The present and future of post production business and technology

Who are Apple’s Final Cut Pro X customers?

When you’re designing software you always have a “use case” or typical user in mind. For our Assisted Editing software I can pretty much name every person we had in mind when creating it. First Cuts was definitely made for me. Transcriptize was an idea from Larry Jordan and was made for him. Sequence Clip Reporter‘s inspiration was from my friend Les Perkins.

So, when I had the opportunity to ask Apple who their typical user is, I had hoped for something more specific than “the vast majority of their current Final Cut Pro users”. Without knowing the demographics of their current user base, we have no idea how to work out who exactly is buying Final Cut Pro X, or who ‘should’ be buying it.

It’s hard to point fingers at who the “2 million installs” equates to, or even the year-earlier “1.4 million unique paying customers” (and there are likely a couple more installs that didn’t pay).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are 25,500 “film and TV editors” in the United States. Career oriented suggests slightly lower number – 21,000 – with 16% being self employed and 19% being unemployed or under employed. For the purposes of the discussion we’ll take the higher number and assume that worldwide it’s about 4-5 times higher. (BTW, these were the best employment numbers I could find, if you have any other sources, I’d happily take them into consideration. I’m not trying to prove a point, but to understand an industry’s shifts.) Since that group were never Apple’s core customers, preferring (probably correctly) that Media Composer was a more appropriate tool for the work they do, I’d say that there are roughly 50,000 Final Cut Pro customers that are “professional film and TV editors”. Probably fewer. (Just by way of logic testing that number, there are about 7,200 members of the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild.)

Leaving us to find 1.35 million users that are not ‘professionals’ as many have defined it during the current debate. I think we struggle over the terminology. Who are these people?

And just as an aside, if we take the SCRI report that Final Cut Pro 7 (and earlier) has more than 50% of the “professional NLE” market, and Avid comes second with 22% (these stats are older as current SCRI reports are expensive). Also it should be noted that Apple’s 1.4 million number includes Final Cut Express, Final Cut Studio and Final Cut Pro sales. Based on those data points, Avid has (probably including DS and Liquid) about 400,000 NLE customers. Again way more than the total employment in the US of 25,500 “professional film and video editors”.

Clearly there are a group of people working with these tools but not as “film and TV editors”. I do not believe they are all “prosumer”, either. In fact I’d like to clarify that I never used the word prosumer in my interview with Variety (registration and viewing restrictions required) – in fact fought the use of that term – and the only reason I think it was used was because the journalist, who’s a pretty savvy tech writer in general, just doesn’t have a term for “not that particular type of professional but still professional”. I’ve already written some on the subject in What the heck is a Pro anyway? where I focused on workflows as being key.

Well, I’d like to go back to another perspective: a much larger, longer time scale perspective that I’ve written about before and even done a Terence and Philip Show about. What we now call ‘video’ is just another form of literacy, like reading and writing. To understand the argument we have to go back a couple of centuries, before the general population was literate.

Back then – pre printing press and general literacy – being literate (having the skills of literacy) made you a hot commodity. The work you did was appreciated by many although most didn’t understand what was involved. In fact, at that time, if you were literate, then your entire career was probably built around it: copying scripture (and other Holy works); reading it to people; interpreting it.

Later that literate group expanded and the literacy component became just part of a priestly function. Literacy was still a very important part of a Pastors duty – reading scripture to the congregation, teaching, interpreting – but it was part of the profession.

I think that’s where we are now: there are still those who use their “video skills” as their primary income: they put “Editor” on their tax return and employment questionnaires. For the record there are just slightly more employed as ‘Television, Video, and Motion Picture Camera Operators’ (26,300 in 2008).

I don’t buy that everyone else who buys Media Composer, Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro is a “prosumer” (whatever that is). That term came about when there was equipment that produced results close to broadcast quality but at a fraction of the price, but with some compromises at a technical level. Prosumer gear was generally thought to be purchased by advanced hobbyists or beginners. It was insulting at the time and it’s insulting in its use now.

I did not put “editor” on a tax return, ever, because I never worked exclusively in that field. I wrote, I directed (after I learnt that I was a lousy shooter), I edited, did motion graphics (and for a while became the defacto effects house in my smallish market), and output. I did TV Commercials that went out locally, and nationally, in Australia. I did a lot of corporate work, but largely decided that educational content was where I was particularly good. We produced, and sold, many dozens of titles and hundreds of copies, used around Australia in Tertiary education. We shot a variety of formats and eventually mastered to BetaSP. I don’t recall ever shooting BetaSP – usually SVHS or occasionally the digital Hi8 format.

Was I then a “film or TV editor”?  I doubt that I fitted that description. Was I professional? Absolutely. That’s how I made my living for nearly 20 years, and employed up to four others in that business.  Even though I occasionally did broadcast work, that wasn’t the focus.

Since moving to the US, I’ve done some editing (for a Yoga DVD, shot multicam mostly) in Final Cut Pro, but mostly edited smaller projects. I’ve also increasingly set up and supported systems being used by people editing broadcast television and film. Mostly on Final Cut Pro, but I moved one production from Final Cut Pro to Media Composer because I thought it was better suited to the job.

As well, I support systems for professionals whose work goes directly to DVD or the Web (or Blu-ray). I also help create software that is largely for “pro” workflows.

I was a professional video producer I guess, although I wrote, directed and edited as well as produced. So I would argue strongly that there are professionals who are not “film and television editing professionals” who are equally not ‘prosumer’.

The trend is for this type of application of both forms of literacy. We see very clearly that, in most jobs some ability to read and write is assumed and essential. From reading the instructions in a franchised food business, through writing reports and presentations, right through to the niche that derives all their income from writing. But even there, there are those making a living writing novels, and others making a living writing technical manuals.

So, who are that “vast majority” Apple claims Final Cut Pro X is for? They’re the people that Final Cut Pro has always been primarily for: the democratized new media professional, in all its guises. Final Cut Pro 1 supported just one workflow: NTSC DV and that was definitely not for the “pros”, who mostly had nothing to do with Final Cut Pro until version 3 or 4 many years later.

Josh Mellicker – one of the original Final Cut Pro gurus – makes a great argument that Apple erred in pitching Final Cut Pro X to the “pros”:

With FCP, he has always had the product positioning philosophy of “get Hollywood first, everyone else will follow” (A philosophy I do not completely share, I recommended in the early days that Apple forget Hollywood and focus on making it “the editing software for the rest of us” (the millions of emerging education/ industrial/ training/ science/ medicine/ politics/ religion/ documentary/ independent video producers) and let Avid keep the couple thousand hardcore high end editors).

Emphasis is Josh’s.  Even though Apple did reach out to the “pros” it was for marketing advantage, not because that was a big market for them. “Hollywood” is (or perhaps was, not sure) important to Apple because every film cut on Final Cut Pro sells a large number of copies down the ecosystem.

Josh is spot on here. Final Cut Pro does not seem to have ever been considered as a professional (as we now define it) tool when it was introduced. Steve Jobs did not set out to create a great tool for “professionals” – like John Molinari (Media 100’s CEO) before him he wanted a tool for every desktop user. From his 1999 introduction of the iMac DV and iMovie 1:

We think Desktop video is going to be the next big thing. Imagine this in classrooms. Imagine classroom video reports, imagine this with parents, imagine the Steven Spielburgs of the world being able to use this technology when they were kids. It’s going to be unbelievable.

Sounds like it could have been lifted from John Molinari’s Blood Secrets. (This article is a great read btw.):

Our purpose is to build nonlinear systems that empower the individual to compose finished videos, largely on their own, with small overhead costs. We call these people new users and see the individualism of their work leading to new forums of interest for video and altering how programs are “broadcast” to a target audience.

Alex Lindsay has a great article where he lists out just some of the people for whom Final Cut Pro X would work (I’ve trimmed Alex’s writing for brevity, the whole article is well worth the read):

Marketing staff – Video is no longer a bonus on a website — it’s a requirement.

Photographers – They are NOT videographers — they grew up on stills. But it’s a brave new world and everywhere they turn, people are expecting video.

Educators – The education system in the US and around the world is changing very rapidly and video is a large part of this revolution.

Beginning Filmmakers – They have a vision, but not the skills to get crazy with the edit.

Podcasters – Most of these folks what to create shows on low/no budget… not edit the next masterpiece. FCPX is a great tool for this.

To which I would add:

  • Journalists – CNN alone has several thousand journalists who not only shoot video, but also edit it, a radio report and upload for broadcast and web. Usually several stories a day.
  • Webisodes – a lot of content is created for consumption on the web with no pretenses to any historic media.
  • Corporate video – more than ever
  • Conferences and Events – Final Cut Pro X would be great for fast turn-around conference video.
  • Wedding and Event videography – you’d be surprised how professional this market is now compared with when I was starting out (and did a few weddings, to my chagrin).

And Josh lists out:

  • education
  • industrial
  • training
  • science
  • medicine
  • politics
  • religion
  • documentary
  • independent video producer.

There is obvious overlap and there are more I can’t identify right now. This, now huge, group have been the primary purchasers of NLE software for most of the last decade or longer. No NLE company could survive on catering only to the needs of the “professional film and TV editor” market.  Even Avid. Avid generates much more income from its server and workgroup products than it does from Media Composer. In its 10K filing Avid breaks up its customers into Creative Enthusiasts, Professionals and Media Enterprises (TV Stations largely).

Sales of professional video-editing products accounted for approximately 13%, 13% and 14% of our consolidated net revenues for 2010, 2009 and 2008, respectively.

That’s definitely higher proportion than Final Cut Studio’s contribution to Apple’s net revenue,  but even Avid’s focus is not directly on “professional video editors”. They derive most of their income from someone else. If Avid dropped Media Composer completely the company would still do okay financially. For many years Terry Curren was predicting that Avid would become a “server company”, until the current management had obviously turned the company around.

Also important to consider is that Adobe has zero reliance on Premiere Pro for its financial success and not that much with the video creative applications. Large scale (print and web) publishing and document management solutions – and Flash – are the core of Adobe’s business. Again, ‘professional’ editing isn’t the focus.

And right now, Brent Altomere (and others) are even more pissed off with me for dissing “professionals”. I’m not. Really I’m not. I applaud anyone who wants to produce quality in a market that’s increasingly pushing quantity. What I’m trying to do is work out who are those 1.35 million Final Cut Pro customers that aren’t doing the traditional film and broadcast TV work.

They’re the democratized market. Of those Josh, Alex and I outlined above, not many would identify themselves as editors or even “video producers”. Many are marketers, or trainers or other occupations where producing video is only part of what they do.  I think in a world where High School Juniors are expected to turn in projects in video form (i.e. the video is not the project by itself, but the subject matter of the report must be turned in as a video) is a world where “professional” has new value, because of its scarcity as an occupation. At the same time there are millions of professionals who produce video as part of their employment: much as they read and write reports etc. as part of their employment.

That group has been the dominant part of Apple’s Final Cut Pro market since day one, and is also the preponderance of Avid’s Media Composer market and Adobe’s Premiere Pro market. That group will be very well suited with Final Cut Pro X (particularly once it gains multicam and workflow tools).

The democratized markets that John Molinari targeted with Media 100 (and was horrified to discover how many units were in facilities when addressing a 1998 NAB Breakfast meeting) and Steve Jobs identified as an opportunity for Apple, clearly show the direction the market has been going. I think Final Cut Pro X is an inevitable step i that direction.







16 responses to “Who are Apple’s Final Cut Pro X customers?”

  1. Chris WIlby

    Walter won’t like this Philip! :-))

    Nice one!!!

  2. Extremely well written, Philip.

  3. Kit Green

    Back in the days when every editing suite cost tens of thousands to buy (after the era when it was hundreds of thousands, and £600 an hour to use in 1980!) it seemed reasonable to nail your colours to the mast of the manufacturer that appeared to offer the nearest solution to the one you wanted, even if not perfect. Different systems worked in their own ways and not much in the way of cross platform interchange was possible.

    That is why I remained a bit of a luddite when the likes of Discreet and Quantel were pushing their own agendas in the early 90s onwards. I could not see the logic of an industry being beholden to narrow incompatibility, especially from an operator’s point of view where system specific training, in a market that was moving ever further towards freelance practices, was a difficult choice.

    The same was going on in what at that time was the offline editing business. Even this kit was too expensive to allow most operators to have a good enough cross platform knowledge to allow chopping and changing of systems on a job by job basis. What started as rivalry between Lightworks and Avid developed into a wider scrap as other long forgotten players tried their luck.

    The big advance is of course was the appearence over the last decade of far more open systems using mainly generic hardware. Lower costs both help and hinder everyones’ business models. (That’s another story.)

    The issue being covered here regarding Final Cut X is a natural progression. Kit has to be cheaper so for any developer to make the returns that used to be available on complex specialist equipment the only option is to go for volume sales. That means normal consumers. Continuing development may well exclude professional toolsets.

    “Higher end” users may have to bite the bullet and go back to systems that cost them more, allowing developers to create the tools needed for a smaller market.

    Alternatively we could ask what the future is of professional standards. Can anyone afford them? With fragmented audiences to the micro level does anyone care?

  4. Hi Philip, another great article!

    I have a story:

    Once, I was teaching a “DV Revolution” 3-day workshop on Apple campus in Cupertino with about 25 attendees, and we were about to break for lunch, and a high-ranking, high-pay-grade Apple exec came in (no, not Mr. Jobs, and I don’t want to mention a name because this story is not altogether flattering).

    He asked if he could have a word with the class, and asked, “How many people edit projects for TV?” No one raised their hand. “How many edit films?” No one. The exec was visibly puzzled. “Documentaries? Shorts? Animated films?” Nobody.

    So he asked “Well then, what kind of movies do you make?” One guy said “I do training videos for our company. We make giant batteries.” Another said “We make videos that teach people how to make puppets.” And a third, “I shoot video every year at the annual conference for remote-controlled aircraft builders.”

    He left with a kind of defeated expression on his face that said that he really had no idea who Final Cut Pro users were. I think the puppets answer was the one that really did him in 🙂

    1. Neat story. And probably the point when Apple started rethinking the focus.

  5. Markus

    I cut Hollywood movie trailers for a living. I am not part of the obove mentioned list. The majority of my colleagues work with FCP. We have short timelines. Final Cut Pro has always been a perfect tool for us. FCP X could work for us as well if workflow issues and collaboration problems get solved. Keywords alone could make our work so much faster (we need to find material fast and need to put together various clip selection reels over and over again while working on cuts – smart collections!!!).

    Apple has used our trailer industry again and again to advertise the “old” FCP. One of our competitors was the first trailer house to use the “old” FCP and was on the beta team for this new release. It’s highly unlikely that any of us will jump to X any time soon. Our type of work is far too critical to make such a radical change now. But I can see a very slow transition over the next 2-3 years, if Apple keeps putting in features. And why would they not do it?

    After listening to one plugin manufacturer (Red Giant), who said that X could open up even more possibilities for them, I am optimistic. Just look at the iPhone and what happened to that platform after Apple opened it up to app developers. I think the same could be possible for FCP X. I think they are smart and laid the groundwork for a lot of outside flexibility, while keeping the price of the core app low.

  6. I expect FCP X to open up many, many new possibilities for us. I’d love to know which of those opportunities Apple will eventually kill, but that’s the nature of the game!

    Most FCP classic users didn’t start until FCP 3 or 4 when it matured enough. FCP 1 supported NTSC DV only (officially). Just one workflow.

  7. Philip:

    Another killer article – like you, I am wrestling with understanding “who is the audience.”

    And, like you, I am struck by the breadth of jobs being done by Final Cut.

    Thanks for the analysis.


  8. Mary Lynn Price

    Great article, Philip! Thank you for addressing this.

    Was asked very recently just who I thought Final Cut Pro X was for, and my immediate response was, “Me.” Having started initially with FCP 1 as a an underwater videographer who just wanted to make cool short DV videos about the underwater world, I now shoot, edit, and distribute online science communication videos and podcasts from the field, including from remote locations such as Antarctica, as one aspect of my professional work. My work doesn’t really fit into the “professional film and TV editor” category.

    Very much love your reference to “the democratized new media professional, in all its guises” because this to me says it all. Thank you again for your great help coming up to speed in this new editing and storytelling milieu!

    – Mary Lynn

  9. Philip, next time you fill out your tax form please write
    “Intelligent and insightful writer able to see past euphoria and ignore hysteria”

    Walter will hate this #2

  10. Great read, thank you.
    Video has come a long way. There is more video around than ever, ever growing.
    No wonder there are so many types of editors, producers, users…
    It’s all creating more demand & driving our industries to greener pastures.

  11. Alastair Leith

    On the “25,000 Film and TV editors” thing, most of the people I know using FCS would not call themselves Editors if you asked them. They call themselves directors, producers, filmmakers; even grading gets a mention at times.

    They’re using the FCS software on a daily basis in what you’d broadly call Film and TV (lots professionals working on of corporate/private videos too these days).

    This was the Pro market which the FCP revolution really excited, not those already using Avid and who put Editor on their tax return.

  12. James Kohler

    I am a commercial rated pilot and love it when I say I’m a pilot and people ask if I am a “Professional”. I tell them yes and they want to know what airline I fly for. When I tell them none, I don’t fly for money they ask how can I call my self a professional. Well, in aviation all pilots should be professionals – flying in a professional maner. So I think the same is with “editors”. I’m tired of the so called elitests, who are a small number, making their voices so known. apple is right non the market – looking toward the future. I still remember when OS X 10.0 was released. Boy, how we cried for OS 9+! now we can’t live without OS X! I do corporate, musics, etc videos and get paid for it. I guess I’m not a professional since I’m not doing TV or large scale film. Its all about story telling! I like what I see In fCP X and are eagerly tooling tot the future.

  13. AndrewK

    I remember Classic being a part of OS X until 10.5. And Rosetta aiding in the transition from PPC to Intel. And iMovie 6 being a free download until the ‘new’ iMovie was up to snuff a couple of years later. And even after Apple dropped the floppy disk and legacy ports you could still get the same functionality by buying USB printers and floppy drives.

    IMO editing in a professional manor involves doing the best I possibly can for the client. Using a broadcast monitor for accurate image monitoring. Using quality audio monitors for accurate sound monitoring. Collaborating with others (graphic artists, audio mixers, even other editors on occasion) so I know I delivered the best I could. Will my clients always notice the difference? Probably not. But I take pride in my work even if that means working some unbilled hours to get it how I want it.

    I don’t think it’s elitist to want my new tools to be able to provide the same level of quality, service and functionality that my current tools do. FCP 10 vs Final Cut Studio? Not really a fair fight. And maybe it’s not supposed to be. My recent work has mainly been for the web and an indie doc. Just because I’m not working on “A List” projects right now doesn’t mean I won’t strive for A List quality. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have as they say. I have to work within budget and time constraints just like everyone else but when I get a chance to reach for the stars on a project I don’t want my tools to turn into an albatross around my neck.

  14. Christopher Carnel

    Spot on and I would add a few more points…

    1. Speed/efficiency and power/capability- it’s amazing how these two issues are being lost in the nonsense of EDL’s, XML’s and legacy import. Moving forward this application is going to drastically reduce time while drastically increasing capability. Whenever you have those combinations working together – regardless of context – watch out. If there is any ingredients that are critical for advancement in our world it is these two. And in my opinion FCP X possesses them in spades. In version 1.0.

    2. Billions of people will have “HD” video capability via their cell phones in 3-5 years. The happy accidents from this footage alone will be astounding. The prosumer price points continue to drop precipitously bringing tens of millions into the “production” fold AROUND THE WORLD. These two phenomena’s coupled with increased bandwidth and speed will produce changes that we cannot begin to imagine.

    This is where Apple sees this going…and not simply for FCP X, but for iTunes, et al. Production is all going to be about the network effect and FCP X is positioning itself in this way. FCP 7 and Avid are poorly positioned for this future that is clearly inevitable.

    Way to go Apple. Keep up the good work and know that there are a lot of us who greatly and sincerely appreciate how you are transforming our lives for the better.

    1. Christopher Carnel

      To further the point…a patent applied for by Apple.

      This is for journalism…or art? This is going to be huge and the NLE that can service such workflows will win. In two years time the only thing we will be hearing about EDL’s and tape based workflows is people bitching that they’re stuck in that paradigm.