The NLE sales surprise no-one predicted?

One thing that fascinates me are numbers: not for their own sake, but for what they reveal. While re-reading John Buck’s excellent Timelines2 (recommended reading for anyone who is interested in the history of the NLE, volume 2 takes us just past the release of Final Cut Pro 1) I came across some interesting numbers, particularly juxtaposed with a post titled Adobe Claims “Industry Leadership” in Video Editing with 2.5 Million Users. Remembering that Apple have claimed 2 million “seats” of Final Cut Pro (1-7). And I’m pretty sure Avid have sold a few copies of Media Composer, Sony copies of Vegas, and Grass Valley aren’t in the Edius business for giggles. So, somewhat more than 2 million NLE users in our modern world.

What fascinates me about that is that John Buck quotes Final Cut Pro 1 Product Manager Andrew Baum – in April 1999 at the launch of FCP 1 – as explaining to the press:

The 60 million websites out there are going to be 60 million broadcast stations. Apple can realistically sell 25,000 units worldwide, at full price, by 2001.

So, in two years from April 1999, Apple expected to sell 25,000 units of Final Cut Pro 1. By July 2009, Phil Schiller stated that there were 1.4 million “and 50 percent of the market”. At the expected rate of 25,000 units in two years, the extrapolation would be 125,000 in 10 years, but it was more than 10 times that amount. (Now, that figure takes into account sales of Motion, Soundtrack Pro, Cinema Tools and Compressor when they were stand-alone, and it also includes Final Cut Express sales.)

At the NAB 2011 Supermeet, Apple announced “2 million seats” of Final Cut Pro and associated apps.

Also from Timeline 2, on January 27, 1998 from Media 100’s CFO of the day Peter Rice to analysts:

We see a big NT growth opportunity, and at the same time we intend to uphold our success on Macintosh, the platform upon which we have build our current installed base over 16,000 Media 100 users. This milestone makes Media 100 systems the most popular and widely used on the entire planet.

Media 100 estimated that the PC market would be three times the size of the Mac: or 48,000 or so. Media 100 never got that sort of penetration on the PC side, but I think ultimately got close to the 50,000 combined user base, mostly Mac users.

In 1998, 16,000 sales made you the “most popular and widely used on the entire planet.” Well, as long as you exclude Premiere, which had sold some 300,000 units by April 1998. I note that with significant caveats: most Premiere units were sold in OEM bundles, and it wasn’t unusual for a single user to be responsible for 3-4 “Premiere sales” as they upgraded their hardware.

Media 100 were also claiming in 1998, that they had more sales than Avid with Media Composer. I also find that plausible.

But fast forward another ten years and Adobe claim 2.5 million seats of Premiere Pro, Apple still have likely 1.5 million users on Final Cut Pro Classic and an unknown number of Final Cut Pro X seats. Media Composer could have as many as 300,000 seats but recent thinking makes me believe that is unlikely. I find nothing odd about Adobe’s claim either. I’ve been an Adobe customer longer than I’ve been a Final Cut Pro customer. In fact, I’d suggest that almost every Final Cut Pro seat is also an Adobe Premiere seat simply because buying the Production Studio is the least expensive way of buying any two of the apps in the suite! So, for Photoshop and After Effects (with Illustrator also in common use) there’s an install of Premiere Pro as well, used or not.

Now that’s a great thing for Adobe because it’s really easy to test drive an application that’s already likely installed!

Overall, I’m inclined to think the current NLE market for professional editing tools (excluding consumer tools like those Avid just sold) – Edius, Vegas, Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Pro X, Media Composer and Premiere Pro – is something like the 2.5 million total with almost 100% overlaps.

I also hypothesize that most of those seats of most of those applications are not in every day use, but still, there’s an enormous difference between expecting to sell less than 25,000 seats in your two years, and 2 million seats being in place 12 years later.

Or Media 100’s expectation of a “total market” of around 65,000 including Mac and PC markets, and 2.5 million installs of Premiere Pro on Mac and PC.

Something unforeseen changed. Josh Mellicker (DV Creators, MOD Machine) posted an anecdote in a comment that perhaps indicates that Apple were surprised by the democratization that their tool helped create.

9 replies on “The NLE sales surprise no-one predicted?”

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  1. I’d thought I’d add that EditShare Lightworks is claiming 300,000 download of their Windows version since it’s current free release.

    1. I believe it’s 360,000 downloads. I wonder how many have been run more than once, and how many are run once a week? My guess is that it gets downloaded a lot more than it gets used, because it’s free. “I’ll download it and look at it later!” And never find the time. Lightworks is an interesting experiment to follow.

  2. Having at some time tried all of these except Media 100 over the years (and Smoke and DS pre-Avid), I have to say that my favorite interface was my trusty old iMMix TurboCube/Scitex StrataSphere. I’ve never found another system that felt as fast to edit on (adjusting for tech advances, of course). Pity their management killed them off with poor planning and marketing.

    1. I’m a little stunned to hear this system still being mentioned anywhere, but I must whole-heartedly agree! I learned NLE on the TurboCube here in the U.S., back in 1996, when it was still the only broadcast-quality non-linear game in town. It ran on an Apple PPC 7200, and if I recall correctly, seemed as sprightly as Final Cut on a MacBookPro. Great controller, too, that allowed you to scrub audio.

  3. Thanks for mentioning the NLE book; I’ve been looking for a book on the history of NLE.

    Also wondering if you’ve got a copy of Premiere Pro and if you’ve tried using it.

    1. While I don’t use Premiere Pro that much I think it’s a very strong product. Probably the closest successor to Final Cut Pro 7 and the integration within the Production Studio is very strong. OTOH, I’m so fast on FCP X that it’s hard to go to anything else.

  4. A couple of weeks a go I ran into a chap (he has to remain anonymous for obvious reasons) who works here in the UK. He has worked in Post Production most of his adult life and knows most if not all of the movers and shakers in the industry. I asked him about the use of Premier Pro in the ‘professional’ world in which he moves. After he had stopped laughing he said this (roughly!): In the London/BBC (essentially the South) area it was either Avid or FCP7, in the north of England (especially Salford Keys) its was almost exclusively FCP7. Yep, none of the major broadcasters use Premier Pro in anyway shape or form. Because of the position this guy is in, he really does know whats going on here in the UK, and for that matter the rest of Europe. Premier Pro is a none starter. So over to you Adobe…

  5. Adobe did publicize a “big sale” to some part of the BBC, fwiw.

    1. … and the BBC still don’t use Premier Pro. Like the rest of us, they probably use everything else, but Premier Pro. They can say what they like, and they usually do, but, its a no-go. If only they would have to stuck to Project Rome.

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