May 19, 2006
Hands of Time - The Sequel
The question I posed before NAB was: Besides Japanese camera/VTR manufacturers which video equipment exhibitors had the 10 largest booths at NAB in 1987? To be more specific mfgs. of video post production equipment (VTRs, switchers, edit controllers, cgs, still stores, dves, paint/fx).
Sadly, I never heard back from the research folks at NAB yet, but I speculated that Ampex & Grass Valley Group occupied 2 of the slots. I'll speculate further that Chyron and Quantel occupied 2 additional slots in the top 10. Its probably a safe bet that CMX (not the Finnish band) was somewhere in the mix as well.
Even if they weren't in the "Top 10", they all had a sizable presence at NAB in the mid 80's and were major players in the post production side of the biz [as an aside Abekas joined the big booth club sometime in the late 80's early 90's because I remember the only location where we could get a big enough booth was in the audio equipment section, which actually worked out well as we became an "anchor" booth in tradeshow lingo].
Notice the trend... All are either gone, or at least in terms of square footage at NAB, have downsized. The question that comes to mind is why aren't these companies as prominent/dominant (in my opinion) in their respective categories today? The CMX and Quantel stories are two in particular that intrigue me quite a bit. SGI is another interesting story, but they are part of the 90's wave of companies that dominated NAB only to have seen their star falllen. We'll leave the discussion of the 90's rise and falls for another day.
I bring this up not to stir controversy, but because I am fascinated with the evolution of the industry and any lessons that can be learned on how to avoid becoming less relevant to our industry. At NAB I decided to test my theories about why the companies mentioned above were not able to sustain their position over the long run. I stirred the pot by "socializing" this idea with a few industry veterans and journalists to get their reactions and perspectives.
The reactions were mixed. Some didn't agree with my assertion that Quantel is not the company it once was. Another reacted strongly to my postulation that there is an "A" company out there that might be on the same path that CMX followed and could find itself a shadow of itself before the end of the decade. A few agreed with me.
If we exclude poor management or operational problems as causes, to me it seems like all of these companies were victims of the Innovator's Dilemma (a must read if you have even a mild interest in business subject matter). Since I worked there for 6 years, I can speak from some experience where Abekas went astray and it looks like a classic case of the innovator's dilemma.
I remember walking an Abekas exec (note: Quantel was a sister company of Abkeas, both owned by Carlton Communications at the time) around MacWorld in the early 90's and watching a Photoshop demo. I was amazed by what I saw. His reaction was "look how slow that airbrush is compared to the PaintBox". Oh well...