The present and future of post production business and technology | Philip Hodgetts

Archive for February 28th, 2005

The last Friday of the month I usually head over to Burbank to Alpha Dogs’ Editors Lounge – a great opportunity for editors in the LA area to hang out together and usually to geek out on some new technology or technique in the presentation. I usually love heading over there for the social time and the presentation.

Why not go this month? Well the Media 100 folk were presenting Media 100 HD and I hate attending a wake before the death (even if the corpse smells rather bad). What’s happening with Media 100 is very sad for me. My first purchase of a Media 100 back in 1994 was the single best business decision I ever made. Media 100 made the first NLE that was truly finished quality on the desktop with a relatively simple editing interface that, for me, brought high quality video into the computer as pixels for further manipulation. (My second purchase was COSA After Effects to manipulate those pixels!)

But Media 100 was often the underdog: the editing software’s strength was its simplicity – after all John Molinari’s intention was to democratize video editing – in an industry where more features was always the mantra. The hardware had the highest quality video codec in those early days and well into the transition to PCI cards. But they failed to adapt to a changing market, because at the heart, Media 100 was a hardware company and the world moved to software or more accurately is somewhere along the journey to having moved to software. The “democratization” that CEO John Molinari had spoken of in his Blood Secrets article originally published in Videography in June 1994 was much better fulfilled by Apple computer starting with the release of Final Cut Pro and iMovie. There’s more on Media 100’s vision my own 2001 article.

For a democratized industry software can fulfill the role much more affordably than hardware, and Media 100 were blind-sided by the rapid take up of DV right into their target market. Media 100 could not react quickly enough and, despite Media 100’s 4:2:2 codec and higher image quality for the discerning eye, DV was good enough for most people. Media 100 had started work on new hardware but politics meant that work done on Macintosh was abandoned and started over on Windows. Such an ambitious project as 844/X took longer than anticipated to come to market, was on the “wrong” platform for the customer base and the starting price, while very competitive, was still too high for a market that had collapsed in the post-dot-com era.

Media 100’s assets were purchased by Optibase who seemed to have the right idea, until this last couple of months when they went back on announcements of just last year, dropped the wrong product line (844/X) and instead pushed ahead into the only market where they have no opportunity to survive – Media 100 HD. The market for the few unique features that Media 100 HD has, is very small – too small for the division to survive. 844/X is now, for all intents and purposes, dead, unless some other company moves it forward into HD. As an HD system there would be a couple of years where hardware has a unique advantage. But not under these owners who have squandered the goodwill they had garnered.

Media 100 is not the only company to have come and gone in the years I’ve been in the industry – I remember Puffin Designs’ fun NAB costumes and soft toys; ICE’s white igloo stood out in a sea of similar-looking booths; and while Terran’s product still lives on, staggering near death at the hands of Discreet, the company is long gone.

The good thing is that, while companies come and go, the engineering expertise mostly stays in the industry. New managements give engineers a chance to innovate again in a clean environment. Discreet let the original Paint/Effect -> combustion development team go and Apple snapped up the whole team within a week with the result being Motion down the track. Media 100s engineers are, mostly still working in the industry and still contributing.

So, I’ll raise a glass this year at NAB as an official farewell. I will always appreciate the opportunity it provided to me and my business, with a side thanks to Mark Richards at Animotion/Adimex in Sydney who up-sold me to Media 100. Despite officially still “being there” I believe the Media 100 brand will be gone shortly. Such is the life cycle of innovative companies that don’t continue to innovate and take account of market shifts. It’s a salutary lesson to all of us who are in business – if we do not continue innovating and moving with our customers we risk joining the ranks of the “once were great” of history.

February 2005
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