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.


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