In this, our second Talk from the Top column, Evan Schechtman, CTO of New York-based @radical.media, shows how creative, revolutionary change – or as he calls it, a Paradigm Shift – has been the hallmark of his many years in the technology end of the content creation industry. Evan is a recognized member of the New York production community. He can be relied upon for his intelligent and vigorous presentations of how new technologies and techniques will affect the production world. That might be why Evan turns up so regularly on various panels around the city and elsewhere. We’re lucky to have him here to explain why changes in our industry are more than inevitable, and why some of those changes might be more important than others.
I have been thinking about the nature and ramifications of “Upgrades” more in the past two years than ever before in my life, for many reasons. I wanted to share some of my feelings about technical changes happening in the content creation industry.
First though I am operating under the following definitions: Upgrading is the process of replacing a product with a newer version of the same product and a Paradigm Shift can be loosely defined as “a change from one way of thinking to another. It’s a revolution, a transformation, a sort of metamorphosis. It just does not happen, but rather it is driven by agents of change.”
In the spectrum of technology updates there are Paradigm Shifts and then there are incremental upgrades or refinements. Paradigm Shifts don’t come all that often, on any side of the tech equation. Some consumers have huge expectations that the yearly announcements from top tech companies will always bring a Paradigm Shift. Would we even want that? If the world of tech only brought upgrades, would we want that? We need both.
I am the chief technology officer and executive producer – a creative technologist if you will – for a prominent multinational media studio. I started a postproduction facilities and services company many years ago, shortly before the initial release of Final Cut Pro. Those were the “Desktop” or “Pro-Sumer” video days. I was able to do what I did because of a Paradigm Shift and a generation gap in the production and postproduction industries. I was loud and proud for so many reasons. I came up on tech, and ate up anything new. It was and still is important to my business to explore what new tools can do for the creative process first, and then what it can do for our time / economic / pipeline balance.
I started in business at 16, I am now 36. I am still an early adopter in my personal life, but a tad slower in my professional life these days. The stakes are higher than ever, and the scale at which we work- the costs are serious (Time and Money).
I am writing this on a Macbook Pro with a Retina display. This time next year I will probably be writing this on whatever the new MacBook Pro might be. I know it will be more reninta-ee, and wi-fi-ee, and a bit more mega-pixel-ee. Though its form factor most likely won’t change, I expect an upgrade. It will be an upgrade. I also expect the phone I use to take a slightly different physical form, but expect major change in some of the ways it will work.
I know there will be new stuff. I expect there to be new stuff, we all do. Some of us have a real excitement about this, almost like sport. The expectations build and then a lot of us are let down. It’s emotional in a way and its a cycle that seems to repeat.
Tech is in everything and all of us live in a perpetual state of upgrading to a degree. I just updated the firmware on 2 of my thermostats and added a cell connection to my generator.
I’m a pretty early adopter and a tech professional, predisposed to upgrading. On the other end of the spectrum would be my parents, where its super slow going. I usually move them along every one to two years into each Paradigm Shift- broadband, flat TV’s, Netflix, iPad, etc. . . You should have seen it when I showed my mom AirPlay Mirroring from her iPad to her Apple TV – she accused me of witchcraft and cast me out.
This is where we can draw a thin line between the upgrade cycles of consumer devices in our personal lives and those of us who work in intrinsically technical businesses. The consumer tech vs. professional tech. Sure, in both cases “if they gave you everything today, they would have nothing to sell you tomorrow.” But it is more complex than that.
Consumer or Professional, we can (and probably will) argue about the short but punchy list of Paradigm Shifts on both sides. Right now on the consumer side we are seeing the death of Plasma- in many ways a technically superior product to LED backlit LCD TV’s. Most people don’t care about the end of plasma. Most people leave that SmoothMotion crap on, and set the picture to Dynamic! LCD’s will get better and hopefully the death of plasma will mean an accelerated timeline for things like OLED and SED, which would be a Paradigm Shift.
OLEDs can be had now for the price of the first plasma TVs. LCDs can be had for nothing these days. Panasonic is leaving the TV business altogether which is a subject for another day. There was no pronounced or public emotional response to the end of life of plasma, but from a small group of videophiles, myself included.
On the tech side of the professional content creation business, Paradigm Shifts are spread out pretty wide and are put in motion from small disruptive companies and large players. The push and pull here is between broadcasters, and the professional camera – broadcast infrastructure makers, computer and software companies and the producers of content.
Which one of these players said 4K was next first? Doesn’t matter- the camera’s were here, and now the TV’s are here, and the content isn’t. (Although we have shot more 4K+ in the last 2 years, just not mastered back to it.) We have seen this before in HD. So the software and processes we use to make this stuff had to catch up, and then the storage, and the pipes, and the broadcasters and the narrowcasters. This cat and mouse game will never end.
For professionals, Paradigm Shifts most often come with emotional responses. Paradigm Shifts seemingly threaten the very formula of our success in the short term. Upgrades are easier to swallow. Why would we mess with a winning formula? Remember the debacle that was Coke II? Running a professional tech company requires short term and multi-year planning and the responsibility of supporting legacy systems and flows on you. Products are “End of Life” (EOL), or deprecated for the sake of moving forward, everyday. Tech manufactures cannot afford to support products forever. Not at the speed we all want to move these days.
So what has changed for me over the past two years? I started my business on Final Cut Pro many years ago now. It was wrapped up with a few other factors that led to a Paradigm Shift. The resurgence of the Mac, Firewire, DV and Final Cut Pro. The DV revolution happened and DV won. We finally had a great democratization of high-quality digital video products. Yup, a Paradigm Shift. This fed the change for many of us from being lean back media consumers to a culture of everyone being media producers. Final Cut Pro saw upgrades every year to deal with new resolutions, editing techniques inspired by the other guys, new operating systems, new mac hardware and new codecs. Each year it went a drop faster.
And then it stopped. Short. I would have paid nearly anything to make any part of it go faster. Meanwhile in the world of production, frame sizes kept getting larger, tape acquisition died, RAW became common, SD and analog died, 64-bit became standard, and so on and so on. My editing platform stayed still. Like a doctor on rounds at a site with the wounded and little to no medicine, my engineers traveled around the facility coaxing Final Cut to “Live, damn it! Don’t you quit on me now, you hear me?” There was nothing we could do. It is a “general error” if you will.
Then the team at Apple re-wrote FCP, and reinvented it in many ways at the same time.
They over hyped it to a fully expecting crowd of people whose livelihood depended on this product. Here was a crowd whose expectations grew with the long silence and rumors; a crowd who expected a big “Upgrade” not a Paradigm Shift. Final Cut Pro X should have been called something else to avoid the compare and contrast. The emotional response is still rippling through my industry two years later. This is happening just as we finally begin the move in full to the new Final Cut.
It would have been easier on all of us to continue down the road of incremental upgrades and refinements. I doubt that even over tons of incremental updates that we would end up with a product we didn’t recognize, but would we really be better off? If there were a real choice up front to really change the experience in a meaningful way, would you have chosen it?
This Paradigm Shift is a delayed reaction to many changes in associated Production technology and computer industries as well as a generation of talent that had a Facebook page before they could ride a bike. They never held film, they never really dealt with interlace and they never checker-boarded audio. Does this mean they have less passion or skill?
The technology business is not one for nostalgia. Sure its fun to wax prophetic about the old days of SCSI ID’s and how much we paid for 16 MB of RAM, just as I listened to people wax prophetic about when you could “feel the film,” and how you would take your time making edits on a Moviola. It’s great when you remember for the sake of understanding the fundamental roots and rudiments that made you the professional you are, but much of this is no longer relevant.
Upgrades are sold to make your life easier. To simplify complex tasks. To solve the problems that other newer tech creates. The act of changing professional tools is more akin to a lifestyle change for many than just changing TV’s on your wall. It’s disruptive and has a domino effect. In professional environments where we rely on the feature sets of the tools we use to create a logical chain between them or “Workflow,” Paradigm Shifts are great change agents, and not a call to immediate action necessarily. ‘Let’s be honest here, upgrades and paradigm Shifts require the work of tech professionals and integrators to pave the way. Its good business and keeps many of us employed. It’s a mess and a ball of hurt, but it makes an industry.
Like my parents, I waited almost two years for the disruption caused by the Paradigm Shift in editing systems to ripple through the industry. I expected a game of chess if you will. With other players in the market trying to rise up and take over ground as they upgrade their products to suite the needs of the market. In my opinion Avid and Adobe did not make any risky moves, just small upgrades. Their Paradigm Shift is knocking and will resemble the one that just came before it. History repeats.
The tech business only moves in one direction, forward. It makes no apologies for not looking back. Let’s recognize that Paradigm Shifts can gel a wave of disparate changes into a single moment that Paradigm Shifts in one industry can be met with upgrades in another. I welcome the upgrades, and will see you next time, running towards the next Paradigm Shift to sample its wares and ponder what it means for you. Let’s change our own expectations and expect it all to change, always.