Tag Archives: editing systems

A Sneak Peek: Avid shows its next-gen Media Composer

By Jonathan Moser

On the weekend of NAB and during Avid Connect, I found myself sitting in a large meeting room with some of the most well-known editors and creatives in the business. To my left was Larry Jordan, Steve Audette was across from me, Chris Bovè and Norman Hollyn to my right, and many other luminaries of the post world filled the room. Motion picture, documentary, boutique, commercial and public broadcasting masters were all represented here… as well as sound designers and producers. It was quite humbling for me.

We’d all been asked to an invite-only meeting with the leading product designers and engineers from Avid Technology to see the future of Media Composer… and to do the second thing we editors do best: bitch. We were asked to be as tough, critical and vocal as we could about what we’re about to see. We were asked to give them a thumbs up or thumbs down on their vision and execution of the next generation of Media Composer as they showed us long-needed overhauls and redesigns.

Editors Chris Bové and Avid’s Randy Martens getting ready for the unveil.

What we were shown is the future of the Media Composer, and based on what I saw, its future is bright. You think you’ve heard that before? Maybe, but this time is different. This is not vaporware, smoke and mirrors or empty promises… I assure you, this is the future.

The Avid team, including new Avid CEO Jeff Rosica, was noticeably open and attentive to the assembled audience of seasoned professionals invited to Avid Connect… a far cry from the halcyon days of the ‘90s and 2000s when Media Composer ruled the roost, and sat complacently on its haunches. Too recently, the Avid corporate culture was viewed by many in the post community as arrogant and tone deaf to its users’ criticisms and requests. This meeting was a far cry from that.

What we were shown was a redefined, reenergized and proactive attitude from Avid. Big corporations aren’t ordinarily so open about such big changes, but this one directly addressed decades of users’ concerns and suggestions.

By the way, this presentation was separate from the new NAB announcements of tiered pricing, new feature rollouts and enhanced interoperability for Media Composer. Avid invited us here not for approval, but for appraisal… for our expertise and feedback and to help steer them in the right direction.

As a life-long Avid user who has often questioned the direction of where the company was headed, I need to say this once more: this time is different.

These are real operational changes that we got to see in an open, informed — and often questioned and critiqued — environment. We editors are a tough crowd, but team Avid was ready, listening, considering and feeding back new ideas. It was an amazingly open and frank give and take from a company that once was shut off from such possibilities.

In her preliminary introduction, Kate Ketcham, manager of Media Composer product management, gave the assembled audience a pretty brutal and honest assessment of Media Composer’s past (and oft repeated) failings and weaknesses —a task usually reserved for us editors to tell Avid, but this time it was Avid telling us what we already knew and they had come to realize. Pretty amazing.

The scope of her critique showed us that, despite popular opinion, Avid HAS been listening to us all along: they got it. They acknowledged the problems, warts and all, and based on the two-hour presentation shown through screenshots and demos, they’re intent on correcting their mistakes and are actively doing so.

Addressing User Concerns
Before the main innovations were shared, there was an initial concern from the editors that Avid be careful not to “throw out the baby with the bathwater” in its reinvention. Media Composer’s primary strength — as well as one of its most recognized weaknesses among newer editors — has been its consistency of look and feel, as well as its logical operational methodology and dependable media file structural organization. Much was made of one competitor’s historical failure to keep consistency and integrity of the basic and established editing paradigms (such as two-screen layout, track-based editing, reasonably established file structure, etc.) in a new release.

We older editors depend on a certain consistency. Don’t abandon the tried and true, but still “get us into this century” was the refrain from the assembled. The Avid team addressed these concerns clearly and reassuringly — the best, familiar and most trusted elements of Media Composer would stay, but there will now be so much more under the hood. Enough to dynamically attract and compel newer users and adoptees.

The company has spent almost a year doing research, redesign and implementation; this is a true commitment, and they are pledging to do this right. Avid’s difficult and challenging task in reimagining Media Composer was to make the new iteration steadfast, efficient and dependable (something existing users expect), yet innovative, attractive, flexible, workflow-fluid and intuitive enough for the newer users who are used to more contemporary editing and software. It’s a slippery and problematic slope, but one the Avid team seemed to navigate with an understanding of the issues.

As this is still in the development stage, I can’t reveal particulars (I really wish I could because there were a ton), but I can give an overview of the types of implementation they’ve been developing. Also, this initial presentation deals only with one stage of the redesign of Media Composer — the user interface changes — with much more to come within the spectrum of change.

Rebuilding the Engine
I was assured by the Avid design team that most of the decades-old Media Composer code has been completely rewritten, updated and redesigned with current innovations and implementations similar to those of the competition. This is a fully realized redesign.

Flexibility and customization are integrated throughout. There are many UI innovations, tabbed bins, new views and newer and more efficient access to enhanced tools. Media Composer has entirely new windowing and organizational options that goes way beyond mere surface looks and feels, yet it is much different than the competition’s implementations. You can now customize the UI to incredible lengths. There are new ways of viewing and organizing media, source and clip information and new and intuitive (and graphical) ways of creating workspaces that get much more usable information to the editor than before.

The Avid team examined weaknesses of the existing Media Composer environment and workflow: clutter, too many choices onscreen at once; screens that resize mysteriously, which can throw concentration and creative flow off-base; looking at what causes oft-repeated actions and redundant keystrokes or operations that could be minimized or eliminated altogether; finding ways of changing how Media Composer handles screen real estate to let the editor see only what they need to see when they need it.

Gone are the windows covering other windows and other things that might slow users down. Avid showed us how attention was paid to making Media Composer more intuitive to new editors by shrinking the learning curve. The ability for more contextual help (without getting in the way of editing) has been addressed.

There are new uses of dynamic thumbnails, color for immediate recognition of active operations and window activation, different ways of changing modalities — literally changing how we looked at timelines, how we find media. You want tabbed bins? You want hover scrubbing? You want customization of workspaces done quickly and efficiently? Avid looked at what do we need to see and what we don’t. All of these things have been addressed and integrated. They have addressed the difficulties of handling effect layering, effect creation, visualization and effect management with sleek but understandable solutions. Copying complex multilayered effects will now be a breeze.

Everything we were shown answered long-tolerated problems we’ve had to accept. There were no gimmicks, no glitz, just honesty. There was method to the madness for every new feature, implementation and execution, but after feedback from us, many things were reconsidered or jettisoned. Interruptions from this critical audience were fast and furious: “Why did you do that?” “What about my workflow?” “Those palette choices don’t work for me.” “Why are those tools buried?” This was a synergy and free-flow of information between company and end-users unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

There was no defensiveness from Avid; they listened to each and every critique. I could see they were actively learning from us and that they understood the problems we were pointing out. They were taking notes, asking more questions and adding to their change lists. Editors made suggestions, and those suggestions were added and actively considered. They didn’t want blind acceptance. We were informing them, and it was really amazing to see.

Again, I wish I could be more specific about details and new implementations — all I can say is that they really have listened to the complaints and are addressing them. And there is much more in the works, from media ingest and compatibility to look and feel and overall user experience.

When Jeff Rosica stopped in to observe, talk and listen to the crowd, he explained that while Avid Technology has many irons in the fire, he believes that Media Composer (and Pro Tools) represent the heart of what the company is all about. In fact, since his tenure began, he has redeployed tremendous resources and financial investment to support and nurture this rebirth of Media Composer.

Rosica promised to make sure Avid would not repeat the mistakes made by others several years ago. He vowed to continue to listen to us and to keep what makes Media Composer the dependable powerhouse that it has been.

As the presentation wound down, a commitment was made by the Avid group to continue to elicit our feedback and keep us in the loop throughout all phases of the redevelopment.

In the end, this tough audience came away optimistic. Yeah, some were still skeptical, but others were elated, expectant and heartened. I know I was.

And I don’t drink Kool-Aid. I hate it in fact.

There is much more in development for MC at Avid in terms of AI integration, facial recognition, media ingest, export functionality and much more. This was just a taste of many more things to come, so stand by.

(Special thanks for access to Marianna Montague, David Colantuoni, Tim Claman, Randy Fayan, and Randy Martens of Avid Technology. If I’ve missed anyone, thank you and apologies.)


Jonathan Moser is a six-time Emmy winning freelance editor/producer based in New York. You can email him at flashcutter@yahoo.com.

Chatting up IBC’s Michael Crimp about this year’s show

Every year, many from our industry head to Amsterdam for the International Broadcasting Convention. With IBC’s start date coming fast, what better time for the organization’s CEO, Michael Crimp, to answer questions about the show, which runs from September 15-19.

IBC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. How will you celebrate?
In addition to producing a commemorative book, and our annual party, IBC is starting a new charitable venture, supporting an Amsterdam group that provides support through sport for disadvantaged and disabled children. If you want to play against former Ajax players in our Saturday night match, bid now to join the IBC All-Stars.

It’s also about keeping the conversation going. We are 50 years on and have a huge amount to talk about — from Ultra HD to 5G connectivity, from IP to cyber security.

How has IBC evolved over the past 10 years?
The simple answer is that IBC has evolved along with the industry, or rather IBC has strived to identify the key trends which will transform the industry and ensure that we are ahead of the curve.

Looking back 10 years, digital cinema was still a work in progress: the total transition we have now seen was just beginning. We had dedicated areas focused on mobile video and digital signage, things that we take for granted today. You can see the equivalents in IBC2017, like the IP Showcase and all the work done on interoperability.

Five years ago we started our Leaders’ Summit, the behind-closed-doors conference for CEOs from the top broadcasters and media organizations, and it has proved hugely successful. This year we are adding two more similar, invitation-only events, this time aimed at CTOs. We have a day focusing on cyber security and another looking at the potential for 5G.

We are also trying a new business matchmaking venue this year, the IBC Startup Forum. Working with Media Honeypot, we are aiming to bring startups and scale-ups together with the media companies that might want to use their talents and the investors who might back the deals.

Will IBC and annual trade shows still be relevant in another 50 years?
Yes, I firmly believe they will. Of course, you will be able to research basic information online — and you can do that now. We have added to the online resources available with our IBC365 year-round online presence. But it is much harder to exchange opinions and experiences that way. Human nature dictates that we learn best from direct contact, from friendly discussions, from chance conversations. You cannot do that online. It is why we regard the opportunity to meet old friends and new peers as one of the key parts of the IBC experience.

What are some of the most important decisions you face in your job on a daily basis?
IBC is an interesting business to head. In some ways, of course, my job as CEO is the same as the head of any other company: making sure the staff are all pulling in the same direction, the customers are happy and the finances are secure. But IBC is unlike any other business because our focus is on spreading and sharing knowledge, and because our shareholders are our customers. IBC is organized by the industry for the industry, and at the top of our organization is the Partnership Board, which contains representatives of the six leading professional and trade bodies in the industry: IABM, IEE, IET, RTS, SCTE and SMPTE.

Can you talk a bit about the conference?
One significant development from that first IBC 50 years ago is the nature of the conference. The founders were insistent that an exhibition needed a technical conference, and in 1967 it was based solely on papers outlining the latest research.

Today, the technical papers program still forms the center piece of the conference. But today our conference is much broader, speaking to the creative and commercial people in our community as well as the engineering and operational.

This year’s conference is subtitled “Truth, Trust and Transformation,” and has five tracks running over five days. Session topics range from the deeply technical, like new codec design, to fake news and alternative facts. Speakers range from Alberto Duenas, the principal video architect at chipmaker ARM to Dan Danker, the product director at Facebook.

How are the attendees and companies participating in IBC changing?
The industry is so much broader than it once was. Consumers used to watch television, because that was all that the technology could achieve. Today, they expect to choose what they want to watch, when and where they want to watch it, and on the device and platform which happen to be convenient at the time.

As the industry expands, so does the IBC community. This year, for example, we have the biggest temporary structure we have ever built for an IBC, to house Hall 14, dedicated to content everywhere.

Given that international travel can be painful, what should those outside the EU consider?
Amsterdam is, in truth, a very easy place for visitors in any part of the world to reach. Its airport is a global hub. The EU maintains an open attitude and a practical approach to visas when required, so there should be no barriers to anyone wanting to visit IBC.

The IBC Innovation Awards are always a draw. Can you comment on the calibre of entries this year?
When we decided to add the IBC Innovation Awards to our program, our aim was to reflect the real nature of the industry. We wanted to reward the real-world projects, where users and technology partners got together to tackle a real challenge and come up with a solution that was much more than the sum of its parts.

Our finalists range from a small French-language service based in Canada to Google Earth; from a new approach to transmitters in the USA to an online service in India; and from Asia’s biggest broadcaster to the Spanish national railway company.

The Awards Ceremony on Sunday night is always one of my highlights. This year there is a special guest presenter: the academic and broadcaster Dr. Helen Czerski. The show lasts about an hour and is free to all IBC visitors.

What are the latest developments in adding capacity at IBC?
There is always talk of the need to move to another venue, and of course as a responsible business we keep this continually under review. But where would we move to? There is nowhere that offers the same combination of exhibition space, conference facilities and catering and networking under one roof. There is nowhere that can provide the range of hotels at all prices that Amsterdam offers, nor its friendly and welcoming atmosphere.

Talking of hotels, visitors this year may notice a large building site between hall 12 and the station. This will be a large on-site hotel, scheduled to be open in time for IBC in 2019.

And regulars who have resigned themselves to walking around the hoardings covering up the now not-so-new underground station will be pleased to hear that the North-South metro line is due to open in July 2018. Test trains are already running, and visitors to IBC next year will be able to speed from the centre of the city in under 10 minutes.

As you mentioned earlier, the theme for IBC2017 is “Truth, Trust and Transformation.” What is the rationale behind this?
Everyone has noticed that the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts” are ubiquitous these days. Broadcasters have traditionally been the trusted brand for news: is the era of social media and universal Internet access changing that?

It is a critical topic to debate at IBC, because the industry’s response to it is central to its future, commercially, as well as technically. Providing true, accurate and honest access to news (and related genres like sport) is expensive and demanding. How do we address this key issue? Also, one of the challenges of the transition to IP connectivity is the risk that the media industry will become a major target for malware and hackers. As the transport platform becomes more open, the more we need to focus on cyber security and the intrinsic design of safe, secure systems.

OTT and social media delivery is sometimes seen as “disruptive,” but I think that “transformative” is the better word. It brings new challenges for creativity and business, and it is right that IBC looks at them.

Will VR and AR be addressed at this year’s conference?
Yes, in the Future Zone, and no doubt on the show floor. Technologies in this area are tumbling out, but the business and creative case seems to be lagging behind. We know what VR can do, but how can we tell stories with it? How can we monetize it? IBC can bring all the sides of the industry together to dig into all the issues. And not just in debate, but by seeing and experiencing the state of the art.

Cyber security and security breaches are becoming more frequent. How will IBC address these challenges?
Cyber security is such a critical issue that we have devoted a day to it in our new C-Tech Forum. Beyond that, we have an important session on cyber security on Friday in the main conference with experts from around the world and around the industry debating what can and should be done to protect content and operations.

Incidentally, we are also looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning, with conference sessions in both the technology and business transformation strands.

What is the Platform Futures — Sport conference aiming to address?
Platform Futures is one of the strands running through the conference. It looks at how the latest delivery and engagement technologies are opening new opportunities for the presentation of content.

Sport has always been a major driver – perhaps the major driver – of innovation in television and media. For many years now we have had a sport day as part of the conference. This year, we are dedicating the Platform Futures strand to sport on Sunday.

The stream looks at how new technology is pushing boundaries for live sports coverage; the increasing importance of fan engagement; and the phenomenon of “alternative sports formats” like Twenty20 cricket and Rugby 7s, which provide lucrative alternatives to traditional competitions. It will also examine the unprecedented growth of eSports, and the exponential opportunities for broadcasters in a market that is now pushing towards the half-billion-dollar size.