Categories
Management Software

Avid Technologies; the most underrated

Avid Technologies’s exciting NAB news was a strategic alliance with Microsoft’s Azure Cloud Platform (1). The deal is clearly bigger news for Avid than Microsoft since the press release resides on Avid’s website and is merely a sentence on the Microsoft Azure blog, but this is still very exciting news. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see Microsoft buy Avid within the next two years.

Avid Media Composer IS film and television nonlinear editing. Full stop. Just take a look at their customer stories. Star Wars; Avid. Star Trek; Avid. James Bond Spector; Avid. Etc etc etc … Yes, there are a few outliers, but if you watch a show in a movie theatre or on television, most likely it was cut on Avid Media Composer.

Philip Hodgett’s excellent blog points out that Apple’s Final Cut Pro X has two million installed licenses, probably one hundred times more users than Media Composer; but that doesn’t really matter, because Game of Thrones uses Avid too! And what this means is that Avid Technologies is sitting a trove of meta-data larger than Smaug’s horde of treasure. (Yes, The Hobbit was also edited on Media Composer) And this is truly the next frontier of video analytics.

The current state of video analytics is focused on the viewer. Netflix’s spends an enormous amount of time trying to understand their viewers; why someone who watches Narcos and House of Cards, would also watch something dissimilar like Gossip Girl and Gilmore Girls. At NAB I saw company after company touting their superior ability to recommend content to viewers in order to keep them watching (2). But to me this is like a restaurant saying that everyone is buying their salad and avoiding their soup, without considering the quality of their ingredients or the method of preparation.

The next level of video analytics is going to be about the creation of the media we consume. As I’ve written before, as budgets shrink productions need smarter tools to help them make smarter decisions. The NLE is the natural place to gather the necessary data, and Avid Media Composer is the de facto tool for visual entertainment. With the proper hooks Avid Technologies has an unprecedented opportunity to revolutionize our understanding of visual storytelling production. The only risk is that Avid will either move too slowly or squander their opportunity all together. And there is plenty of evidence that they will do so.

Microsoft feels corporate in the same way that Avid does (3). Microsoft already sees the value in big data and provides IT services to large studios. This is a natural progression for Microsoft. Let’s see what happens, but Avid best not mess this up.

Footnotes:

(1) Media Composer editors, on the other hand, should be upset, if not downright concerned about the lack of attention given to the crown jewel. Just look at the lavish attention Blackmagic Design has given Resolve 14. And it’s not just gloss, look at this innovation: Built-in chat & Timeline Comparison!! In many ways Avid is facing the same dilemma with Media Composer as Apple is with the Mac Pro; Media Composer IS Avid (1A), and if Avid Editors start to migrate away, the longterm value of Avid Technologies will be greatly diminished.

(1A) Avid is Media Composer, just as much as Media Composer is Avid because if you take away Media Composer, then Avid Technologies is just the maker of broadcast tools with dozens of competitors. Just the fact that when people say, “I cut on Avid,” and they are referring to Media Composer tells you everything about that product’s importance within the company.

(2) For all their talk of Chaos Monkeys, reading this article on in Variety about the trouble on The Get Down was very disappointing. Netflix compromised the core of their experience, ‘the binge watch’, in order to capitulate to a “creative vision”. I mean, after the first writer’s room was shutdown in Los Angeles and relocated to New York did Netflix evaluate what went wrong and put mechanisms in place to prevent it from happening again on other shows? What was going on behind the scenes when a second showrunner was replaced and production was delayed yet again?

(3) it is my understanding that IBM’s Watson Cognitive Technology or Google’s Cloud Video Intelligence are superior video analysis tools, but in regards to company culture Microsoft and Avid ‘feel’ subjectively more compatible.

Categories
Management

Reality and Streaming television

The following piece was originally posted in two parts on my friend’s excellent blog “Far From Reality”. I wrote this as a response to the insinuation that Netflix hasn’t commissioned a Reality show because Reality television is low-brow and somehow below Netflix. You can read the inspiring post here.

If Netflix were to announce a series with Michael Moore, would we even debate whether that series was Documentary or Reality? The fact that there is a debate about the genre of Chelsea Does says more about our cultural opinion of Chelsea Handler then it does about the content of her series. But ultimately that debate is counter-productive when trying to discuss why Chelsea Handler gets a Netflix show and Surviving: the Real Housewives of Kim Kardashian’s Dance Moms does not.

I think that Netflix does not produce Reality television because Netflix believes that their subscribers are not going to watch Reality television on their service. In addition, I believe that most of the Reality television sub-genres are at odds with the streaming service models of viewership as well.

I recently finished working on a Netflix show and on every call, the production people would say, “Netflix is a global company.” They even had a slide show that outlined the characteristics of the ideal Netflix show; which is 1) something that appeals to a global audience, 2) is discoverable and evergreen, 3) could be made into a franchise. In general, I believe that most Reality programming does not meet this criterion.

Global Audience

In general, most Reality sub-genres do not translate to a global audience because of cultural differences. In the Competition Reality genre, we see a show like Britain’s Got Talent remade into America’s Got Talent, and then Sweden’s Got Talent, etc. Each country gets a locally produced version of the same competition show. Netflix has no interest in producing the same show for each country; the company wants to produce one show and stream everywhere.

In the Docu-Soap and Follow-Doc sub-genres, if the lives of Housewives in a global city such as New York or London do not appeal to a global market, then I don’t know whose lives would. What we do see, similar to the competition space, is taking the format and reproducing it for a local audience. For example; Fox Latin America recently took the Housewives concept and made it in a show called Lucky Ladies Mexico, Lucky Ladies Argentina, and Lucky Ladies Brazil.

A follow-doc series that centers around a celebrity family like the Kardashians could hypothetically work for Netflix, because the Kardashians have transcended into the ultra rare global celebrity status that is hard to achieve without already having the cult of celebrity.

Discoverable/Evergreen

If there is one reason Netflix doesn’t ‘do’ Reality, I believe this is it. Netflix wants their shows to be as relevant three years down the road as they are when they are first released.

An example would be like when someone is home sick and they discover one of those BBC crime sagas, like The Fall, and they binge watch the enitre series from beginning to end. How many people ‘discovered’ Breaking Bad in its second or third season on Netflix and then became current viewers on AMC in the fourth or fifth season?

So why is it that I just don’t see someone ‘discovering’ The Real Housewives of Orange County and binge watching 6 seasons of it the way someone would with Breaking Bad or Pretty Little Liars?

I think that there is an unspoken sense of “of the moment” that Reality television shares with News & Sports that separates it from Scripted television, or even the Documentary. And if we are ever going to build a solid definition of Reality television, this is the area that needs to be explored.

Revealing the winner of Survivor; New Jersey Housewife Teresa flipping a dinner table; these things have more in common with last year’s Super Bowl, or Eliot Spitzer’s sex scandal, then they do with rise & fall of Breaking Bad’s Walter White.

The competition reality genre operates similarly to sports. You don’t watch old season of Survivor to catch up on this year’s competition. And there is very little fun to be had watching old seasons when you know who is going to be eliminated. This is the same as not watching old Super Bowls to catchup on this year’s football season.

Being shocked by the antics of the Jersey Shore cast has a similar feel as being shocked to discover that the governor of New York State is having sex with a twenty-year-old prostitute. There is something about being current that makes the Docu-soup and Follow-doc genres potent now, but mostly irrelevant three years from now. (Seriously, when was the last time you thought about Teresa’s table-flipping incident before being reminded of it two paragraphs ago?)

The Franchise

Ever since Disney/Marvel released Ironman and announced a series of movies building up to The Avengers, the franchise has been one of the defining components of modern tentpole cinema. In the television space, the word franchise is thrown around from time-to-time, Bravo’s Real Housewives immediately comes to mind, but there is a big difference between what Disney/Marvel is doing and what is happening in television.

The Marvel Universe is occupied by numerous individual properties that come together and synergistically drive audiences to each other. The Netflix series Daredevil is a stand alone. You can watch seasons 1 & 2 on their own and get a satisfying story. But you can also expand into the Jessica Jones or Luke Cage series. To the audience, they are getting a deeper more immersive viewing experience. To Netflix, they are getting four stories (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and their combined story) for the price of three.

In streaming environments, like Amazon and Netflix, franchise amounts to a kind of choose your own adventure and you can see this revised concept of franchise at play at YouTube. They recently released Fight of the Living Dead which takes established Youtube ‘stars’ and places them into the well defined Competition Reality genre. Viewers of PrankvsPrank will watch Fight of the Living Dead to root for their star. But Youtube is betting that viewers will learn about, and start watching, Joey Graceffa’s or Stawburry17’s channel as well. For Youtube the sum is greater than the parts. It’s also worth noting that the entire series of 11 five minute episodes was produced for less than the post production budget of one 60 minute reality show.

What AMC did with Better Call Saul and Bravo did with Vanderpump Rules is the ‘spin-off’. That is to say, someone who watches The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills may continue onto Vanderpump Rules, but that’s about it. The spin-off is unlikely to lead viewers to any of Bravo’s other properties. In order to thrive in the future television landscape I believe that reality television is going to have to adapt.

For example; one of the hallmarks of The Real Housewives shows is the seasonal cast trip. Every year the city’s cast fly away to an exotic location and have emotional moments together that serve as a way to summarize the season. Perhaps Bravo should consider a future trip on the Below Deck ship. This would be an unique opportunity to introduce the Housewives viewer to the Below Deck crew. This kind of interconnectedness is the defining feature of the modern franchise and is critical in the future. It will also certainly require a different way of thinking at the Network level and beyond.

Conclusion

The idea of having The Real Housewives vacation on a Below Deck yacht is exciting for another reason as well. It’s an opportunity to subvert the audience’s expectations about what a Reality television show could be. Having two casts converge and interact would update troupes in a well worn genre. I hope Bravo is brave enough to take the dive because this sort of high concept meta-reality scenario sounds exactly like the sort of thing I would expect to stumble upon on Netflix.

In today’s TMZ and Snapchat environment, it’s getting harder and harder for Reality television to surprise us. Not because Reality stars won’t do shocking things. But because the lag between when the star was taped doing that shocking thing, to when it is broadcast is usually months after the fact. Anyone who’s truly invested in their Reality stars can usually find out via social media in advance. So not only is the shelf life of a reality show short, but it is also inauthentic when broadcast as current.

Reality television has always navigated in an awkward space between documentary and news. Comparing Reality to Documentary happens frequently. But I’ve never heard of a serious discussion comparing Reality to television News. I believe that the next advancement in broadcast Reality television is going to be in shortening the time between production and air. Perhaps Reality production companies should start cribbing news production?

Reality television is without doubt the offspring of the documentary. But like all children, it has two parents. And Reality’s other parent is News; although it may be much like a father who abandons his wife and child. Perhaps Reality’s “of the moment” quality makes it incompatible in the Netflix streaming universe. I don’t know but perhaps this is a good place to start the conversation.

Reality television isn’t going to disappear in the immediate future, but it is going to have to change because new media players clearly have little interest in what’s currently being offered.

Further Reading

I highly recommend the following list of articles to further explore the ideas presented. I think they add considerable value to the conversation and I hope you’ll take the time to provide your own thoughts in the comments below.

Dance Moms and the broken promise of reality television — An oldie but goodie, if you work in Reality television and you only read one of these articles, Please Read This One. The whole article is worth quoting, but I think the conclussion is especially potent:

Ultimately, what’s so bothersome about Dance Moms and so much of its ilk is that they aim to confirm biases, not to subvert them. … At its best, reality TV can expose us to people and places we rarely see on television, and can teach us about jobs and hobbies that might otherwise seem closed-off. But then there are the shows that exist merely to say, “Those people that you think are probably terrible? Guess what? They are!” These shows serve a function as guilty pleasures, yes, but do there have to be so many of them?

You Won’t Live to See the Final Star Wars Movie — Interesting exploration of what franchise means in today’s marketplace. What struck me most about this article is how the concept of franchise requires less individual ego and an even greater level of collaboration between creatives:

In that framework, the auteur gives way to the team player. The myth of the screenwriter as a loner who vanishes into a Starbucks purgatory for a couple of years and returns with a script isn’t necessarily wrong, but it doesn’t apply to universe-building. Paramount has structured its Transformers team explicitly like a television-series writers’ room, with a showrunner and multiple writers all working on individual stories and the overall arc, following a story bible that establishes themes, tone, characters, and even plot twists.

Big Gulp: “Drinking and drama on Vanderpump Rules — While catching up on the Bravo spin-off, The New Yorker’s thoughtful television critic, Emily Nussbaum, describes the process of watching Reality television as less a binge and more a cultural IV drip.

I still sometimes have the urge to critique the reality machine; it’s certainly asking for it. But it’s also true that reality is where the action is. It’s an easily mocked mass artistic medium that’s corrupted by half-hidden deals, but it also provides a magnetizing mirror for the culture, dirty and mesmerizing. It’s television’s television.

TV Advertising’s Surprising Strength … And inevitable fall — If you have any doubts about why we NEED to start discussing the future of Reality television then you should really stop what you’re doing and really take the time to contemplate this article. (For extra credit, read the companion piece about Dollar Shave Club)

Linear television and its advertisers were all predicated on owning distribution and thus owning customers. The Internet has or is in the process of destroying their business models for broadly similar reasons; for now the intertwinement of these models is keeping everyone afloat, but that only means that when the end comes it will come more swiftly and broadly than anyone is expecting.

Categories
Management

Time to Process a Hour of RAW Footage

Building on top of my previous post about the need for NLE analytics; I finally thought of a good tool to measure workflow that the NLE should automate: time to process a minute of raw footage. It would be expressed as a ratio.

For example:
  • an xdccm workflow that involves loading from a PDW-1600 deck would have a ratio of 1:1.
  • an Arri workflow that requires transcoding ProRes4444 footage to DNX36 might be 2:1.
  • a time-lapse workflow that involves Lightroom and After Effects could be 12:1.

I think this measurement is helpful because it can inform the budgeting and planning phases of post production by answering questions such as; is it worth spending the money to have a DIT transcode footage on set? How much time AE time will be required to properly load/ingest this footage? It will also make it easier to compare workflows

I will attempt this on my next show. I would even like to include the time to preform peripheral tasks such as labelling and backup copying. I suspect that there will be a big variation between processing lots of little files and a few long files. Anyway, I think this is the first useful measurement and indicator I’ve come up with since I’ve started asking myself this question in late 2009. I’m excited to try it out in the future.

All that said; this is something that a computer would be able to spit out immediately and I hope that someone at Adobe and Avid are listening.

Categories
Management

The Assistant Editor Curriculum

My biggest gripe with most production companies is often their lack of interest in the development of the support staff, i.e., the Assistant Editors, Associate Producers, and Coordinators, who do much of the grunt work. I believe this is not a wise course of action because crew turnover plays havoc on team efficiency. People who know your show have an “institutional knowledge” that makes them faster, more accurate, and more productive. Therefore reducing the likelihood of turnover should be a high priority at any company.

Unfortunately, money, the primary tool I’ve seen utilized, rarely buys true loyalty. From my experience, the best way to retain your crew is to demonstrate a path of growth. Giving people the opportunity to grow keeps their attention on your project instead of imagining greener pastures somewhere else. And it creates value for the show as well.

A few years ago, in order to help facilitate my commitment to my crew, I created an A.E. curriculum. It was something I would share with my Loader to show them how they could become a Night A.E.. And my Night A.E. could reference it on their path to the Lead position. Consider the linked A.E. Curriculum a work in progress and something you can modify for your own team.

Someone once told me that being an Assistant Editor is a lot like being a Major League Baseball Outfielder. You can catch the ball 99 times, but the only time you get attention is when you drop the ball. It’s a thankless job. The least a Post Supervisor can do is demonstrate how their hard work will get them to where they want to go.

For more on this thought I highly recommend the Rands in Repose piece Bored People Quit. As today’s Timehop reminded me, his piece has been highly influential to me.

Categories
General Management

DISTRIBUTION U

The old world of making a film: I can’t do anything until I raise five million dollars.
The new world: How can I start right now? With $50, $500, or $5,000.

That was the most important lesson from Saturday’s very excellent Distribution U workshop held by Scott Kirsner and Peter Broderick at NYU Cantor Film Center.

The morning started off with Scott and Peter laying the foundations of new world distribution. Scott’s presentation gave many excellent examples of successful artists who have used the internet to build awareness and an audience. Peter’s presentation dedicated a lot of time contrasting the old world model distribution with the new world models.

The briefest summary I could give is: old word models are fundamentally based on control. Content companies control the intellectual property, they control when and where the audience consumes the experience, and they control how the artist gets paid.

The new world model is scary to so many businesses because it’s the antithesis of control. The artists most successful in the new world model are the artists most confident in their art to give up control. Encouraging your audience to remix, reuse, and recycle your art is the surest way to build an audience.

For example, if a band release a music video, encouraging people to remix it is smart because 1) the people taking the time to remix your art are your most loyal and engaged audience, and 2) as the derivative works gain popularity, they will draw people to your original work.

The lunch time sessions were brilliant. Unfortunately the lunch time sessions were “off record” so I can only say that many people I spoke with after the workshop said that the lunch time sessions were thoughtful, engaging, collaborative in nature. “Worth the price of admission alone.” And I agree with that sentiment.

The afternoon case studies were interesting. I can most thoughtfully summarize them by saying; in hindsight the best marketing and distribution plan for a film will seem obvious when you think about the subject of your film.

For example, when your film is about graffiti artist Banksy then a guerilla marketing and distribution plans makes sense. When your film is about the craftsmanship of making a piano then a slower methodical distribution plan makes sense, because your product is evergreen, no need to rush.

The final part of the day was a frenzied brainstorming session where participants went in front of the audience to pitch their ideas and receive valuable feedback from the panelists and the audience. The quality of the ideas were as diverse as the feedback they received. As I mentioned before, the most valuable lesson was: don’t wait around. Start making something today!

Wanna make a feature film, start producing short webisodes to build interest. Don’t have the money for a webisode, then start a blog from the point of view of your character. Build a fan page on Facebook, and always offer people the opportunity to get involved. If your audience has to ask, “What can I do now?” then you’ve already failed.

That about summarizes the day. If you are in the Los Angeles area next weekend, I highly recommend you sign up. You can find out more about Distribution U on twitter here.

Thank you to Scott and Peter for organizing such a thought provoking event. And a special thank you to Scott’s sister Shira who handled a million things behind the scenes.