TEWKSBURY, MA — There is an adage that equates succeeding in big business to paddling upstream. When you stop paddling, another company will pass you by. Some might argue that Avid might have lost its stroke over the last few years.
Even with the majority of today’s TV shows, commercials and films being edited on Avid systems, no one can deny that Apple and its Final Cut product are causing some concern. Not just with Avid executives, but with loyal Avid users as well.
Jonathan Moser, a long-time freelance editor, has been having trouble lately finding Avid jobs in the New York area. More and more, he sees listings for Final Cut operators and it’s affecting his ability to make the kind of living he needs to make. He is an Avid loyalist, so much so that he sent an open letter to Avid, through Post, urging the editing giant to stand up and fight Apple.
He wrote, “As one of the legions of loyal Avid users who now find themselves in the situation of having to retrain and retool in a world running rampant with Final Cut Pro, and having enough time to see both systems, their strengths and weaknesses, I have to ask why Avid seems to be just laying down like some lumbering giant and not fighting back with all you’ve got? After working on both systems, to me [arguably] there is no smoking gun that makes one system absolutely superior over the other, they both have their strengths and weaknesses.”
He goes on to ask Avid to do what the US automakers did when their market share was being whittled down by competitors: “change, redevelop and openly go head-to-head. And if Avid does come up short in any department, don’t make excuses — change and adapt. Become better, more flexible, more evolutionary.”
Post shared this letter with Avid, whose executives took it very seriously. In fact, Graham Sharp, VP/GM of Avid’s Video Group, had the letter read to his employees during one of his quarterly “town hall meetings,” which was attended by a few hundred staffers at the company’s headquarters in Tewksbury, and hundreds more who were listening remotely from around the world.
He essentially used it as a rallying cry. But it’s not as if Avid wasn’t already working on a plan to change the way it does things: About one month after Post received the Moser letter, Avid announced, based on extensive market research, that 2008 will see a major shift in the company’s approach to reaching its users. While the company won’t release details until February, they do say that instead of having a booth at NAB, they will meet with key customers at the show and introduce customer-focused initiatives.
“We just didn’t feel that standing in a crowded, noisy booth and yelling at our customers about our new products and offerings was the most effective way to build relationships with them and help understand and solve their production challenges,” explains Sharp. “We can do a much better job of that by creating more intimate and highly-personalized engagements with them. We’ll still be in Vegas to meet with customers — just not on the show floor.”
While the cynics might see this as a cost-cutting measure, Sharp insists that is not the case. “The decision on NAB was not about us going broke. We are far from it,” he says, urging people to check out the company’s very public financials online. “We are still profitable, we have cash in the bank. It’s a lot of rumors that we are up for sale. None of that is true.
“We are realigning and getting ourselves ready for our next phase of growth, and a big part of that is taking the fight back to Apple on the marketing front,” he continues. “We are getting our act together. We’ve spent a year improving the quality of our products, we are now getting ready to start talking about what we are doing next year.”
Part of the company’s plans are to reach out to the people that Apple has gone after hard: the students and the independents. “We have identified two areas of our business where we basically make the bulk of our dollars,” explains Sharp. “One is the broadcast and media publishing market, and the other is what we are calling the facilities market, which is the higher end post market. But there are two other markets that are absolutely strategic for us going forward: One is education and one is the independent producer sector/the independent editor. These are markets that we don’t necessarily get a lot of dollars from, but we absolutely have to be focused and be strategic about because that’s where the up-and-comers and the next generation comes from.”
So how did it get to this point with Apple and Final Cut? “It’s marketing,” says Sharp. “If you look at the product, we still have lots more features for editing. What they’ve done in the last few years is they have been out-marketing us. A big part of our plans for next year is to get some marketing power back.”
In addition to targeting the next generation, Avid is opening itself up further to work with third parties, recognizing that they cannot do everything. “We are working our way through it deciding which areas to focus on or how to pull together an entire toolset that someone might need, or if we’ll need to we work with someone else to deliver it. Part of that is doing things like cleaning up our APIs and fostering a third-party community/eco-system to round out the toolset.”
They are also currently re-evaluating the tools that go into its Avid Xpress Pro, one of Avid’s products that most resembles Final Cut, in price anyway. Says Graham, “We’ve heard from our customers and what they like and don’t like about our products and we are working to continue to deliver the best product to help them solve their production challenges. “
One main thing that Avid wants to emphasize is that just because they are making changes, they won’t abandon anybody. “We have a huge and diverse product line, and what we want to do is bring the appropriate level of marketing to the market, with clear upgrade paths,” reports Sharp.
So Avid has heard what Jonathan Moser and others like him have said, and they are determined to make some changes. And Sharp feels it’s definitely not too late. “If we waited much longer we would have gone past the tipping point, but in every customer meeting I’ve had recently, I hear that they are glad we are getting our act together.”