Of Apples and Avids: The Cautionary Tale of FCP X

Posted By Jonathan Moser on July 08, 2011 07:41 am | Permalink
Even as I write, this unprecedented (in our industry) drama is still unfolding. Not since the "New Coke" debacle of 1985 has one company raised so much furor and alienated so many with a product change. But the situation with Final Cut Pro X is not a simple case of a flavor gone wrong...as one blogger pointed out, these are people's livelihoods one company has decided to play with.

By this point it doesn't matter whether FCP X is "awesome" as Mr. Jobs said in an email in April of 2010, what matters is the question of how one company so used to getting it right, got it so dismally wrong.

Item: A new cottage industry enabling Final Cut editors to migrate to Avid or Adobe has formed throughout the industry.

Item: Third-party vendors have publicly acknowledged (in carefully written prose) how Apple's secrecy and inflexibility has affected their ability to continue supplying and/or developing product for Final Cut Pro X.

Item: Both Adobe and Avid are offering unprecedented discounts for FCP owners to purchase their editing products.

It's almost inconceivable to this writer (whose day job is as a professional video editor) how the lackluster judgment of the leadership of Apple could put into a professional marketplace a product so hobbled and simply foreign to legions of vocal, supportive and dedicated users to make it virtually unusable in a broadcast environment...and not have figured out what would happen. The question it raises is whether it truly was a mistake in judgment, or a cynical way for Apple to divest itself of a market it may really not have wanted (or needed) to support in the first place: the broadcast professional.

Four years ago, the paradigms were polar opposites and another company was in the firing line for similar yet different reasons. Avid was losing market share quickly to the more agile, cheaper and more open Final Cut Pro. Media Composer was seen as a stodgy, decades old, and expensive behemoth, with too many iterations and limitations, a closed architecture and not up to today's file-based tasks. It was often referred to as "your dad's editing system." Image is everything...and Final Cut, with Apple's marketing magic, QuickTime expertise and suite of effective and sexy applications was gunning for the pro market, and winning.

As a professional editor, I found myself caught in the crosshairs. being a longtime Media Composer user I found myself forced to learn Final Cut since so few Avid jobs were available. After training on FCP one day, I found myself angry about it and wrote a diatribe to Avid asking the same types of questions Final Cut users are asking now. How could you abandon us? At the time, I was not the only voice complaining about Avid's intransigence and arrogance, many others, fed up with Avid, jumped ship. But then something highly unusual happened: Avid uncharacteristically stepped up to the plate and responded. It initiated a corporate sea change that dramatically demonstrated that even the deepest corporate culture could change in order to survive.

Innovation, reinvention, openness, flexibility became the rule rather than the stodgy, arrogant chutzpah of the "Old" Avid. And the offerings now have opened up the company and its products. There's much more that has to be done, but the point is AVID LISTENED and responded to its loyal (and dependent) user base.

Avid's original problem, (as it now appears to be Apple's) is that its corporate arrogance and culture deafened and blinded them to the sometimes mundane but practical needs of the marketplace. Back then it was Avid's belief that as virtual creator of the nonlinear editing market it just knew better than we, the users. That vulnerability opened it up to the young, hip magic of Apple and the one-flavor-fits-all of FCP.

Now, similarly, in today's scenario, it's Apple's culture of dictating change for all, changing the rules and paradigms with impunity and, now, answering the furor with corporate silence. It is and has been Apple's big flaw.

It's ironic that in 1984 the same company, Apple, would introduce the Mac to the world (with the amazing Ridley Scott commercial featuring a young woman destroying an Orwellian vision of a world - a dictatorial groupthink society of grey PC followers), would themselves be dictating the future in their own inflexible groupthink, offering no chance of choice in how FCP X is used in a broadcast environment.

Just one year later, in 1985, the Coca-Cola Company was also silent about its new product: New Coke, at least for a while. Ironically, just as original formula Coke hoarders had surfaced then, stockpiling as much original product as possible, today there is a run on copies of FCP 7, with prices rising rapidly after many realized they couldn't get their job done with FCP X...at least not in its current incarnation. And with six months to the next revision (at last report), facility owners are in a bind.

Apple has announced that FCP 7 is "end-of-life," and is being put to bed. No updates, no fixes. Yes, that FCP 7, the dependable tool of leagues of personal and professional users and facilities with features that might not be seen as cutting edge to the Apple cognoscenti - things like multicam, ingest from and output to tape, (Tape is dead, according to Apple, only the tens of thousands of broadcast, educational and corporate users in the real-world didn't quite hear that probably deafened by the sounds of tape machines whirring around them). Also, what about the basic ability to take in projects from earlier versions; a staple in the ever-upgrading video business?

It's the same arrogance that took Blu-ray off the map for Apple and put it into the hands of third-party add-ons, despite the fact that Blu-ray is flourishing. It seems it's the same third-party vendors that Apple is depending on to make FCP X "Pro" again - Kona, Automatic Duck, Matrox and the like.

Other arguments are Apple doesn't care about the professional market. iMovie aficionados love FCPX according to Apple's own Website.

It seems a lot of Kool-Aid drinkers in the Apple camp are now waking up to the realities that their hip mega-company (black tee-shirts and all) made a mistake of historic proportions. But one wonders:  given the company of Ipads, Ipods, Iphones and all that cool alien technology and enough marketing savvy to take it into the corporate stratosphere: was it really a mistake?

It's not like Apple hasn't changed horses mid-stream before to change it's own direction and gobble up market share in markets of its own creation.

Could Apple have known what would happen? How could they not? There is no problem with innovation...but Apple took choice away with those innovations whether you wanted to use them or not.

Avid's major update of Media Composer to 5.0 was aimed at Final Cut users. It adopted a number of FCP-style innovations to bring back customers - multi format and active timeline, Avid Media Architecture flexibility allowing a wide use of different codecs, Smart Tools, stereo pairs. But even with all those innovations, Avid still gave Media Composer clients one thing that Apple didn't give theirs - choice.

How many users were complaining about dual window setups? How many hated multiple audio tracks? When did anyone say, "I don't need no stinkin' audio export or multicam capability, machine control or external monitoring? These were decisions made in the heightened stratosphere of Cupertino and in the vacuum of real-world necessities, as if television production didn't really need all this stuff.

Obviously the game isn't over...one thing Apple/FCP users are is dedicated and tenacious. But, for now, the playing field is wide open for Avid, Adobe and anyone else that really wants to put their hat into the broadcast ring.

We're still waiting to see if Apple's decisions decimated their pro market or whether they just simply wanted out of it, but they have to admit that there's one thing they may not get back - the trust and respect of its multitude of users and partners. To take a politically incorrect saying: The Fat Lady Has Yet To Sing in this story.

If anyone remembers, the answer for Coca-Cola all those years ago was to reinstate the Original Coke alongside the "New" Coke. Could we see the same?

It's going to be interesting to watch this continue to unfold.

Jonathan Moser is currently editing the game show Scream if You Know the Answer for The Travel Channel, using Media Composer. He has also worked on Making the Band 2 and Making a Super Model and Dateline for six years. You can email Jon at flashcutter@yahoo.com and visit his Website at WWW.JONATHANMOSER.NET