If I Were Avid

Two big announcements at NAB could well have the execs at Avid worried. The most obvious one is a new awesome version of Apple’s Final Cut Pro, the app which rocked Avid’s world a decade ago, and the other – not quite as well reported – is Adobe’s innovative pricing model for their CS suite.

If you know me, or have read though this site much, then you’ll know I’m an avid Avid fan. I have spent thousands of hours in front of Media Composer in the last eight years or so. There’s also been a fair bit of FCP, the occasional dabble with Premiere Pro and Vegas and just a wee bit of Linear suite operation, but mostly Avid.

At NAB a day or two ahead of Apple’s FCP announcement Avid announced a “competitive crossgrade” promotion – tell them your FCP serial number and you get to buy the full boxed version of Media Composer 5.5 for only $995 – which was a pretty good deal on Monday and Tuesday, but on Wednesday with the promise of a $299 FCP X in the next few months it maybe was a little harder to justify, although it’s still a pretty good deal – you still get to keep FCP.

But now the world has changed, we’ve all seen the future, and it was announced with fanfare and received with a standing ovation (seriously) on Tuesday night at the Supermeet. At $299 it’s clear that Apple isn’t focused solely on the professional market, but if it still has the feature that professionals need then it will certainly be setting a precedent in terms of price, and it’s probably not one that Avid can compete with – remember to run FCP X you also have to pay Apple for a computer to run it on.

So how can a company like Avid, once see very much as a lumbering giant, respond to this new challenge? They will never be able to win a price war, but they have to do something, so what is that something to be?

Well, when Media Composer 5.5 shipped recently they announced that it would be the last version to support 32-bit operating systems, making it clear that 6.0, whenever that is due, will be a full 64-bit application. This means that Media Composer essentially will require a rewrite for the new architecture, and hopefully at the same time some of the legacy can be shaken off and new technology adopted. It’s not unreasonable to expect that a new version will feature things like multi-processor support, background rendering and GPU acceleration.

I think Avid needs to accelerate the development of 6.0 and get vocal about it. While they don’t typically talk about future versions in advance, it seems that this might be the time to at least bend that rule – before FCP X ships Avid should tell us what we can expect from MC 6.0 and when we can expect it. At this stage there is still a lot of uncertainty from professional users about whether FCP X will offer the features they need and Avid could take advantage of that doubt by telling us what is coming in the definitely-professional Media Composer.

Another problem that I think Avid has, and it’s very much one of their own making, is the product distinctions between Media Composer and Symphony. In the past the differences between the premium finishing product Symphony and the editorial workhorse Media Composer were significant and valuable. Symphony had better hardware, uncompressed support, advanced colour correction, universal mastering and more, but as the products have matured those differences have become less pronounced.

While Symphony still finds a market in finishing, the differences between the current versions of Media Composer and Symphony are minimal and it becomes increasingly difficult for users to justify the extra cost of Symphony over Media Composer when the difference these days seems to boil down to a slightly more advanced colour correction toolset – which is hardly that exciting compared to products like DaVinci Resolve, Apple Color and Filmlight’s new Baselight for FCP.

But back to the big issue, price. For the market that Avid serve $299 probably isn’t a big selling point over $1000, or even $2000. But it does change expectations. However maybe Adobe has the right idea here, they’ve adopted a subscription based pricing model for the new CS5.5 release – instead of paying outright purchase (and later upgrade) fees users can now opt to pay monthly subscription fees for the various Creative Suite products.

So, if I were Avid here’s what I would do:

  • Merge Media Composer and Symphony (but which brand to keep?)
  • Announce Media Composer 6 features and release date before FCP X ships.
  • Offer a subscription-based pricing model.
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