NAB 2014: Is Avid for Broadcasters Anymore?

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The following is a guest contribution to Avid Blogs. Contributor’s views are their own and may not reflect those of Avid.

Wohoo! Thank you Avid for inviting me to blog about my broadcast editorial journey at NAB 2014. I’ll do the best that I can to weed through the sales lingo; to translate the marketing madness, and speak about a practical understanding of workflows.

Broadcasting is this industry’s ultimate team-based environment. From creative to delivery, and all of the management in between, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone in broadcasting that doesn’t understand and respect that sentiment.

Every year, events like NAB put every type of broadcaster into the same room. Here, CEOs, managers and purchasing directors, editors and graphic designers, engineers and product designers all share the same goals: to move their broadcast business models and workflows one more year into the future; and to forecast the industry’s direction in the years to come.

My first order of business here in Las Vegas has been to attend the much-advertised Avid Connect. Here, as a member of the Avid Customer Association, I’ve been contributing to discussions that seem to promise grand visions for the future. It’s raw brainstorming and I love it. Lots to digest and think about. Many of us are skeptical about a lot of things, but mainly because we are so ingrained in current workflows. Just let me say this – I’ve been a steadfast user of Avid Media Composer for about as long as Pearl Jam has been around, I can’t remember any time being this excited about the company’s ideas.

So let’s start looking at broadcasting. Executives always ask, “Where are we and where do we need to go?” Let’s answer both parts of that question.

“Today we are all investigating two new hopes: cloud-based content creation, and the next generation of station-wide archiving of media assets. But what are those things, really?”

Where are we?

On the creative side, things are grim.

I’ve been an editor at a New York State PBS station since 1999. Although collaborative venues like NAB exist, let me say that the operations within individual stations are exactly that – a very individualized thing. Yes of course we all talk to each other; yes executives and creative teams from many stations debate best practices, best equipment and best workflows with each other. But in the shadow of outside forces, stations must look to their own budgets individually to transition their systems and workflows. We’ve done so through the HD revolution, through the digital conversion and through the recent movement from tape-based acquisition and editorial to an entirely tapeless environment. Today we are all investigating two new hopes: cloud-based content creation, and the next generation of station-wide archiving of media assets. But what are those things, really? Are they new pieces of the ever-growing equipment puzzle? Or are they something out there that we can adapt our existing systems to?

Regarding equipment, I think every station manager is still healing the wounds of the digital conversion. It was a nightmare of purchasing decisions being made against a staggering deadline. Often decisions relied on companies and products that were in the middle of being established.

The stress of budgeting caused many casualties. Camera and acquisition was the first to see dramatic cuts in quality. Remember HDV? Remember creative teams screaming about its flaws? And remember when camera companies still gave it serious support? Gone.

Second to lose the battle were broadcast editorial departments. For years station managers signed the approval forms to purchase major Avid edit systems and upgrades. But then they were told that newer, smaller, prosumer solutions could do the job just as good. The choice was a no-brainer.

But the decision to allow prosumer gear to replace professional equipment caused something no one expected: the near-death of our beloved team-based editorial workflow. That wonderfully experienced editorial staff – trained in broadcast workflows – either adopted prosumer workflows or was replaced with new staff. And who were those new editors? They were islands to themselves – individuals, experienced on individual systems, with no team-based training; no idea what metadata was; no care about what happened to assets once they left their control. And it wasn’t their fault, because station management was barely involved in that part of the process. So the problem festered, unnoticed.

As a result we arrive at where we are today. For creative teams, ten years worth of raw acquisition and finished editorial sit dormant (somewhere… not sure where…) hidden in an ocean of mismatched hard drives. Media is organized haphazardly. Finished products have been lost, or archived in a way that prohibits them from being re-created easily.

For traffic and asset management, things have been a little easier. Those purchasing and workflow decisions were still from well-intentioned perspectives. They still felt “broadcast-y”. But where are they? They too are in a sea of mismatched methods.

Say you are an ad agency delivering a :30 TV commercial to local or regional broadcast. Do you use a distribution company? Do you deliver to stations directly? By FTP? By their own upload service? And what are those stations’ preferred specs for delivery? What happens in six months when that :30 commercial – now just another asset on their servers – gets accidentally deleted? I’ll tell you what happens. The station calls the agency who calls the producer who calls the editor who can probably get to it by tomorrow sometime, once the current client is out of the room.

Message from the station to the agency: “Um…Great workflow, thanks.”

“Reach down and pick up your iPhone or Android. Turn it on. See all the apps? What are they running on? It’s the phone’s OS, right? That’s how Avid’s CEO just referred to Avid Everywhere.”

Where do we need to go?

“Crazy.” But hopefully that’s about to change. This is why we’re all here at NAB. We’re looking for answers. Equipment, workflows… your head starts to spin by day two.

The original question above was, “Is Avid for Broadcasters anymore?” The answer, as of the grand Avid Everywhere announcement this morning, is a resounding “yes”.

Google “Avid Everywhere”. Or go to the website. Read as much as you can. You’ll get those perplexed wrinkles between your eyebrows. You’ll have questions. You’ll have doubts. You’ll have hopes. We all do. It just sounds… weird. It sounds almost too different. Or at very least, it just sounds like a lot to take in.

Here it is in a nutshell. Reach down and pick up your iPhone or Android. Turn it on. See all the apps? What are they running on? It’s the phone’s OS, right? That’s how Avid’s CEO just referred to Avid Everywhere and its Avid MediaCentral Platform: as a platform on which all apps will run.

So get on the platform, and there you’ll see all Avid apps… and NON-Avid apps as well. Everything will be coded and recoded to run on top of Avid MediaCentral Platform. (On your computer that is… sorry, I’ve moved beyond my smartphone analogy.)

I know that’s a lot. Take a minute. When it all sinks in, the universal reactions to Avid Everywhere are “Yeah, right” and “Nope, that can’t work because…” And then all of the naysaying reasons start coming out. But now, Avid is facing their last ten year history. They seem to really want to fix it. Let me rephrase – their managers finally want to fix it. That alone is huge. So when Avid teased the content of this year’s big reveal as “game changing”, they actually meant it.

OK Chris, what does that mean? You’re sounding like a marketer. I thought you were a skeptic?

I am. Big time. But let me explain it through a specific example. A number of years ago, our PBS station decided to make that huge Avid Interplay leap of faith. Nothing huge – just four Media Composer seats, two Assist seats, a 16TB Unity, and all media was managed with Avid Access.

It was a great tool. It paid for itself. It allowed editors to be scheduled in any room. But it had a huge, huge downside. It meant that the system had to be an island to itself. We had to physically run fiber throughout out three-story building, and anyone who was not connected to the system was simply not connected to our workflow, at all. And for the sake of network safety, the Media Composers were completely removed from all possible connections to the internet. No VPN, no Avid Marketplace, no updates of any kind without sneaker net. Does that sound like a broadcasting environment of openness and communication?

Consequently after one or two generations of staff change-overs, we no longer had anyone who understood “what that Interplay thing” was for. We had our broadcast servers. We had our traffic software. Interplay? Useless.

What would be the thing that fixes Interplay? (You’re imagining it – I know you are.) Enter today’s grand reveal of Avid MediaCentral | UX. What is it? Is it Avid in the cloud? Yes, that’s the start of it. It is indeed Avid in the cloud.

But we all know Avid’s history. What does that mean? Is it just another attempt on Avid’s part to get broadcasters to gut their equipment rooms, throw all their gear into the lake and buy brand new stuff?

No.

The real skinny about the broadcast side of Avid Everywhere is simple. It is Interplay Central, Interplay Sphere and a few of its other broadcast products rebuilt as much broader cloud-based system.

Oh, so it’s just a couple of old products rebranded? That’s lame.

No.

Avid used those as a base to start from, but has retooled and added to them, to actually use existing systems. Again, for repetition’s sake: it sits on top of all your existing systems.

Let me give you one example. Say you are an editor at a sports channel and your boss recently purchased a 32TB shared storage system. It isn’t Avid-branded. In fact, nothing in the chain has an Avid logo on it. Your station manager was following the Avid Everywhere announcements. You heard her laughing out loud at the concepts, and then she dismissed them, closed her laptop and went back to work.

Go over to her office right now and tell her this: “Once you get the Avid MediaCentral Platform, you can plug that shared storage system into it. The platform can connect to it. It will ride on top of it, index it, and make everything on it available instantly for review on your iPad.”

(For all you tekkies, note that you are already familiar with the interface – it looks a heck of a lot like MC7’s background transcoding.)

“You’ve got a hot video that needs to get on Facebook within the next sixty seconds. Think of your current workflow. Can that happen?”

But it also works in the way you have wanted it to work regarding social media.

Here is a news-based example. We’ve all experienced this, laughable as it is, at some point. You’ve got a hot video that needs to get on Facebook within the next sixty seconds. Think of your current workflow. Can that happen? No – not even with the current build of Interplay Central. So what have reporters occasionally done? They’ve hit play on the edit system, pointed their iPhone at the screen, recorded it as an iPhone video file, and then shared it.

Avid MediaCentral will remove that clumsiness and allow the reporter to share the asset – the same asset that the editor is playing right now. Click, share, set destination, tag, done.

Now I could go on, but there is another Avid Connect for Broadcast session about to start. I’m learning about all of the facets in real time, just like you, and I have to put away the laptop and pay attention.

I’m sure you’ll be having questions about all of this for a while… probably for months… Just keep up the chatter. From what it sounds like, Avid no longer cares whether the chatter is positive or negative. Today has been a whirlwind and they are sounding a lot like the industry leaders I was first introduced to twenty years ago. They want the chatter because they want to hear the user input – all input.

😉 Chris Bové / Pixel Monkey on Avid Community /@heybove

I have spent 20 years as an editor and a story editor on films, docs and TV shows. Working at the highest-rated PBS station in the USA, I have created more than 200 hours of broadcast programming—all on Avid Media Composer.