NLE Wars : Avid v Adobe

At IBC 2015 the recent tradeshow in Europe for all things based around content creation and delivery aimed at post production, broadcast and everywhere in between, we had the pleasure of sitting in on a few presentations including Adobe and Avid.

With Media Composer and Premiere Pro, these are the only two products in each companies portfolio that compete against each for the same but varied video editing customers. Adobe focused as a software company with Creative Cloud and Avid selling both software and hardware.

Certainly the business models of both companies differ for their NLEs. Adobe, much to annoyance of the market has moved to a subscription model. Which in the long term costs more money for the user. Premiere is sold as a mass consumable application directly by Adobe. Although students get a significant discount when studying, when no longer a student they need to move to standard price point. Avid however, offer the options of subscription or owning a license with student pricing too. Giving flexibility to all users considering their tool. You can buy direct from Avid or a preferred partner. For Adobe and Avid their approach in how they sell their product speaks volumes with regards to the market and revenue they are going after.

The war between Adobe’s Premiere Pro and Avid’s Media Composer has increased significantly since the exit of FCP7. Giving Avid and Adobe the opportunity to take FCP7 users and post production houses who are not considering FCPX, over to their Red and Purple world. Avid made a mistake when they underestimated Apple’s FCP7 entry to the market many years ago and they are still paying for it. They lost a huge market share to FCP7, in between the TV Post Production and low end prosumer corporate area. Avid sell themselves to the traditional “professional” editors in Feature Film, News & Sports and High End TV Post Production. But certainly the market between the lower end and TV Post Production represent’s a revenue stream that did not come to them. Adobe sees the potential of picking up what FCP7 has left and taking that market for themselves, plus some of what Avid has already. Its a good battle which will never end in one winner.

When promoting their NLE as the professionals choice, the key thing is to have a feature film editor promoting their tool. For both these companies, this is the best way to influence and market directly to the people they want to attract, which are the editors of tomorrow.

Adobe had well respected editor Walter Murch flying the Red flag on why he switched to Premiere and Avid had Barney Pilling who edited The Grand Budapest Hotel. At the editors Supermeet Walter Murch was the special guest talking about Moviola Metaphysics: “Why we do what we do, why it’s important, and how we can do it better.” For Adobe, this is the first time having such a high profile person on their stand.

In the world of commercial blockbuster feature films, Avid dominates and has done since the term NLE was invented, the editing faculty was introduced to the Avid 1 by Bill Warner in 1989 a great video and can be watched here. For marketing and promotion having Walter Murch and Barney Pilling is a fight for both companies to prove themselves and prove their editors to the market.

Video editing is a strange thing. It’s an art, a science, an experience, a craft and a frustration. One thing is for sure, it’s varied. Feature film, documentary, reality, sports, drama, news, vblogs, music videos, vox pops, corporate plus many more….all of these “genres” require different skills. To be a good editor and sell your skillset, you need to be across both the creative and technical aspects of video editing.

The process of feature film editing has not changed. Rushes come in, dailies are created at a low resolution and low data rate to save on space and give the best performance. Way back then the low resolution was standard definition which has been surpassed high definition for the offline. Edit assistants work to organise the amount of content and editors do exactly that, edit. During the edit process scenes may be relinked to the higher quality resolution for viewing in a “conform” system or in the NLE itself. As you progress the final scenes are passed to grading and VFX systems which link to higher quality content or originals. This is an iterative process until everyone agrees and executives in the studio are sure they will get a return on their investment. (Not forgetting sound post production)

The process we just described applies to present time, 20 years ago and everything in between. Nothing has changed apart from higher resolutions and quicker faster machines. So what worked for feature film editing back then works for feature films today.

This is why Avid Media Composer is still the chosen NLE tool of choice for feature film editing. Nothing has changed, it still has the same interface whether you like it or not. Certainly by today's standard it’s a car crash and an example of how not to design a GUI. For collaboration, users can share projects and play the same video clips from the Avid shared storage in parallel. This is done without any middleware software application, you just need some Media Composers and Avid Shared Storage and you are good to go, a big feature for Avid is shared projects and bins and one they rely on heavily, in order to stay top dog in feature film editing.

Collaboration is great for when edit assistants are organising content and sending new sync and group clips to editor as they work. Merging ALEs, creating syncing clips, AUX TC, relink, decompose all of these things make the Avid editor robust and reliable, which is very important in multi-million dollar production. Support staff need the ability to pick up a phone and call an Avid representative directly to fix any issues as soon as possible, with new subscription model Adobe employs this isn’t so easy and adds further doubt in their support for the traditional “professional” customers, who want this.

Feature film editors and more importantly assistant editors need an organised, robust collaborative editing environment to deliver what’s required of them. They don’t need to play native 5k RAW camera files in the timeline or 9 stream multi-cam of LongGOP video and edit HDR video. This is just the offline remember, they need some basic effects, color correction, compositing and some audio mixing capability to tell the story to the director in the edit, the finishing systems will handle and create the final delivery.

“I do a lot of basic effects compositing in Media Composer to mock up shots as a reference for the VFX team, to provide them with the clearest indication of what I want and exactly when I want things to happen. I even include simple things like muzzle flashes and bullet hits. The VFX team loves it when you can be precise so they can concentrate on making the effect photo-real.” — Eddie Hamilton editor Mission Impossible Rogue Nation points out he is creating rough reference VFX shots, read more here

Avid users will point out that there are finishing tools in Media Composer to allow for all that, which is true but not for feature film standard, but they and us will be the first to admit these tools are for TV delivery need updating to modern times. Want to grade the inside and outside of shape? Most Avid users would be happy with grading a shape without using Animatte, never mind the inside and out. Yet Avid still sells it’s dated Symphony option a feature that has not been developed in many years. Play the timeline and then move focus to another window, timeline stops playing. Adjust the clip gain of shot while it’s playing….no chance. Marquee and Title Tool, is embarrassing but as long as they have the market why change or innovate.

These are just a few of the basic user functions that are expected out of a modern day editing system. Avid’s now obsolete editing and VFX package Avid DS had many of these functions, but Avid prefers to stick with it’s outdated guns.

Premier has all those standard GUI features plus some others which are nice. It has morphed over years including the interface and is a different application compared to Premiere 5.0 of years ago. The GUI is cleaner and much easier to understand, for new users especially when comparing to Media Composer. It has a good toolset for video editors. With great links in Speedgrade and After Effects. For users looking to start, create and finish within the Adobe world they offer, it’s a great tool. Adobe Premiere has a API allowing third parties to connect into it. The ability to simply copy and paste tracking points from Mocha directly into Premiere shows how versatile the editor is. The presets for fixing Go Pro lens distortion another great feature, especially given the huge use of Go Pro cameras today. Multiple shape grading inside and out with tracking! All of these things make Premiere a great tool.

Adobe offers the Collaboration Hub their first venture in collaborative editing, which gives the ability for multiple users to work in parallel on shared storage . However does this have the reliability of the Avid project sharing that feature film editor’s need and would a multi million production use this? The Hub is also an additional software application that sits on top of the shared storage to allow this collaboration, another thing to manage, compared to Avid’s easier offering.

There is still lots to be done by Adobe within Premiere. If you have ever deleted a clip from the bin by accident and noticed a hole in your timeline appear and then when you bring the clip back in it doesn’t automatically fill that hole.….hmmm. Rename a clip in the bin and then notice that re name is not updating the clip in the timeline. In a collaborative environment, you can imagine the stress and panic this would cause in a large budget production and potential issues like this, is why the “professional market” have not been swayed to move over to Premiere yet, time is money and Adobe aren’t going to give your subscription fee back for lost time.

We can see from the history of feature releases on Wiki between Premiere and Media Composer, that both companies invest and move their applications forward with technology. Both add support for changes in the market, new cameras, codecs and high resolutions etc. What’s notable is Premiere has significantly more features overall when compared to Media Composer, both technical and user features. Which could be seen as them “catching” up to Avid, but there a lots of features that Avid needs to “catch” up on, assuming they want to. Avid did bring in background render which they could be congratulated one, had it not been 2yrs too late.

When you look at who use’s video editing software today professionally compared to 15 years ago, it shows how much video editing has grown as a tool for all industries, not just media. Certainly the corporate industry is the least glamorous, but represents a significant revenue stream for both vendors.

Avid sell’s Media Composer into their traditional and relatively small video editing customer base which is Feature Film, News & Sports and High End TV Post Production. With an editor and shared storage they offer great collaboration tools for post production. For daily News & Sports they offering unmatched editing collaboration with asset management systems. What’s clear is that Avid concentrates on this business and their outdated NLE works for their customers, which in turns brings revenue. It’s a shame they don’t think outside the box and deliver a tool that would suit all editors from their traditional “professionals” to everyone else. However, Adobe already have the “everyone else” market wrapped up so what’s in it for Avid? Surely the feature film “professional’s choice” NLE should be the one NLE that everyone else uses, that’s what is in it for Avid if they want it.

The revenue Adobe makes from selling Premiere to the mass market ranks higher than the smaller pie of the traditional “professional” TV and Feature film market. A search on #timelinetuesday on twitter shows Premiere and Media Composer being used in many professional projects. The marketing campaign headed by Walter this year at IBC and someone else next year will hopefully drive sales in their subscription based editing software to the mass market. Premiere is used High End TV and Film Post Production , News and Sports but certainly not to the extent where you see Media Composer, Avid every year markets the Oscars and Emmys for shows using their software for audio and video.

If you are looking to learn an editing application, as always use whatever tool you can get your hands on. Learn that tool well and use it to its best ability to deliver the story you intended. However be sure to understand that video editing takes many different forms and the Hollywood blockbuster is just one of those forms, it’s competitive out there so learn a bit of everything. The tool you are using today may not be the most appropriate tool for the job you one day aspire to do.

If you are looking to develop an editing application, as always develop the tool for your core customer base. Learn what they need and supply that tool to its best ability. However be sure to understand that customers needs take many different forms, it’s competitive out there and you need to supply a bit of everything if you can. The tools you are developing today may not be the most appropriate tool for the editor you one day aspire to have.


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