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Avid: Arrested Allegiance Alleviated

Hallelujah! Avid's back By Charlie White
A few months ago, some of us here at DMN went to a seminar in Los Angeles that was hosted by Quantel and attended by a disproportionate number of post-production industry players. It seemed like the audience was full of disgruntled Avid users, looking for a way to escape Avid's clutches -- to break away from what many characterized as a company that didn't have their best interests at heart. All were curiously kicking the tires of the new Quantel offerings, while joining in on often-acrimonious discussions that seemed to regularly steer their way back to Avid and its customer relations problems. Today, just a few months later, I'm hearing those gripers changing their tune. What happened?

Avid was listening, that's what. I saw an incognito Avid staffer or two discreetly entering the auditorium that day, and it must have been a frustrating experience for them to hear these comments and keep their secret. I know now Avid had a master plan that would solve this problem. But at the time, it seemed to me Avid was doomed.

The bad news started back in 1999, when the company abandoned its standard hardware, called ABVB (Avid Broadcast Video Board) for greener pastures -- a new board set it called Meridien. The company also made some vague comments that were, according to Avid, misconstrued as meaning that Avid's Mac support was headed for the chopping block. Boom! In the course of a few days there at NAB in April 1999, the company upset the Apple cart and failed to convince scads of its customers that an upgrade to Meridien was compelling enough to scrap all their ABVB-based media and its attendant hardware. It was not a good NAB for Avid.

Fast forward to the present day (August, 2003), where the California Avid scene, according to many of my Left Coast contacts, resembles the state of cars today in Castro's Cuba: Ancient technology held together with chewing gum, tape and bailing wire. Seems like most Avid edit bays there are circa 1997-99 for some reason. Even so, for those who hadn't abandoned Avid for Final Cut Pro, ABVB Macs were still getting the job done quite well, thank you, and there was hardly a reason to change.

Until now. This year, it was a good NAB for Avid. Enter the mighty DNA family, Avid's new hardware-assisted technology that marries the power of the host processor with hardware that in its highest-end (and as-yet unreleased) version is said to possess uncompressed pixel-pushing power that can move as many digits as umpteen Pentium 4 processors strapped together, at a bargain price. But this new line of digi-vid cutters' key new feature for the tape-and-bailing-wire set is its backward compatibility. Yes, you can use ABVB media, Meridien media, and capture new-fangled DNA stuff, all with the same box. This will open the floodgates for Avid, I think. It's the big break all those ancient Avidians have been waiting for. Even if backward compatibility was the only new feature, it would have been enough for many of these loyal Avid users. Beyond that, I must say, I saw the new Nitris hardware in action just last week in a visit to the Tewksbury headquarters, and it's almost ready. It's able to move tremendous volumes of data around, and can stack up two streams of HD video without even breathing hard.

So this was the secret the Avid engineers had to keep for nearly three years. They were working on a hardware beast that would solve most of Avid's problems, but they couldn't tell us anything about it. That didn't stop the Titans of Tewksbury, no sir. Over those three years the company was quietly building other areas of its business, expanding its electronic newsroom business, releasing DV-based software-only NLE packages, and generally holding on by the skin of its teeth while holding its breath, working overtime with $50 million to get this monster out the door. It was well worth the wait.

Meanwhile, for the past year fat cat stock broker-types have been cleaning up on Wall Street with the top-dog digi-vid widget-maker, with Avid's stock rising 450% percent in the past twelve months. You might say, though, the stock was wallowing at such a bargain-basement level before (at $8) that to get back up to $45 was just a rebound, like a dead-cat bounce, perhaps. But still, the company has risen from the kitty litter for good reason. You have to give a lot of the credit to Avid's energetic and inspiring president and CEO, David Krall, whose disarming kindness, inclusive management style and lightning-quick intellect has played a major part in Avid's recovery. It's no coincidence that most of the best things to happen to Avid in years started about three years ago, corresponding exactly with the beginning of Krall's tenure as president and CEO. I spent a lot of time with this brilliant alumnus of both Harvard and MIT last week, and let me tell you, this guy is most certainly for real. Take a look at my in-depth interview with him by clicking on these words.

Avid has come a long way from the days, not too long ago, when seemingly everybody was accusing it of being arrogant, sitting on its laurels and becoming the complacent number one player in digital video. It has raised the bar a notch, in a market where white-hot competition is the rule rather than the exception. Krall's enthusiasm will come blasting through your browser as you read his words, and will also challenge all the other players who offer products in this market space. Looks like Avid, the quintessential 800-lb. gorilla in the digi-vid arena, has just put on another 100 pounds at least, and all of it is sheer muscle.

Charlie White, your humble storytellerDigital Media Net Executive Producer Charlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist since 1994, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor, broadcast industry consultant and shot-calling television director who has worked in broadcasting since 1974. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at cwhite@digitalmedianet.com.

Read Charlie White's editorials by clicking here.

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Related Keywords:charlie White, editorial, commentary, DMN, seminar, Los Angeles, Quantel, post-production industry players, disgruntled Avid users, customer relations problems, gripers, David Krall, CEO


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