Editors skeptical of Apple's commitment to pro market
In this election season, many observers on both sides of the red/blue divide are frustrated that the two sides seem to be living in different realities.
The same dynamic is playing out between Apple and professional editors over Final Cut Pro X. The editors and Apple seem to want to find some common ground, but they can’t agree on even basic facts.
Apple summoned me to a rare meeting last month at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. Later, I went over their points with Harry Miller III, head of the American Cinema Editors’ Technology Committee. It was like trying to dissect the Obama administration’s economic policies with Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity.
Apple’s senior director of applications marketing, Richard Townhill, laid out Apple’s case that they’re proving their commitment to pro users. First, he said, Apple has been adding pro features, like improved multichannel audio, in response to feedback from pros, and even features more are being added as third-party plug-ins. Apple has even provided some information about its future plans for FCP, an absolutely huge concession in its secretive culture.
“Every time we’ve issued an update to Final Cut, we’ve talked a little bit about what’s going to come next,” Townhill said. “And I think it’s very important for the pro community to understand we’re fully committed to them as a marketplace, we’re fully committed to this as a platform, and we’re listening. The feedback they’re giving us is making it into the product.”
Second, he pointed to a survey from SCRI showing that since FCP X was released last June, pro editing facilities have still been buying FCP X for the majority of their new seats. And third, he noted testimonials from high-end users like Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment, which is using FCP X to cut “Leverage” for TNT.
“I can say that we’re committed to the pros, and that’s absolutely true, but what’s more compelling is our actions,” Townhill said. “And our actions have been to deliver consistent software updates with exactly the features pros are looking for.”
Fair enough. But then I spoke to Miller.
“I think their actions speak louder than their words in that if they wanted to go after the professional editing market, they are so far behind,” he said. “I think they maybe want to look like they want to stay in the professional editing market but their actions prove the opposite.”
Point by point, he’s unimpressed with Apple’s improvements. Third party plug-ins? Fine, but he’d rather have features built in. Multichannel audio support? “Final Cut Pro needs to be able to allow you to organize audio into tracks. Right now it’s just sort of amorphous — you can put any audio in any channel.” Pros, he said, need dedicated dialogue, music and sound effects tracks, and Final Cut Pro doesn’t support that yet. Other recent additions, like RED camera support? Nice to have, but not critical for most editors.
Meanwhile, FCP still lacks basic pro features, including support for sharing media among multiple editors. “As soon as Apple shows that you can do that sort of sharing, then I’d believe they were interested in a professional editing system.”
Miller’s own unscientific survey within ACE shows FCP with less than 15% market share and shrinking. And as for “Leverage,” he says, “I know at least one of their editors is miserable” using FCP.
Apple’s become so huge, and pros have become such a tiny part of its business, it’s easy to see why pro editors are skeptical of its commitment to this niche market. Also, Apple has a kind of messianic attitude built into its DNA. Steve Jobs wanted to change the world by democratizing technology, and it’s not obvious that high-end pros in studio filmmaking and broadcast/cable TV fit that agenda.
But Apple isn’t as monolithic as it looks, and I believe people like Townhill and the team working on FCP are sincere. The question is: Are they going to be able to fight the good fight within a company that’s thriving (and changing the world) on other fronts?
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