface. Particularly with hardware from Pinnacle; Matrox, dps and Canopus that provide real-time DVE and limited 'pixel pushing' (color correction, blur et al) effects are available at a price point that Event Videographers really like.
Final Cut Pro
Final Cut Pro has some hardware support from different manufacturers but is mostly used in stand-alone mode with DV codec material imported via FireWire.
There are strong rumors, totally unsubstantiated but not unlikely, that when Final Cut Pro becomes an OS X native application, it will be able to do some real-time functions without additional hardware.
Even the current real-time hardware support far exceeds what, for example, Media 100's hardware, can do for real time editing.
Media 100 has great hardware for integrating multiple formats into one Program - analog, SDI, DV and with an interface very suitable for a 'non-editor' user base but no means of working native with DV nor competitive with the highest quality cards available now for uncompressed in 10 or 16 bit samples.
Productions are either very straightforward in their editing style - reality TV, news & current affairs, talk shows and some documentaries - or very heavily composited. Many times there are elements of both.
Just about every network production has some compositional or effect component - generally beyond the 'DVE' style effects provided by current video hardware. There is no reason to believe that the looks will get any simpler, and what network television does today, every production will want 'tomorrow'. We have seen it progressively as the high profile productions used DVE style effects with their expensive production switcher and now the same effects are available in desktop boxes or on single PCI cards - hardware that's typified by offerings from Canopus, Pinnacle, Matrox and exemplified by dpsQuattrus. What was network standard 5 years ago is now available on the desktop for a fraction of the cost.
In the meantime the front edge has moved forward to new types of looks that are not easily done in 'traditional' hardware but dedicated graphics computer/hardware combinations (Flame, Inferno) or hardware (Quantel) in real time or by software solutions - combustion*, After Effects, Digital Fusion, BorisRED - with rendering.
The Economic Imperative
As well as the hardware issues there are economic imperatives pushing the "video production" industries. When we see news gathering organizations like CNN moving to DV and Final Cut Pro based PowerBook remote editing - where the one reporter is expected to do CNN TV, radio and internet pieces and reality TV shows start to dominate then there is clearly a sea change happening.
Production budgets are dropping, personnel are being pushed to higher productivity - and indeed less experienced editors are being introduced at 'trainee' level but expected to produce.
Accountants at Networks and production houses are seeing the results possible with XpressDV and Final Cut Pro and wondering why they are spending so 'big' for little that can be seen.
And with a blowout coming in niche programming for broadband Internet (it's coming, just much slower than expected) there is not going to be as much opportunity for big budget production. Big budget production is not going to disappear, but as a proportion of all dollars spent, big budget production will shrink while the total amount spent increases.
The problem with 'good enough' quality - both technically and in production values - is that it discourages really professional results. When good enough quality could only be achieved with expensive hardware then only seasoned professionals who cared about the production values would use the hardware.
Regardless, the push will be down in production cost, to lower hourly rates for more hours on lower cost equipment for productions that are 'good enough' without being perfect - for the majority of production. (Definitely more than 50%, probably close to 70-80% of all production dollars spent, even accounting for the last 20-30% percent being the big ticket productions.)
This is a market perfect for Premiere - with real-time hardware support for Event Videographers and Final Cut Pro for those with deeper editorial needs. Avid retains it's fans.
Media 100's concise interface would still suit a big market but that market doesn't want to spend on hardware. Media 100's hardware is intrinsic because Media 100 is, first and foremost, a hardware company.
Media 100 is a hardware company
All of which has left Media 100i and iFinish a little sidelined. Not cheap enough to compete with software only solutions; hardware not powerful enough to compete with other, more modern offerings and not enough people who need to mix sources in the one timeline.
Media 100 added low priced, software only solutions to their product mix by purchasing Digital Origin for EditDV, CinéStream and IntroDV. Along the other path they saw a need for a new type of hardware solution. A new market niche that they could popularize like they did the concept of 'finishing on the desktop'.
Because one thing that is abundantly clear is that Media 100 is a hardware company. They have extensive in-house hardware production lines and hardware engineering expertise. This is not surprising since they were 'spun out of' Data Translation which always was, and still is, a hardware company.
Media 100i and iFinish products
In the Pegasus announcement Media 100 stated that the current product range will continue. Media 100i and iFinish are both remaining with Media 100 Inc - they were not sold to Autodesk. That Media 100i would be ported to OS X was announced at NAB (but all but ignored) and ironically it would appear that Media 100i will be native to OS X long before Apple ports their own Final Cut Pro.
(I would not read anything into this other than Media 100i is written in MacApp for Macintosh only while Final Cut Pro was written for cross platform deployment and needs more conversion for OS X. It is also highly likely that Apple will do high levels of OS X optimization before releasing Final Cut Pro for OS X to take advantage of the OS and processor power available most likely resulting in a degree of real-time, software only, performance.)
The move from hardware MJPEG solutions with integrated software to open, DV codec based solutions, combined with the trend to lower production budgets on one hand, and more complex production looks than can be done in typical real-time hardware on the other, what was Media 100 to do to find a niche for a video hardware specialist company? Media 100 appears to have seen the need with plenty of lead-time if development of Pegasus started in 1998.
©2001 Philip Hodgetts