A Creative COW Industry Report
In Amsterdam, shortly after the tragedy of September 11th, broadcasters, manufacturers and professionals from around the world gathered for the International Broadcast Conference -- IBC. One of the obvious subjects on hand was the rapidly changing world and the state of this industry. One of the big changes that was announced at IBC was the acquisition of Fast by Pinnacle Systems. In this article, Creative Cow's Ron Shook explores some of the issues, concerns and benefits of this latest strategic move.
Several weeks ago during IBC in Amsterdam -- the European equivalent of NAB -- Pinnacle Systems announced the acquisition of FAST Multimedia, lock, stock and barrel. This could be a brilliant maneuver with pronounced benefits for both companies, but as one FAST NLE user remarked with not a little trepidation: "What's it all mean?" I'm here to tell you what it all means, not that I'm necessarily right -- but just audacious. (g)
The guts of the original press release reads:
Mark Sanders, President and CEO at Pinnacle Systems said, "Pinnacle Systems is delighted to have the FAST Multimedia team join Pinnacle Systems. This acquisition furthers Pinnacle's expanding family of software applications and solutions to provide higher value-add for our customers. FAST's advanced software for video content creation fills an important gap between our consumer editing software products and our high-end broadcast systems."
"FAST Multimedia is pleased to be joining forces with Pinnacle Systems," said Matthias Zahn, Chairman and founder of FAST Multimedia. "Our customers and products will benefit greatly from the combined resources of the two companies."
Although this sort of corporate speak can mean anything from face value to two-faced gobbledygook prior to decimating the purchased company for intellectual property and marketing ends, I think that in this instance face value is closer to the truth. In a time of a troubled World economy and a dearth of venture capital, FAST just plain ran out of money for continued survival on its own. It's ironic that this happened when they had finally delivered Blue with even more bells and whistles than originally envisioned. This was quite fortuitous for Pinnacle. Blue is a major achievement with some capabilities that no one else can completely match in the Standard Definition NLE universe.
I do know for a fact that Pinnacle wasn't the only FAST suitor and that part of the reason Pinnacle got the nod is that Pinnacle intended to keep the FAST products, R&D, and support structures essentially as is for the time being.
Take a look on Pinnacle's website at http://www.pinnaclesys.com. At least for now, Pinnacle isn't even messing with the names. "FAST Multimedia" is just another in a list of product categories, and this category links to the FAST website. This will certainly be better integrated webwise later, but I fully expect that identification of FAST as the core of the Pinnacle product line is more liable than not.
When the CEO of Pinnacle says that the FAST products "fill an important gap," I think that, if anything, this is an understatement. More about that later...
THE SUPPORT ISSUES
If as expected, FAST products continue on mostly undisturbed, of immediate concern to FAST users has been the fear that the respected level of tech support from FAST will be diluted by the Pinnacle acquisition. Pinnacle seems to have a bit of a reputation for inadequate support. My guess is that this reputation is both deserved but understandable, and undeserved. Pinnacle's reputation for inadequate support is deserved but understandable because their consumer and prosumer product lines in the under $2k range are too inexpensive to justify massive support (though they probably could do better by only delivering products that work from the "get-go"). And the support reputation is undeserved because support for their more expensive products seems to be at least adequate if not better. If Pinnacle doesn't mess overly much with the FAST support that is already in place -- and I don't expect that they will -- support for FAST products should bolster Pinnacle's reputation for product support.
When I was thinking about writing this article and finding it impossible to find anyone from Pinnacle or FAST to say anything definitive about the acquisition, I had an epiphany. It's nothing earth shaking or particularly creative, but upon conceptualizing it, some things that were troubling me sort of fell into place. I was thinking about the Microsoft hegemony, how it dominates and defines the information processing world, and how Microsoft must be the business model par excellence for every Techno-businessman, MBA and company in the universe with pretensions to controlling their own futures through the power and money that ubiquitous use of a company's products can bring. A considerable amount of the Microsoft dominance came about through strategic acquisition and the dogged fitting of these acquisitions into a more or less comprehensive whole. Along the way, Microsoft may not have had the best product in a category and arguably perhaps still doesn't -- but the individual products have been integrated into the Microsoft "Suite" in such a manner that it makes it very hard for anyone else to compete successfully with a single product or smaller range of products.
Look at the world of office automation and business information handling and it's pretty much Microsoft and everyone else (fewer all the time) nibbling at the edges or providing utility products that add to the Microsoft realm. Now, think about the content creation and delivery world in general and the NLE world in particular. Face it, virtually any current NLE from the prosumer on up to film resolution can have much the same capabilities depending on the hardware and software hooked to it. It's rapidly getting to the point where you can't think about an NLE without thinking about the larger and growing universe of multitudinous content creation and delivery. Editing, yes, but also streaming, DVD, SAN, electronic cinema, broad band WEB, Intranet, point of purchase, World standards, resolution and time-based independence, and on and on and on. You can bet that there are lots of dudes out there dreaming of becoming the Microsoft of that universe.
If there ever does become a "Microsoft of Content Creation" and I suspect that it will happen, who looks to have the best shot at it? It could be Avid, of course, with their name recognition, installed base and market share, a comprehensive range of products, prosumer to broadcast automation to HD, and a somewhat clunky but perhaps serviceable enough integration via OMF and integration with their own suite of software products. It could be Discreet, with their highest end dominance in the HD and film realms, a comprehensive range of products from industrial to broadcast automation to HD and film creation, the best vertical and horizontal integration of metadata through their Heatwave technology, the newly acquired state of the art Media Cleaner delivery technology, and the backing of Autodesk -- the Microsoft of industrial design and automation.
A BACKBONE NECESSARY FOR HEGEMONY
And now, returning to the original discussion: It could be Pinnacle -- now more than ever because of the FAST purchase. Pinnacle now has products that range from consumer/prosumer to broadcast to HD, so many disparate hardware and software products that sometimes it seems like they are not sure what theyíve got. It'll be a tough row for Pinnacle to hoe because what they don't have is a metadata backbone to hold all these products together like OMF or Heatwave. The FAST Studio software gives them a shot at developing this. The FAST Studio software is different from virtually everyone else in that it's capabilities are more software than hardware based and it has been applied virtually identically in the FAST product line from the Prosumer to high end SD broadcast. Since it's capabilities are more software based to make the move up to HD is less R&D intensive. You are essentially applying the same software to a bigger data pipe, and Pinnacle's Targa3000 line will sooner or later be HD capable.
EXPLORING THE "IFs"
If rumors at IBC were correct and I have reason to believe that they had at least a basis in fact, FAST had already done most of the work with Matrox to port the FAST Studio software to Digisuite. Fat chance that this will ever see the light of day now -- but just the fact that it probably happened on the difficult Digisuite hardware makes it more than possible that the FAST Studio software will move in both directions. Using Pinnacle's product line, that means perhaps an option to Adobe Premiere on the lower end products and upwards as an option to the Targa 3000 products -- with current FAST hardware holding the middle ground. If Pinnacle's Commotion and streaming and DVD authoring products can be integrated into FAST Studio, they will have much of the Metadata backbone that they need to make the run. There are lots of "ifs" here, but certainly formidable possibilities.
At this point in time, I don't see any other contenders for the "Content Creation and Delivery" heavyweight title but I doubt whether the mergers and acquisitions are at an end. I'm sure that this statement probably angers Mac-heads, but Apple though it has some great products, doesn't have the financial clout, resources or market share to stay the course. Now if Matrox were to purchase Apple, Media100 and Artel, who knows? (g)
Try my little epiphany on for size with the hardware and software that you are most familiar with and see if it informs your understanding.
In any case, my best to you COW readers and your chosen platforms. The next decade should be fascinating. We'll all probably have terabytes of cheap solid state storage and humongous data pipes built right into our desktop computers by then and it'll be fascinating to see whom, if anyone, becomes the new Microsoft of content creation and delivery. Content creation and delivery is mostly in the software now, and will be even more so 10 years from now. Who will end up with the best collection of brainpower and the marketing savvy and vision to turn that brainpower into market dominance?
Who knows? That's the subject for another day and another writer.
CreativeCOW Discreet edit* Forum Host
©2001 by Ron Shook. All rights are reserved.