Steve Kilisky's Dynamic Media Blog

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...

Posted by Steve Kilisky at 5:10 PM on May 19, 2006


Rob Birnholz — 1:35 PM on May 20, 2006

Back in the early 90's when I was known more as a director camerman/freelance editor, I had just bought my first color Mac, a IIci, and was running Photoshop 2 on it. One of my regular clients back then was a large post house located on the lot at Universal Studios Florida. I vividly remember sharing my excitement over the possibilities presented with that machine and a basic capture card (for frame grabs, not full motion video).

"Look, I have a paint box!" I said. The powers-that-be in that shop did not agree. "Oh, come on" they told me. "You'll never be able to compete with that against our Quantel. That's just a toy!"

In 1994 I used that old IIci, with Photoshop 3, After Effects 2, an Intelligent Media card and Media 100 v1.02 to land a graphics and animation gig for a syndicated comedy show. My system delivered just fine for 72 nationally broadcast episodes.

The post house in question, like many other large debt-laden shops, finally collapsed under its own weight and closed up a couple of years ago.

stephen Kilisky — 6:51 PM on May 20, 2006


Thanks for sharing your experience.


stephen Kilisky — 7:27 PM on May 20, 2006


Thanks for sharing your experience.


JoeSF — 10:24 PM on May 20, 2006

I hope this "A" team can put AE closer to the top by finishing splines and paint, and giving some heat to the rendering side.


yanomano — 1:42 AM on May 21, 2006

in 1994 i have the chance to operate a Quantel henry. I work now with after effects since 3.0 , i teach compositing since 1999.
The think i don't understand is why compagny like Adobe are very poor in software ergonomy,
they design "usine à gaz". I hope compagny of the future will think "just ergonomy" because technologie is not a end by itself.

Steve Forde — 5:12 PM on May 23, 2006

Bravo - great post. Innovators Dilemma - timely reference given SGI and one of my fav's. My prognostication is that the A company in reference used to start with a D.
Looking forward to our next breakfast ;)

yanomano — 3:29 AM on May 30, 2006

Thanks Steve.
what you do with Nucleo, Xfactor and nucleo pro is the good way. with this i can take the time to take a "break_fast".

SBG — 10:13 PM on May 30, 2006

What has changed? Everything. Back in the days the people with the equipment got the work, regardless of talent. That made it a battle of $. Today, the cost to get in the game is minimal, so talent plays a bigger role, leading to the demise of giant post houses and the black box makers who gave them their power.

Back to my original point, it's about alternatives - Once there were alternatives to dealing with high-priced post houses, the work went elsewhere (at least enough to put them under).

The lesson to be learned is that there are always alternatives (despite recent acquisitions) and people don't have to do business with someone who's not on their side. Media 100 found out the hard way. Instead of trying to figure out a way to pry another dollar of of your users wallets, figure out how to make your relationship with them a win-win.

Maxon's doing a good job right now.

Spencer Abrams — 6:53 PM on June 21, 2006

Now that Apple has released Shake for 499.00 this is even more true. Time for Adobe to get working on a UB Mac version of AE ASAP.

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