Final Cut X…marketing disaster, or another very clever Apple game-changer?

There has probably been a good deal of gloating at Avid and Adobe in the last day or two over the way in which the US talk-show host Conan O’Brien and his team lampooned Apple’s new Final Cut Pro X. The clip has been removed from YouTube due to a copyright claim from O’Brien’s production company, but if you did’t see it it shows an editor doing a piece to camera supposedly extolling FCX’s virtues while all kinds of things are going awry. It ends prematurely with a cut to bars and tone. LOL.

Pretty extraordinary, in my book, for what is basically a professional tool of interest only to “insiders” to be the subject of such public criticism. A big head of steam has built up, with pro editors lining up to bash Apple for releasing a new version of FC which is so different from the last one, which is more like iMovie, they’re going back to Avid, yadda yadda.

So what’s going on here? Apple is a pretty clever company.  They have a very savvy marketing department. They must have a boatload of focus groups. . Why have they released what pro editors are calling a turkey…and worse… onto the market at this stage?

Now, I am not a video editor. But I’ve sat in the back of a load of edit suites as a journalist, worked many years for Avid, and have two kids who are both FCP adepts. I also understand a bit about marketing. So I decided to do a bit of research into the FCX row.

What is it that the pro editing community is complaining about? As far as I can see, a lot of it boils down to:

  • It’s different and unfamiliar
  • It drops support for timecode and RS422  and other legacy features
  • It’s not backward compatible with FCP7 but is with iMovie (“which is what my granny uses!” says one indignant reviewer.)
  • It’s not a “professional tool” and is missing many  features
  • It’s unfamiliar. And different.

So what HAS it got? My quick scan picked out a few interesting ones:

  • It’s 64 bit, and maximum addressable RAM has gone up from 4 Gigabytes to 16 Exabytes.  This means essentially unlimited project size…as long as you buy the RAM!
  • It can use as many processors as are in the system. FCP7 limit is 1.5 processors. This means it can work very much faster…again as long as you can afford a suitable hardware platform
  • Rendering is moved from the CPU to the GPU (graphics processing unit).  Again, very much faster. Rendering in real time.

There are lots of functional things which I am not really qualified to judge. But bigger and faster I can understand, and I can recognize when developers are giving themselves some headroom for the future.

Now, I know from bitter experience how hard it is for any successful application (in my case it was the BASYS/iNews newsroom system) to produce new releases which at the same time:

  • Introduce new features demanded by users
  • Preserve legacy features which users think they can’t live without
  • Steal a march on the competition
  • Add new internal platforms to enable critical future developments (like replacing RS232 VT terminals with networked PCs.  Took years off my life…)
  • Do all of these with a smooth upgrade path…
  • …and a coherent marketing story that makes your salesmen smile and your competitors tremble

Apple clearly must have known Final Cut Pro X was going to piss off professional editors.  But they went ahead anyway. The unavoidable inferences are:

  1. They don’t care. The professional market is not important to them.
  2. They have other fish to fry, maybe lots of them. Like the DSLR market.
  3. They are positioning the product for a new and maybe very different future
  4. They are up to their old tricks
  5. All of the above

Apple have produced game-changers before…iPod, iTunes, iPhone and iPad for example. These are products which have changed industries, markets, and people’s lives. They disprove the many “Apple is dumb!” assertions on so many blogs and bulletin boards.

They are very good at putting advanced technology into the hands of the general public. Even if, at the beginning, the general public doesn’t quite know what to do with it.

They are also very good at using advanced technology to change industries…like the music business.  Who remembers going down to the record store to buy the latest CD?

They are also very good at recruiting other companies to help float their boat. What is the iPhone app market worth now? X may have dropped support for VTRs but it’s opened the doors wide for all kinds of other IT-based plug-ins.  Go figure.

So I am keeping my counsel about FCPX.  The professional editor community (that massive global market) may defect…but let’s not forget that this is a product which costs $300. It’s a consumer product. And Apple is a company which sells not just software, but hardware (and content, and services, and cloud-based stuff, and who knows what in the future). And they take the long view. And they’re clever.

If I was Avid or Adobe, I think I might not be gloating that the Conan O’Brien show did a send-up.

I think I might be rather afraid.

About Adrian Scott
Adrian Scott is a MAC associate having had a long career in broadcasting and broadcast technology; he specializes in Market Research and Marketing Communications.

Comments

8 Responses to “Final Cut X…marketing disaster, or another very clever Apple game-changer?”
  1. Per Sjofors says:

    Adrian,

    Well said. I especially agree with no 5. “All of the above.” With the professional post market down some 35% in the recent 2 years, and with more than 25k videographers (eg wedding video) in the US, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to know where Apple focus their efforts. And with a shortly upcoming refresh of the Mac Pro, there should be little surprise Apple wants to use FCP to drive sales of that hardware.

    Per Sjofors

  2. Howard Meiseles says:

    Adrian,

    I see your point. But here is another view of this situation. Apple is doing well in the consumer products business. Other businesses adjacent to consumer products have been taking a hit within Apple. Apple has not provided as much after purchase support as others in the editing product business. The professional marketplace requires much more support per user than consumer products. Therefore, this could be Apple’s swan song to leave the market by imploding the product.

    I would not be surprised if Apple leaves the personal computer space in the next few years.

    Howard

  3. Michael says:

    You not being an video editor says it all….you have no clue what you are talking about. Final Cut X is a disaster and all the B.S. in the world is not going to change that.

  4. Adrian Scott says:

    I think I have a very big clue about this. READ MY LIPS: FCX IS NOT A PROFESSIONAL VIDEO EDITING TOOL. All the professional editors’ outrage in the world will not change the fact that Apple just doesn’t want or need them any more. As an amateur video editor (like millions of others) I think FCX works pretty well For a $299 product. As a professional marketer with 30 years experience in broadcasting, I think the fact that pro editors have lucked into a pretty good tool at a very good price for the last few years is their good fortune. But the party is over. The market has spoken. Apple goes where the big bucks are…or will be. If you want a professional product go talk to Avid. And be prepared to pay a professional price. And that is no BS.

  5. Adrian Scott says:

    They are not imploding the product…just positioning it for a different and potentially huge future. Which ISN’T providing every bell and whistle the pro editor community wants.

  6. Chris Steele says:

    Good stuff Adrian, here’s my take on it from a slightly different, software Product Strategy angle: http://effectivus.com/2011/07/final-cut-pro-launches-a-x-the-chasm/

  7. That “massive global market” of professional film and video editors is probably a whole lot smaller than you think. The Dept of Labor Statistics there are 25,500 “film and television editors” in the US. http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos091.htm

    Other estimates are lower. Let’s say 100,000 worldwide. Apple claim “2 million” FCP installs (but closer to 1.5 m customer); Avid has about 400,000 customers for editing software (in total only 13% of their net revenue according to their most recent 10k filing) and while Adobe Premiere has 2 million sales/installs that’s mostly because it’s bundled with After Effects, Illustrator and Photoshop.

    It makes no sense to create a whole new editing application that perpetuates 20 year old (or longer) paradigms when there are already other alternatives based on that paradigm. It was time to a choice.

  8. Bleyaert Guy says:

    Oh my God, beware Apple! from the begin of Final Cut Pro I am a proud Final Cut Pro user. But what happend now is unforgiven unless Apple change aditude verry fast. The Final Cut Pro X is no more to call ‘Pro’ but rather ‘Ama’ for amatures. My God this is the worst day of my carriere seeing a great Pro software turned degraded in to a consumer version of Imovie. What a nightmare! Shame, shame, shame.
    I can figure out why Apple does this but It seems like they have make their aim at the global consumer marked and dicided to drop the Pro marked, I will keep an eye on the progress in the future, I will defently choose another program in the Pro gama Avid or Premiere.

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