The present and future of post production business and technology

Why would we want one type of NLE design?

Here’s a question.  If you enter a new business into a crowded market, would you design it to be as similar to the existing competition, or would you design something different that differentiates itself in the marketplace?

Growing up in Australia in the 1960’s thru to 90’s on Saturday afternoon the average Sydneysider – the biggest city in Australia – could choose from five networks: 3 commercial (7, 9 and 10) and two Government – ABC (think PBS but Govt funded) and SBS (for multicultural entertainment). Typically two of the commercial networks and both ABC and SBS would have some sort of sport. (Soccer on SBS was very “multicultural” at the time!)

The ratings winner was the 10 network because they programmed something that wasn’t sport! Although sports were, and are, very popular, the aggregate non-sport market was bigger!

Although Media Composer wasn’t the first non-linear editing software, it was the first to capture the popular imagination of the industry. It’s interface was very comfortable for editors familiar with both Moviola and tape-based offline editing. That was probably exactly the right thing to do at the time.

At the time.

At that time, there were very few professional editors. Those working tended to be involved in the production of Motion Pictures (for big companies), Episodic Television, lessor Television and the beginnings of the Cable market. There would have been a few working in production houses working on big corporate productions. Overall, a fairly small group of people who had well defined needs for tools. Very common needs in fact, because the outputs were really not that different.

Then in the 1990’s the industry became democratized. Blame DV and Firewire-based NLEs if you want, but the number of people editing video skyrocketed over the next 15 years through to today. The type and variety of video projects has also changed, with distribution options starting with VHS, then DVD and now the Internet, added to any traditional channels. Of course in the US, the Cable business boomed from the mid 90’s, although the bulk of production was now outside the TV and Film worlds.

And yet, in 2011, one of the major NLE developers decides to, finally, give us a choice in interface designs, and that’s a problem?  It will probably prove to be the most brilliant move any NLE developer has ever done. And probably only Apple have the resources and chutzpah to pull it off!

Final Cut Pro X is the first revisit to the NLE interface since Sony Vegas. Sony Vegas, designed by audio rather than video oriented engineers, developed according to what its users and developers thought “made sense”, not the way it had been done since time began. Although it has a very large market (sharing the bottom 32% with Media 100, Premiere Pro and Edius) it’s not Apple nor Avid!

Avid would have extreme difficulty taking even part of its user base on that journey. You only have to view the controversy over the Smart Tool changes implemented in MC 5.0 (and substantially improved/fixed in 5.5 btw) to know that a complete rebuild of the interface would be too much.

Apple had two things going for them. They can, as I said, withstand any market push-back for as long as it takes for the new software to be as fully featured as its predecessor, and for the marketplace to understand the value of the new approach. They also have a range of really good technologies on their operating systems that were just waiting for the right design to come along.

Plus, the time was ripe for there to be another choice. Something other than sport all Saturday afternoon!! A real choice of interface, one they hope will be more suited to a wider range of users than the existing Final Cut Pro design.

And if you still want to “watch sport”, then there’s Premiere Pro (very similar to Final Cut Pro and probably the easiest transition, particularly since you likely already own it because you bought Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects), or Media Composer (very affordable with the cross-grade promotion going on until mid June!).

I like the idea of choice. Avid have made it clear that they are focused on, and are focussing their tools on, those working in Studio film Broadcast and Cable TV and the professional newsrooms of the TV industry. That’s good market positioning and clearly sets out a Unique Selling Proposition.

Adobe are making the best, faster horse that they can, and I’m sure that will endear them to many soon-to-be former Final Cut Pro 7 users.

Of course, as my friend Oliver Peters has pointed out, Final Cut Pro X competes with Final Cut Pro as well as with NLEs from other companies. Apple are likely to be selling both for a while to come.

I think that Apple’s decision to give us interface choice, to reinvent the NLE for the next generation of editors, preditors and others, is exactly the right move for 2011.  Final Cut Pro’s similarity to other NLEs when it was introduced was similarly exactly the right thing for that time. But not for now.







10 responses to “Why would we want one type of NLE design?”

  1. Robert DeSaeger

    When someone designs something new, you will always have nah sayers. But as usual, the competition will observe what Apple is doing and then shortly after, guess what folks. They have mimic Apple’s design.
    The only time that they have not done so is with the iPad.
    I am extremely pleased on what they have come up with, in such a short time, and it is truly different from iOS4.

  2. patrice freymond

    In the days of early NLE’s Lightworks was the only one to offer you display flexibility even though, like others, their’s analogy was also that of the player/recorder model.

    I started with 2″ reel to reel and edit currently on Avid, FCP (which I teach) and Quantel, with occasional dabbing in old style linear editing too, and guess what? I am excited to see yet another innovation happening with my tools of trade, even though I am well aware that it WILL cause me a few headaches!


  3. Christian Wilby

    The industry needs a kick up the backside and hopefully, FCPX will do it!

    Don’t forget though Philip; its not for ‘pro’s’! 🙂

  4. Agreed. But the real salient point is that I don’t see much reason that a single editorial platform can’t work in different “modes”, dependant on the needs of the editor. Very much as demonstrated in the presentation. The timeline view options in FCPX allow you to view a sequence with or without thumbnails, with or without audio waveforms, or even JUST audio if that’s what you’re concentrating on. Is it so improbable that this customization exists throughout the rest of the program?

    The really exciting part of the demo for me is just how much more focus there is on the timeline. Having to open clips in the viewer to animate or alter them is horribly inefficient. Over the last month I find myself thinking about the tasks I do all the time, and wonder what the FCPX workflow is, and most of the time I find myself realizing how much faster I could do what I need to do using the FCPX workflow. Now, I can say for sure that this will be the case until I lay hands on the program, but I have to say I’m chomping at the bit to do so.

    It’s really been quite astonishing to witness the lack of imagination of a supposedly artistic group of users. If they didn’t see it in the presentation, it’s not there. If it’s not how they do it now, it must be “dumbed down”.

    Do people seriously think Apple has gone through 2+ years of R&D, rewriting this application without the help of trusted Beta testers?

    If FCPX supports EDL and OMF, then these “prosumer” accusations need to end. That Apple has decided to even try and innovate in this space and been met with equal parts scorn and derision is crazy, and really quite sad. If we’re to stop right now and concede that the NLE UI paradigm created over 20 years ago is perfect and any changes are a “watering down” of the program’s professional capability- then quite frankly that depresses me.

  5. Christian Wilby

    “It’s really been quite astonishing to witness the lack of imagination of a supposedly artistic group of users. If they didn’t see it in the presentation, it’s not there. If it’s not how they do it now, it must be “dumbed down”.

    I had this self same ‘discussion’ with somebody last Thursday night in Mancheser (UK) at a FCPUserGroup meeting. Some people are just getting too carried away with it all – and that includes Walter Biscardi! 🙂

  6. Marcus R. Moore

    I think the only thing that’s going to settle all this foolishness is going to be more info from Apple, and quite honestly I’m wondering just how that’s going to happen.

    With WWDC fast approaching, I think our window for additional information is closing until that event is over. Even after that, I’m very curious to see how they’re going to divulge more info before the release of the product, since it not something they usually do. Will they announce more specific details at another upcoming FCPUG meeting? Will they post a Lion-like preview page several weeks before the unannounced “June” launch date. The former seems more likely, but inherently it was this very problematic way to “sneak” FCPX that I think has been the cause of so much nonsense. Because ultimately they left it to the tech press and attendees to get the message out, which just ended up being a mass of conflicting opinion, egos, and supposition. And it’s been a mess…

    Honestly, I wonder if some of these people wouldn’t have been better off without the sneak peak they gave us. Obviously some can’t wrap their brains around what that term means. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been accused of being the close-minded and brainwashed one for NOT condemning an unreleased product yet. What world are we living in? Don’t innovate… just throw more lipstick on the pig.

    1. Christian Wilby


    2. Markus

      Most people don’t like change. And so-called “professionals” are terrified of it. When all those old-school Moviola feature film editors had to switch to AVID (back in the 90ies) – they fought this switch for as long as they could. Now Apple gets rid of the viewer… No wonder they’re all running for the hills.

      I – on the other hand – have seen enough exciting details about FCP X that I”d rather start working with it tomorrow than next week. And I am a professional editor too. (Used to cut 35mm film, tape, AVID…) Apple’s implementation of keywords and smart bins could be a gigantic time saver for me and my peers (movie trailer editors). Right now we spend hours and hours making select sequences and then re-shuffling those very same sequences again and again depending on what part of our material we are concentrating on. With smart bins this re-shuffling will be a thing of the past. I cannot wait…

      But as everybody else, I am nervous too. Not because FCP X is so different, but because we simply don’t know if and how this new version will behave in a shared professional environment.

      But that aside, I am all for change! (Especially when it’s as gorgeous looking as FCP X!)

  7. “Adobe are making the best, faster horse that they can, and I’m sure that will endear them to many soon-to-be former Final Cut Pro 7 users.”

    Should that have read “Apple is making the…”?

  8. Nope. Adobe are making the faster horse. In that analogy, Apple are working on a car 🙂