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

Archive for August 2009

With the release of Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) this week, we finally get to see QuickTime X.

Simply put, QuickTime X is, as predicted, a simplified media player and simplified architecture optimized for playback of linear video streams. Most of what made QuickTime interesting to interactive authorers back a few years, is not present in QuickTime X.

We gain some new features: 2.2 gamma, screen capture and easily publish to major online video sharing sites. Screen capture is a nice addition and easy sharing probably would have been predictable if we’d seen Final Cut Pro 7 earlier.

The 2.2 gamma will no doubt take some time to get full adoption but at least it provides a way for us to add or change a color profile. Files with color profiles automatically adjust display to look correct on all screen. (At least, that’s the theory.) Within the Final Cut Studio it seems that correct gamma will be maintained *if* conversions are done with Compressor and not QuickTime 7’s Pro Player.

Chapter display has changed from a pop-up text list to thumbnail images. Better for consumer focused movies; less good for professionals.

Fortunately, it’s not an either/or. You can choose to install QuickTime 7.6 in addition to QuickTime X. If you try and access a movie that requires QT 7 features, users will be prompted to install QT 7 (aka “the real QuickTime!). If you want to make sure it’s installed, Apple have instructions on installing it.

So that’s the story of QuickTime X – a simple, consumer-focused player with a modern-looking interface, just as I predicted a little over a year ago.

Added 8/31 Just got this off a QT Apple email list. It’s not an official word from Apple but I think it sums it up well:

Quicktime X at this time isn’t a replacement to Quicktime 7, just allows faster multi-threaded playback of some of the older codecs.

Added 9/1 Ars Technica has a deep article on the difference between QT X and QT 7 and how QTkit negotiates between them,  that confirms I got my “educated guesses” right and provides more depth in how Apple achieves this.

I have to say I was horrified to read that Ryan Seacrest was getting $15 million a year to host American Idol. To host, not produce, not to book a studio, not to actually produce anything but to host. To read a teleprompter and walk without falling over.

I’ve never met Mr Seacrest and I have no personal animosity but $15 million  a year to host a talent show seems just wrong. Way out of balance with anything real.  This is a 3x increase in salary over what he’s been getting – $5 million a year – for the same job.

That same amount of money would produce six episodes of Mad Men including paying all the far more talented cast (hey, they can act); paying the crew; locations; editors; facilities and presumably profit for the producers. All instead of paying one person to turn up.

I cannot believe that any one person brings that much value to a show. It just seems way out of balance to anything reasonable and human and really, tells me why the whole industry needs to be made over anew.

Equally stomach churning are the  sums paid to the CEOs of the major media companies, even when the results they turn in are “disappointing” to say the least.  Disney CEO Robert Iger earned $30.6 million last year while presiding over a 26% drop in profit at Disney? Where is the shareholder revolt? Why are they not demanding an $8 million drop in salary package?

It’s not just Iger; the rest of the crowd of losing value media company heads are all paid outrageous sums of money for the value they (don’t) bring to the companies they head.

Here’s my solution. Set a limit to the maximum ratio the highest and lowest paid employees of a company can earn. You want to increase the CEO salary, then everyone’s salary goes up to share in the (obviously great) results. Set the ratio at 100:1 if you like, but set a ratio that cannot be broken.

Until there’s some sanity I’ll be putting my efforts into demolishing that industry to start over afresh.



What is new from Intelligent Assistance?

Sorry about the little haitus in posts. It’s certainly not because I’ve got nothing I want to talk about! (Ryan Seacrest’s $13 million deal for American Idol and why doesn’t Robert Iger’s outrageous salary go down when Disney’s profit drops 26%, but they’ll either wait for later today or tomorrow.)

The pause has been caused by a couple of reasons: number one of which is that this week (and the next two) I’m looking after myself. Partner Greg is in Australia for a Visa renewal and I’m once again realizing how much he does to make our lives easier. (Mine particularly).

Also, we’ve been releasing new software, updating older products and revising earlier books. In fact we’ve been doing so much that I can’t announce stuff in press releases yet!

About a month back I finished completely revising Simple Encoding Recipes for the Web 2009 edition. Anyone who purchased in 2009 should have received a download link. Announcements to everyone else are coming or you can buy the update for $4.95. (It’s a complete rewrite).

Last week the revision of The HD Survival Handbook 2009-2010 was finished and, again, those who purchased in 2009 will have received an email with an update link. All other previous purchasers will have received a $4.75 upgrade offer. It’s been about 30% rewritten, almost an additional 20 pages, so the upgrade price represents the value add that’s gone into it. The “upgrade” is the full new version, not changed pages. Also this year we went with Avid support – codecs, hardware and workflow. Given that’s now a 233 page US Letter book, it’s a huge project to revise. So much has changed in a year.

In between, Greg’s been working hard to release an updated First Cuts to First Cuts Studio by adding in the functionality of one of our new applications, exceLogger. Have I mentioned we love customer feedback? It’s made Sync-N-Link a much stronger product. Naturally we want the same feedback from customers of our other products. Good, bad or feature request, all feedback is welcomed. (Begged for!) exceLogger was a feature request for First Cuts for Final Cut Pro, and is available as a stand-alone application for those who just want to log in Excel but merge with captured media in Final Cut Pro.

BTW this now makes  First Cuts Studio great value: At $295 it includes Finisher (US$149) and exceLogger (US$69) – so the Auto-edit functionality of First Cuts is just $77!

Greg also developed two additional applications that fit perfectly in our metadata focus. miniME (Metadata Explorer) when we discovered (just four years after Apple told us!) that the QuickTime metadata from IT-based digital video sources (non-tape) is preserved in FCP but only visible in exported XML. So, Greg wrote me a simple tool to view the hidden metadata and export to an Excel spreadsheet. (That functionality is free in the demo version.) The paid version lets you remap that metadata into visible fields in Final Cut Pro.

Finally, the night we demonstrated miniME and exceLogger a friend of mine again suggested an idea for software that would report clips used in a Sequence – video or audio – as he has to provide reports to his clients, but equally useful for music reports. Greg worked on it for a while and this week we released Sequence Clip Reporter. (Yeah, we tried to find a better name but that’s descriptive and stuck.)

Now there’s a lot of work goes into writing software. There’s the work on the actual functions of the software, but then there’s questions about interface and how functions should work. Then there’s software updating to be added, serial number support to be added and feedback mechanisms added. All beyond the actual functionality.

Me, I get to design a new logo for each piece of software, write website and postcard copy, write a press release and send it out. Plus Help files need to be written so people can actually use the software. So, around any new software there’s a lot of work that doesn’t actually involve much software writing!

And that’s why posting has been sparse.

Over at Techdirt, Mike Masnick wrote an interesting article suggesting that copyright on “art or music” may be unconstitutional. Now, I don’t expect the Supreme Court to rule that way any time soon – there’s not even a case before them – but it did make me wonder what would be different if copyright didn’t exist on film, television, music, architecture and other creative arts.

I thoroughly recommend reading Mike’s article, but the gist of the argument is that the Constitution provides for a “Limited Period” (originally 14 years, not 50 years past the death of the author) for “authors” (only, no descendants or corporate owners) “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”. Useful Arts apparently being the business of invention in the language of the day. No mention of almost all our current copyright system.

We wouldn’t have the RIAA suing its best customers. The RIAA, MPAA and their kind around the world would have to work out how to compete, which is simple: provide a good product at a fair price and provide it conveniently. Without the crutch of copyright to protect a dying business model (and a highly profitable one, so it’s understandable they don’t want to adjust to the new reality) they would have to compete.

After all, television has been giving its content away pretty much since day one. Of course others (advertisers) pay for the privilege of interrupting the program with something irrelevant, which is why I’d rather pay a fair amount for my ad free copies, thanks.

If there was no copyright, then digital copies would abound, and content creators would either have to add value to their official (paid) version; or bundle advertising so closely with the show that it doesn’t appear like advertising. (In fact I believe the future of advertising is branded media, but that’s a post for another day.)

Of course, it can be done. iTunes and Amazon’s music store sell music that is fairly readily available via various P2P mechanisms. Every one of the 4 Billion songs Apple has sold has been available free.

Perhaps content could be free after a period of time, and people will pay for immediacy. This is the strategy the Direct TV hoped would give them more customers by showing Friday Night Lights on Direct TV before their outing on NBC. (See my earlier article on how the numbers stack up for new media, on how that program is being funded and what a fair price would be for a viewer.)

People will pay for convenience and simplicity – both reasons why iTunes has been such a successful model, despite charging way too much for television and movie content.

There are dozens of ways that television, and new media production, could fund itself if there was the necessity and they couldn’t fall back on copyright. In fact in my “Making a living from new media” seminar, I outline 13 different ways that free media can lead to a decent middle class income.

If “Hollywood” wasn’t covered by copyright, how different would it be?



How is Shake not Motion?

With the apparent demise of Shake – really nothing real now, as it seems to have been withdrawn from sale – Apple appears to be redirecting enquires to the Final Cut Studio 3 pages, suggesting that they consider Motion a substitute for Shake. I hope there’s something else coming (“Phenomenal” anyone?) because Motion is not a substitute.

Now, before I get into the reasons why they’re not interchangeable, let me say that it might make perfect business sense to drop Shake and not replace it. Shake, when Apple purchased it, had about 200 customers. That number has obviously grown dramatically but I’d be surprised if there were 10,000 true users: people who use Shake as the high-end compositing tool it was designed to be. It was also obvious that Shake, as it was, wasn’t going to be able to move forward in any serious way: no way to hook into GPU power or other such lush goodness.

Creating a replacement from scratch – all new, modern code – is an expensive operation. For a company like Apple, probably in the tens of millions of dollars to not only create the application but to test it internally (the Motion team, at time of launch, had as many QA people as software engineers), put the marketing plan into practice, run launch events, seminars, create training resources, etc. At Apple’s level, software is an expensive business.

The market for high end compositing software is small, and in the time Shake hasn’t been developed competitors have been significantly upgraded and taken market share from Shake. Maybe the decision was made to simply take what they could from Shake and roll it into Motion.

But Motion is not now, nor ever will be, a replacement for Shake. Motion is a great motion graphics tool with compositing capability. Shake is a compositing tool with some motion graphics capability. You see the problem.

Motion is an excellent motion graphics tool for video editors. It is designed to make it relatively easy for non-experts to create some fabulous looking motion graphics. Shake, OTOH, was for those individuals who were trying to track a head  shot against green screen onto a body while putting the whole body into a scene generated in 3D while adding other 3D characters.

This would be a nightmare to composite in Motion, because it’s not what Motion was designed for.

So, while it makes perfect sense to kill Shake – it was old and needed updating, and maybe updating doesn’t make economic or marketing sense – it doesn’t make sense to pretend that Motion is a suitable replacement.

I suspect that the original purchase of Shake was more for the marketing benefit of being associated with Tentpole movies rather than the income from software sales. Apple doesn’t need that so much anymore (and that’s a good thing).

I’d still like to see what the Nothing Real team would do recreating the application from the ground up with modern technologies, but I suspect Shake will never be anything real in the future.

August 2009
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