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NAB 2015: Working Together on Collaborative Competition

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CreativeCOW presents NAB 2015: Working Together on Collaborative Competition -- NAB Show Feature


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When I was just starting out in the video production industry around the beginning of this century, there was an overwhelming sense to me of a workflow being shoving a square peg into a round hole. The facilities I interned inside or toured were relying on hardware with very specific requirements...and a lot of it didn't really work as expected.

Over and over I heard people cursing I/O boxes or converters. But that was it, because there weren't other options. Changing to a different manufacturer (if there was one) meant some major infrastructure changes, and it wasn't worth the cost to eliminate grating workflow problems. Instead, they just dealt with it. And swore a lot.

At this year's NAB Show, it was clearer than ever that this mindset is over. It's been over for a while, but now it's like, OVER over. Because not only are companies looking to offer lots of options to stay competitive in a wildly growing industry, but they're working TOGETHER as competitors to make their piece the best it possibly can be in a crazy magpie nest of a workflow that might include bits from a dozen different manufacturers. Your piece doesn't work? No good. It gets flung onto the ground.

Companies like Avid and Adobe are opening proprietary infrastructure in ways we haven't really seen before. Others like AJA and Blackmagic Design are partnering with more companies than ever, and continuing to work into areas that their business traditionally hasn't covered.


CHANGING WORKFLOW
That attitude of collaborative competition was by far the most pervasive part of the show for me this year. Asking person to person what they thought was coolest or most interesting at the end of each day, standard NAB-ish conversation, most of the answers shifted from super duper specifics into a higher level view of post-production.

No one killer life-changing product emerged, but rather an overall sense that things are just going to work even better or another year. Lower cost products and the connectedness of the web continues to make post more accessible, and a lot of people whine about that. But most of us actually don't do much whining, because we can see the continued long term outlook of more competition, whether it's with people or products: more choices for everyone is generally a good thing, so long as you don't suck.


AVID EVERYWHERE: NOT A PRODUCT
One of the most interesting stories of a company opening up proprietary infrastructure that has historically been pretty well closed off is Avid. Previously, the well-known, well-used Avid Unity ISIS storage was big and expensive, only used for Avid and only on Avid's own infrastructure. Now Avid aggressively showcases their intent with the top of their press release. In bold: FOR EVERYONE. You can use third party editing or media asset management software. It's affordable, as far as storage like this goes and especially compared to the ISIS of the past.


Avid ISIS 1000
Avid ISIS 1000



Sure, there are features and benefits you don't get when you use Premiere instead of Avid to cut, but I don't think that will matter to people so much or they'd commit to the overall Avid ecosystem anyway. But scalability and real time collaboration with the ISIS name on the box in the hands of a FCP editor? I didn't really expect to see this, but it makes sense as Avid expands its customer base.

Avid Senior Segment Marketing Manager Charlie Russell told me that this openness is a big part of the company's 'Avid Everywhere' strategy. "There are a lot of problems that have to do with compatibility between different vendors' stuff. There's a lot of frustration where people felt like they were being told no, you have to use our stuff or it won't work. And that's just not good for customers."

Russell also said that Avid's CEO Louis Hernandez Jr. told the pre-NAB Avid Connect crowd that Avid isn't going to tell you what equipment you have to use; you use the equipment you want, and Avid is going to try to make it all work together. 'And even if [equipment doesn't] talk to each other, it's not going to break.'

When I was an intern at an Avid-driven post house, the editors talked about Avid like it was a monstrosity to work AROUND instead of a thing to work WITH, with finicky hardware that often broke and oh well, too bad. So this is different.

(By the way, the name "Avid Everywhere" is still confusing a large number of people in media a year after it was unveiled as the company's vision for actually bringing Avid everywhere. I''s not a product, it's a marketing vision.

Because it's so broad and not that separated from the company's other broad named things that ARE products, it seems people have trouble connecting with it. So I'm doing my part: it's nothing you'll specifically spend money on. It's something that will make you spend money on other things, if Avid gets their way.)



ADOBE ANYWHERE: DEFINITELY A PRODUCT
One of my favorite collaborations is between Adobe and Aframe.

Adobe Anywhere (which IS an actual product) is an editorial solution for centralized media and remote computing, adopted by large organizations like CNN. That's because before now, they're the only ones that could afford the infrastructure to run it.

This year, Adobe unveiled a new not-so-enterprise-y solution that will allow smaller teams to take advantage of the collaborative parts of Anywhere -- project sharing and stuff -- and run it on their own servers. But what if you need the remote computing? What if you have a job where centralized media with high powered access in the field is the key to making it all work? You gonna buy a bunch of CNN-level servers for that one gig? Good luck bidding on it.

That's where Aframe's cloud-based editing platform comes in. You can take Anywhere's stream-based editing capabilities and access them through Aframe's platform for a much smaller fee than building the platform yourself (to say the least). Aframe is the hub, Anywhere is the tech, and you pay for the access as you need it.

This is so interesting to me because Anywhere is still kind of new. There's not a whole lot of stuff out there that's similar, especially not on the level of customers that Adobe is usually involved with -- as opposed to say, the large broadcasters that typically use Quantel's products for similar uses.



Adobe Anywhere in the Cloud Delivered by Aframe


Being so new and continuing to evolve, it seems remarkable to me that Adobe would be okay with allowing a third party company to basically use their technology to allow consumers to "rent" use of it through their the Aframe platform -- users need an Anywhere license and an Aframe user license. And I told the company's CEO David Peto that. After he laughed, he agreed, telling me the only reason it's happening is because of a long personal relationship with Adobe.

"To have Adobe trust us is very encouraging," he told me. "Ever since we saw Adobe Anywhere, I have wanted to bring Aframe and Anywhere together. The dream has always been collaboration and editing in the cloud, with no download. To finally see that dream a reality and the reaction we've had already, makes this one of the most exciting times in the history of the company - and we hope for the industry."

Adobe's Senior Director for Product Management (Professional Video and Audio) Bill Roberts talked to me about the company's view of this collaborative attitude. "We have a strong development team. We believe in being open with the products, and we believe in open standards."

An example of Adobe's open culture with data can be seen in Dolby Vision's HDR workflow, which carries color information through an XMP sidecar, Adobe's managed XML extension. Roberts told me XML is awesome because it's extensible, but that also means what one company does with it may not translate to another company. "Managed implementation means we actually work on the scheme with other companies, and because the core scheme of XML is actually an ISO standard, you can rest assured it's going to be there a long time. We really do try to drive this open philosophy."


LTO: LINEAR TAPE-OPEN
An area of the industry I hadn't really thought about but makes perfect sense is the LTO Program. The companies I spoke with -- IBM, HP and Quantum -- are technology advisers to the consortium which sets the standards for LTO (linear tape-open, an open technology just like it says in the name) for years to come.

But they're otherwise competitors, so why work together on this? It turns out that cooperating and promoting technology together helps bring the open standard to the mainstream, which is good for companies who are building their products on top of it. It's also good for customers because it brings prices down and reliability up.

Basically, it brings more competition on a stable archival platform, so the focus can be put on improvements and innovations in other areas of tech instead of constantly combating each other for the next great archiving tool.

"Hard drives are fragile and fail. You can't beat tape," one LTO rep told me. That's the consensus, so they're working together to create an LTO roadmap for years in the future.

The map reaches as far as LTO-10, with LTO-7 coming later this year: 6TB of storage per tape assuming a 2.5:1 compression ratio, lasts 30 years, has an LTFS file system which will tell you exactly what's on it with no need for third party applications which may not have worked well in the past. LTO-10's assumed compression ratio is said to allow for up to 120TB of storage, if you can take full advantage of it. Which you may not, but still.

The point is this area of data storage is rapidly evolving in all the best ways. (And yeah, each generation of LTO has at least a backwards compatible read and write -- for LTO-7, you can jump back two generations to read.)


STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS
Outside an open culture for technology, companies' strategic partnerships fascinate me as well. Like Boris FX and Imagineer. Boris acquired Imagineer last year, but the companies still continue to operate basically as separate entities. Boris Continuum benefits from Mocha's tracking technology, Imagineer benefits from Boris' reach, and now Mocha can be used inside Avid. "We do what we do well and support everyone else," Imagineer's Chief Marketing Officer Ross Shain told me.

Similar story with Blackmagic Design acquiring eyeon Fusion. Blackmagic President Dan May told me that Fusion can grow in new ways with BMD's resources, evolving the software past the ceiling eyeon hit as an independent company. Users are getting more from Fusion than they ever would have before that acquisition -- from a branding level to an IU and development level, noted with the quick development of the first Mac version of Fusion which will be available later this year.


Fusion software will now be available on OS X and Linux
Fusion software will now be available on OS X and Linux. Fusion interface.


Then there's Quantel and Snell, who came together last year and appeared at NAB as a single entity for the first time in 2015 -- again, basically operating separately in many ways since their product lines don't cross over, but combining resources in order to anticipate and meet new customer needs altogether.



Snell Kahuna switchers

It seems like these new perspectives are allowing the companies to look at expanding their customer base way beyond what they've traditionally held, like Quantel opening up their technology to be used as a back end for software like Adobe Premiere. Adobe's Roberts told me they were "delighted" when Quantel wanted to work with them, even though they may be seen as competitors. "People may have our stuff, Quantel's stuff, and they want it to work together. Great!"

AJA has an entire section of their booth dedicated to partnerships with companies like Filmlight, Colorfront, and SpectraCal. AJA Product Marketing Manager Tony Cacciarelli told me the company has "a developer program where developers can take our hardware and incorporate it with their software so they don't have to redesign an I/O board. We have a great software developer kit, and people can get our stuff integrated in days. We've tried to make that capability as easy and open as possible. This is something we feel really strongly about. We've had a lot more partners signing up in the last couple of years."

And while Studio Network Solutions workflow specialist Caspian Brand demonstrated the company's EVO shared storage to me, he summed it up well: "You don't want to be locked into a proprietary solution. Storage has grown up. It's less about what it does and more about how it helps you work."


CAMERAS: GROWING UP
That sense of growing up continues into camera development, the epicenter of what drives workflows to flow the way they do. All the camera manufacturers watch their users closely all year and work very openly to develop exactly what's needed.

This was never more apparent than walking around the ARRI and Blackmagic booths. For ARRI, an ALEXA Mini so all those TV shows shooting ALEXA can use the same camera in drones and car rigs without needing to jump to some third party camera and put a new codec crinkle in their workflow. For BMD, mini and micro versions of their URSA and cinema cameras, driven by shooters using previous cameras to try to get an odd shot.


ARRI ALEXA Mini



The Blackmagic Design Micro Cinema Camera is particularly notable because it includes connectors for remote usage which are considered among the most compatible and "open" for building those kinds of camera rigs.

Blackmagic Design Micro Studio Camera 4K
Blackmagic DesignMicro Studio Camera 4K


AJA said their CION camera was developed as an "open" camera, with the AJA RAW open format and standardized connectors, very intentionally.


AJA CION


Canon Professional Market Specialist Jesse Mineo told me the company welcomes so many options, particularly from companies that haven't historically been a part of the camera story, because it creates an "incredibly powerful imaging culture." Plus, all those cameras have to use lenses, and Canon makes a lot of glass.

Cinema EOS C300 Mark II
Cinema EOS C300 Mark II



Panasonic
's senior technologist Steve Mahrer may have put it best: "It's about understanding the application." What are you good at, and what are you trying to do? Making a thing that solves a problem nobody really has or covers a huge range of problems isn't going to work for anyone anymore. Technology is moving along too quickly to keep up with customer needs without specializing at least a little bit.

4K VariCam 35
Panasonic 4K VariCam 35

Doing what's best for the customers makes them more productive and happier, which is always good for an industry filled with little frowny faces. Happier, productive video professionals make more media and drive more business and development, which circles back around to being great for companies.


WORKING TOGETHER
Similarly, the post-production industry has begun to open a serious dialogue about working together within post as people, between editors or visual effects artists of all backgrounds. Driving the conversation at this year's show was our Adobe-sponsored panel called "Working Together to Close the Gender Gap in Post-production", inspired by an article I wrote for Creative COW last year.

[Ed. Note: And Kylee's article is still getting comments: Sexism in Post: Sometimes It's What You Think It Is, Sometimes Not.]

With support from organizations like Creative COW, Future Media Concepts, and the Hollywood Professional Alliance (formerly the Hollywood Post Alliance), I was given a platform by which to speak about well-researched and documented gender-related issues in post-production alongside editors and post pros Siân Fever (short form editor for ITV, Channel 4, Olympics), Megan McGough Christian (Production Manager, PBS Frontline), Ellen Wixted (Senior Product Manager, Adobe Premiere Clip) and moderator Amy DeLouise (strategist and digital storyteller).





The response has been unexpectedly remarkable for all of us. From the over 45 million Twitter impressions from the related hashtag #postgendergap to the one-on-one conversations we all had in Vegas during NAB, it was obvious this has been on the minds of many in our industry for a long time. By making it a key discussion point inside Post-production World, it's become a little more "okay" to talk about out loud. Accepting that it's a real thing that causes an issue through the whole post pipeline is the first big step toward change.





To borrow a metaphor that both Megan and Siân came up with separately: if you have a problem in your workflow, you no longer just live with it. Yeah? You take the small steps required to figure out the problem and implement a solution, so that your work becomes more productive and easier for everyone involved.

So, looking at the problem of the gender gap in post -- that media programs at schools like NYU, USC and SCAD are 50-50 male/female while only about 20% of people in post-production are female -- why is it so difficult to propose an acceptable solution? Yeah, society is complicated, but we're not changing the world. We're just refining a problem in the pipeline, fixing a workflow. Something that is the actual POINT of NAB altogether. But in doing it, we're making post-production more inclusive for minorities.

Applying that directly to the human aspect of post-production, fixing what's wrong makes a huge difference to the industry in ways beyond your little piece of the puzzle. It makes us all a little happier and less crazy to have to deal with these grating problems that are easily solved.



THE HUMAN ASPECT OF POST-PRODUCTION

NAB is obviously full of technology and all the discussion surrounding that, but it's never more apparent that the heart of the industry is people, rather than technology, than when you're in Vegas that week. Talking to people face to face makes you realize that following the example set by so many companies that being open and collaborative is essential for us to succeed as individuals in this industry.

Inclusiveness -- for gender, race, or other minority matters -- is good for business, and a needed conversation between the codecs and cameras. In speaking to Adobe's approach to open development, Bill Roberts could have easily been describing how video professionals might see themselves: "We plus our partners have a greater reach than anything we could ever do by ourselves. And that's opening doors for us. We let other people have their points of excellence and connect with us."

Letting other people have their points of excellence and accepting their individual experiences as valid and important: it's working for the tech and making our workflow lives easier than ever. Let's make it work for the people who are running those workflows.



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