Editing in 2013


Undoubtedly this year will continue the trend of fractured market share for edit systems. If you tally up every system in general use, your professional choices include NLE systems from Adobe, Apple, Avid, Autodesk, Boris/Media 100, Dayang, Editshare/Lightworks, Grass Valley, SGO, Sony and Quantel. In most US markets, the split in market dominance boils down to an Adobe/Apple/Avid split. In many cases, the leader is still the now-defunct Final Cut Pro 7. Even Apple is stuck competing with itself.

By mid-2013, Final Cut Pro X will have hit its two-year anniversary. The screams of “iMovie Pro” have generally died down. Even the most diehard critics grudgingly admit that it offers many professional features. Although I don’t see it taking off in great numbers within the pro editor community during 2013, I do believe that there’s a “silent minority” of users who are testing it for their own use or as an island within a larger facility. I say “silent”, because many of these folks simply are not the sort that post to forums – or haven’t yet, for fear of getting sucked into the typical pro-con arguments that invariably ensue.

There have been four typical responses to X from FCP “legacy” users: 1) adopt FCP X; 2) stick with FCP 5/6/7; 3) move/return to Media Composer; or 4) move to Premiere Pro. Maybe a few jumped platforms, too, as well as pursued PC options, like EDIUS, Vegas Pro or Avid DS. In my market (central Florida), folks have been sticking with FCP 7 in the interim. Many will start moving to Premiere Pro. That seems to be the most common trend that I see. A few going to Media Composer and a handful with FCP X. As far as I know, I’m the only pro editor in town who has used FCP X on real gigs. I’ve encouraged a few others to at least test the waters. In major markets, like New York or Los Angeles, I think Avid will be the biggest beneficiary of this shift.

A new wild card is Autodesk Smoke 2013. At $3500 for the software-only Mac version, I suspect it will still be too rich for the blood for most editors. FCP X’s $300 price tag (for multiple machines!) is unfortunately viewed as the “new normal”. However, if your editorial focus is advanced finishing, then Smoke may be the system for you. I think it will find its way into shops with multiple edit stations. These owners are likely to add a seat of Smoke to augment the rest of their services.

All of this points to the fact that most editors are reluctant to change. FCP 1-7 was successful because it adopted an editing paradigm that was not that far removed from that of its competitors. FCP X is a different story. It requires work to unlearn and relearn what you know about how an editing application is supposed to work. That’s scary for editors who had begun their pro career within the last decade and only know FCP “legacy”. I’ve cut (on paying gigs) with well over a dozen different linear and nonlinear edit systems. If you add review systems and ones where I supervised, but wasn’t “in the seat” myself, that count is closer to two dozen. I’ve gone through at least three major editing paradigms shifts. If this disruption scares you, because it’s the first one you’ve encountered, then hold onto your hat. It’s going to get worse from here!

Here are some “crystal ball” thoughts for the coming year.

Many users will continue to try to stick with older versions of Final Cut Pro. As Mac OS continues to evolve and as more complex media formats arrive, it will become increasingly difficult to use this old 32-bit application and be efficient. I still find FCP 7 quite versatile, but I’ve just had it with out-of-memory errors and other performance issues that are now quite commonplace.

As folks migrate to an “FCP replacement”, that will most likely be Adobe Premiere Pro CS6. Expect the next version to be out later this year. Adobe has done a good job of listening to customers and I think you’ll see even more substantive improvements to Premiere Pro in this next version. You’ll also see the launch of Adobe Anywhere, which is a platform for collaborative editing. Adobe hasn’t announced specifics as to what will be required on the server side, but Anywhere will be an interesting option for enterprise users.

I don’t see major changes for Avid this year. People like to speculate that they are the next “victim” of Blackmagic Design’s annual buying spree, but I don’t see this as a reality yet (if ever). Although still running a negative balance sheet, Avid has cash in the bank and solid sales. It’s a company dedicated to the needs of pro users, so there is no stream of  consumer products cash flow to deepen their pockets. On the plus side, the products are solid and work in ways that pro users expect and are comfortable with.

Avid Media Composer is the most complex editing program there is (in terms of code), so it’s very impressive that Avid was able to move it to 64-bit with as few problems as there have been. This also means it’s hard to completely change the application. Users expect functional continuity and that cannot be sacrificed. In spite of that, new features like Smart Tool and AMA have kept Media Composer, Symphony and NewsCutter relevant for modern file-based workflows. 2013 will likely still be slow and steady for Avid, but hopefully items like resolution-independence are on the radar.

Autodesk is going to make a big push with Smoke 2013. Their biggest target with this product is the user who has heavy involvement with multiple applications to finish his/her work (like Premiere Pro + Photoshop + After Effects w/plug-ins). Smoke 2013 is designed to do all of these functions in a single application. It is also targeted at other competing finishing systems, like Avid DS. Customers now have two similar products – one on each main editing platform – and at similar (sub $10K) price points. I do think some users will try Smoke in the belief that it’s the hypothetical “FCP 8”. Those users will be disappointed. On the other hand, if you buy it for the purpose intended, then it’s the right tool for the job – conforming and advanced finishing.

This brings us to Apple Final Cut Pro X. I see pockets of use in 2013. Lots of individual users – the “one-man band” director/videographer/editor operations. Also some broadcasters (news and promos), corporate producers and event videographers. You will see some shows adopt it for post, but I think those will be in the minority. It’s important to realize that FCP X’s architecture is ideal for the direction some broadcasters want to take their infrastructure. If you want to post in 1080p/59.94 or 2K or 4K, then Final Cut Pro X is ideally suited for this challenge – more so than just about any other application.

Although Apple is less focused on the publicity gained from high-profile users, like film editors – they would certainly love to have another Cold Mountain moment. Walter Murch’s use of Final Cut on that and subsequent films gave the software some valuable street cred. Having a receptive editor and production company (like the Coen brothers or David Fincher) on the right film – at the point that the software is right AND the production is at an early enough stage – is a matter of timing. 2013 might be the year we see that. If that’s the case, it won’t affect sales volume for FCP X much, but it will change many pro users’ attitudes towards the software. Of course, don’t be surprised if Adobe gets there first!

2013 will be another fun year. More splintering of the applications in use. If you are a freelancer, then you need to know as many of them as possible. Just as 3D animators aren’t really wedded to a single animation application – relying instead on a toolkit of several – so, too, will it be for editors.

Read Scott Simmons’ blog for another take on 2013 prognostications. 

©2013 Oliver Peters