Can Avid Lead the Industry Forward with Avid Everywhere?

At IBC, Avid shed some light on the its new strategic vision "Avid Everywhere" with a news conference and the release of a white paper.

As the white paper doesn't really tie things back to its current product suite, I thought I'd share my interpretation of where Avid is going, outline how this builds on its current portfolio, discuss how this strategy is broader than simply cloud based editing, and outline where some of the risks lie.

The Problems Avid Wants to Solve

In its white paper, Avid details several problems in the industry:

The accelerated digitization of the media value chain

This creates pressure for the creative side and the business side of media organizations to work together, and it puts pressure on these organizations to automate the "creation to consumption" workflow.

The “consumerization” of content creation and distribution

People want to consume customized programming anytime, anywhere, and on any device. This puts pressure on organizations to package media in new ways.

Relentless pressure for operational efficiency

Organizations are struggling to contain costs, and the focus of their investments is shifting towards monetizing and repurposing content.

The conclusion is that increasing automation by using analytics and metatdata, and improving collaboration between different functional areas throughout the value chain will help broadcasters and creative professionals monetize archives of media, and respond to consumer demand to consume media anywhere, anytime, and on any device.

What is Avid Everywhere

At first glance, I assumed that Avid Everywhere was an Adobe Anywhere inspired rebranding of InterPlay Central and InterPlay Sphere. I was wrong, Avid Everywhere is about more than collaborative video editing.

Avid aims to extend its position throughout industry value chain. Rather than focusing primarily on sharing, collaborating, and creating media, Avid wants to play an expanded role in media monetization and distribution.

The core of Avid Everywhere, will be a "common services platform". This is essentially the nuts and bolts that will connect clients and media with storage systems, networks, and media archives. This API framework will allow other applications and partners to hook into the system.

Avid Everywhere

This sounds much like an evolution of the Interplay Production and Interplay MAM systems. For those who are unfamiliar with Interplay, think of it like a mash up of an asset management and productivity system that runs on Avid servers and is optimized to connect to Avid ISIS shared storage (online, nearline, offline).

To live up to the Everywhere part of the name, Avid will provide a common "access layer" that will enable people to access what they need to anywhere, anytime through a combination of web, desktop, and mobile applications.

From a media creation perspective, this is similar to Interplay Central and Interplay Sphere, which enable people to remotely collaborate on projects via a web interface and Media Composer respectively (see demystifying Interplay Central and Sphere for more).

Like Interplay, modular applications will be used to tailor the platform to the needs of different clients ranging from small and medium workgroups, to large organizations with groups dispatched around the globe.

These applications will include everything from ingesting media, adding metadata, sharing, collaborating, and creating media, right through to distribution, monetization, and analytics.

Where things really start to extend beyond the scope of the current incarnation of Interplay is with respect to monetization, metadata management, and creation of a marketplace. Lets take a deeper look at each of these.

Monetization

There is a very telling quote in the whitepaper that basically explains why Avid is so interested in helping customers monetize their assets:

While some IT budgets are growing slightly, strategic investment priorities are reorganizing away from creative solutions and towards solving the challenge of monetizing, protecting, repurposing, and optimizing content.

The big pot of money isn't making creative software for prosumers, or even shipping more seats of Media Composer, it's helping large organizations monetize assets.

In terms of monetization, Avid wants to make it easy for customers to rapidly create different variations of a piece of work for different channels, format it, distribute it, protect it with encryption and digital rights management, and analyze how the content is consumed. Analytics can then be used as part of a feedback loop that will help media organizations package and monetize content more effectively.

A couple of examples might be in order. For a production company this might mean making archives of old shows or unseen footage from reality shows available online. For a news or sports organization it might mean pulling up topical material based on its metadata and quickly making it available in different forms and through different channels.

Avid has the first half of the equation covered. The Interplay family and ISIS storage products make it relatively easy for broadcasters, production companies, etc. to quickly access vast archives of material and repurpose it to tell new stories. If the metadata is well structured, you would be hard pressed to find a quicker way to assemble things.

The second half of the monetization equation will require significant development or an acquisition. To the best of my knowledge, Avid doesn't have any significant capabilities in terms of content protection, digital rights management, and online video delivery.

There are plenty of competitors that have a head start in helping media companies, manage, monetize, and syndicate content across a wide variety of platforms. Most notable, are thePlatform which is owned by Comcast and powers TV everywhere services from many broadcasters, Cisco, and Adobe.

In fact, if you want a good idea of where Avid hopes to go with monetization and distribution, it's worth taking a look at Adobe Primetime, which Adobe positions as a "TV delivery and and monetization platform for programmers and pay-TV service providers". The platform simplifies the process of delivering video across different devices by combining video publishing, DRM, video analytics, advertising solutions, and video players into an end-to-end solution.

While Adobe Primetime was only launched 5 months ago, it's going to be difficult for Avid to pull together something similar in the near-term. Adobe Primetime leverages years of experience developing media servers, DRM tools, the ubiquitous Flash player, HTML5 publishing tools, and more recently ad-solutions where Adobe's capabilities have been enhanced through several acquisitions.

Avid's strength in this area comes from its position as a technology provider for some of the largest media providers on the planet. Whether it can develop the monetization and distribution platform that these customers need isn't a sure thing.

Metadata

One of the key supporting elements for repurposing assets and monetizing large media archives is metadata. To assemble archival content you need to be able to find it.

To this end, Avid is working to extend metadata tagging and management capabilities. The company plans to work with its customer community to:

Lead the creation of a new industry-standard metadata tracking system, where metadata will be generated algorithmically and provide a significantly greater level of detail, making it possible to take a flexible and adaptable view of assets at any stage of the lifecycle.

Increasing or improving the use of metadata sounds great. In practice, it's going to be difficult to create standards in this area, and to generate the metadata that people need automatically. A further challenge is that the meta-data that's valuable in pre-production and post, may be different than the metadata that's valuable over the lifetime of a piece of media as it's distributed and monetized.

This will be an interesting area to watch. It's easy to see the value of what Avid is proposing, but it's unclear what Avid has up its sleeve in terms of algorithmically generated metadata. This is an area where I'll be watching for an acquisition or strategic partnership.

Marketplace

Another interesting aspect to Avid Everywhere is plans for the creation of a marketplace. This will provide media creators with a way to sell their content publicly, as well as, a marketplace that will connect them with collaborators and other service providers.

I can see some interesting opportunities like tapping into markets for things like rendering farms, cloud transcoding, video transcription, content logging, or simply purchasing stock elements. Outsourcing editorial functions like color correction could also be simplified if outside contractors could simply login to a centralized system using the appropriate credentials, do the work, and submit it without having to transfer media and project files back and forth.

Perhaps there is an opportunity for Avid to make money here as a middleman that brokers sales and settles payment like Apple does with the App store?

Some in the post community will see this as a double edged sword. A marketplace that makes it easy for broadcasters to seamlessly outsource work will have productivity benefits, but it will also create fears about jobs being shifted overseas to low costs providers.

A challenge in creating the marketplace is going to be attracting enough people with diverse enough skills to make it valuable. Markets like these have network effects where the value depends on the number of people that are part of the network. Each new participant adds value to all other participants by increasing the breadth and depth of the talent pool.

Risks of Avid Everywhere

It sounds like Avid is trying to boil the ocean with this strategy. Even with a variety of strategic partnerships, it's going to be difficult to offer an end-to-end solution that meets the specific needs of all the different people throughout the increasingly complex industry value chain.

I can understand how Avid has reached this strategy. The market for professional creative software isn't growing significantly and is under price pressure. Avid can't really go down market and target prosumers. It's already tried that, and it didn't work.

If it wants to grow, then the near-term opportunities come from expanding the breadth and depth of services that it provides to its traditional customer base. In this case, it's pushing into other areas of the value chain like content management / monetization where there is growing spending.

The big challenge is going to be execution. There are a lot of moving parts in trying to help companies manage and monetize their digital archives. There are plenty of competitors. Yes, as Avid points out, they tend to be siloed and focus on one thing, but this is a tremendously complex area and even doing that one thing right is very difficult.

Selling an end-to-end solution sounds great, but many of Avid's customers have already made investments in different parts of the value chain. Legacy investments and products make it difficult for companies to make a forkf lift upgrade to a completely new soup-to-nuts workflow. This is particularly true when budgets are tight and the industry is going through a period of rapid change.

If Avid mitigates some of these risks by partnering with other vendors, then its upside will be capped by what it can generate from its professional service business. If it builds its own monetization and metadata solutions, then there is more potential upside, but the cost is more execution risk.

The good news is that even if you take away the potential opportunity associated with content monetization, new metadata enabled workflows and creating a marketplace, Avid is well positioned to increasing awareness and uptake of its Interplay and ISIS product suites which address serious challenges that media creators face sharing projects, remotely collaborating, and managing growing media libraries.