An Interview with Adobe's Bill Roberts

Posted on by Larry

This evening, at the Adobe MAX conference, I had an extended on-the-record conversation with Bill Roberts, Director of Product Management for Video and Audio Solutions at Adobe. (Bill is one of the key driving forces behind the entire Creative Cloud suite of products at Adobe.) Bill started with Adobe three years ago, specifically to take charge of the future development of all their video applications: Premiere Pro, Audition, After Effects, Prelude, Adobe Media Encoder, Encore, and Speedgrade.

After listening to the Adobe keynotes this morning, and the Executive Briefing this afternoon, I wanted to get a lot more detail and hard facts on what Adobe was planning.

NOTE: Unless I’ve put quotes around it, I’ve paraphrased many of Bill’s answers in the interest of condensing our 90-minute conversation.


I started off by asking: “Why was so little said at the keynotes this morning about Adobe’s audio and video applications?”

First, Bill said, historically, Adobe MAX was a web programmers event, not a video event; this year’s event focuses more on creativity than programming. Our video event was the 2013 NAB Show, last month, which is where we first rolled out these products. We tailor our product showcases to match the event.

Second, Adobe is best known for print and web products. The keynotes this morning launched new versions of Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and a variety of web applications. This was their day to take center stage.

Third, last year, the Creative Cloud was the place to download an application or store a file. This year, we wanted to explain that the Creative Cloud was actually much more. That’s why we spent time today talking about Behance, an online digital portfolio.

“Behance is like Linked-In for creative professionals. It’s where design and motion graphics professionals can talk with their peers, find work, collaborate, and share ideas.”

“If I were to describe our video product family,” Bill said, “I would call it a ‘train on the track.’ We know where it is going, it has a clearly defined path, and its speed is increasing.”


I shifted gears to The Cloud. “There is a lot of discussion online about whether The Cloud is relevant for video professionals because the files are so big, bandwidth so constrained, and privacy/security issues are paramount. Is The Cloud even relevant?”

That depends, Bill replied, on what you are storing to The Cloud. If you are storing source media files, today, probably not. There are lots of issues with storage, bandwidth, and infrastructure. And today’s explosive growth in shooting ratios, requires a rapid and never-ending need for increased storage. The future for Adobe may lie in creating infrastructure, but not now.

What we are seeing now, is that editors are not sharing source media via the cloud, but sharing project files, and linking them to media which is stored locally for every editor.

New with the CC release of Premiere Pro is easy relinking of files. “Relinking is part of the media world for a while to come. But, ultimately, storing multiple versions of source files – one for each editor – needs to go away.

NOTE: Another big concern for the Creative Cloud is encryption and security. Adobe has a page on their website devoted to this issue. Here’s the link to that page.


Bill continues: What we see Adobe Anywhere providing is the next step up from sharing project files. Computers and storage have both become cheap enough that we can move basic computing functions from the local computer to the server.

When we store the source files on a server located on the customer’s premises, an editor can request that file from the server. Instead of copying the file to the local hard disk, the server streams it directly from the server into the editing application so that the editor edits the stream directly in Premiere. The files are created in real-time, as they are needed by the editor. No proxies, no local media, accessible from anywhere.

What Adobe Anywhere does is provide a server/editor architecture which is hosted by the customer, using their servers, storage and editing platforms. What we provide is an ability to move the main compute function to the server, which allows editors anywhere in the world to access the media files, without needing to store them locally.

NOTE: Most of the pilot implementations of Adobe Anywhere use VPNs to handle transport and security. This allows the customer, not Adobe, to make sure their files are safe.

June 17 is the release date for all our Creative Cloud programs, including the video software. “We are actually ahead of the curve at the moment, so I’m not too worried about meeting that date.” However, Adobe Anywhere will probably follow a few weeks after that June 17 release, “because we want to make sure we get it right.”


I asked Bill about the concerns I’m reading online about Adobe going “all in” with subscriptions. “Couldn’t Adobe,” I asked, “continue with both package and online versions?

Bill said that, this morning, at the keynotes, Adobe’s CEO said that subscriptions allow for more consistent revenue, but there’s also a very big reason from the development point of view. The cost of maintaining two separate product lines, one boxed and updated annually, and the other available online and updated much more frequently, causes major reconciliation problems between the two development teams. It also requires twice the developers to accomplish the same amount of work.

NOTE: The Sarbanes/Oxley law has very stringent requirements on how software is updated and how sales revenues from both the initial sales and upgrades is accounted for. Under the law, it is not possible to do incremental updates without major accounting hassles.

Bill continued saying that subscriptions allow for easy incremental updates, bug fixes, and new features. Then, every few months, we will create an “anchored state” of the software that you can always revert to, if you need to go back a version. This is one reason that all Creative Cloud subscribers will get every CS6 application as well as the CC version. “You can always revert back to CS6 if you need it, or are working with someone else who uses that version.”

UPDATE – May 7, 2013

There is a lot of discussion about how long the software will work when not connected to the internet, for those users that need to work in a stand-alone environment. I was told by Adobe this morning that, while monthly subscriptions need to check back with Adobe’s servers every 30 days to make sure the software is still paid for, annual subscriptions are able to work off-the-net for up to 180 days before they need to check back in with Adobe’s servers. Again, if the software stops working due to an expired license, all your data remains stored locally and is totally untouched.


“It seems to me,” I asked Bill, “that Premiere Pro CC is, essentially, Final Cut Pro 7 designed for more modern hardware.”

“Three years ago,” Bill replied, “when I joined Adobe from Avid, I set the objective to make Premiere Pro the Photoshop of video. I wanted it to be an essential creative product.”

“My first goal was to put the right team together. My second goal was to look at the competition and see what we can do better. Our user interface was not intuitive. I wanted to find out what our competitive weaknesses were and make them better.”

“Premiere Pro CC is the fastest NLE on the market for file-based workflows. It stands on the shoulders of our competition and improves on them. Adobe anchored its work in the professional editing environment and focused on editing faster and telling stories better.”

“We didn’t want to create new paradigms. We wanted to take the existing paradigm and improve it. Personally, I think we are better than Final Cut Pro 7.”


Audition is an audio editing program that I like and use daily. I asked Bill whether Audition was part of the Creative Cloud?

“Audition is part of the Creative Cloud. Adobe doesn’t want to displace ProTools, however, we can be Avis to Avid’s Hertz. Audition is anchored in broadcast, news, and documentaries. You can edit, clean-up, and mix great stories with it.

“We are happy with where Audition is at the moment. The key question we are wrestling with is where do we take it in the future?”

NOTE: It is worth mentioning that Bill started his career in radio, and uses Audition for his music podcasts.


Turning to a new subject, I said that two of the video products that have not seemed to get a lot of love in this go-round are Adobe Media Encoder and Adobe Encore. How come?

“That is a very interesting question. We did not do any work on Encore in this release. The CS6 version of Encore fully supports Premiere Pro CC, and, in fact, we will have a video showing how the two work together at the release.”

“However, while optical disc creation is still important to many people, it is not a growing market. Adobe thinks that the current state of Encore CS6 meets the demands of the market today. It is not worth investing engineering resources into improving Encore at this time. And we spent a LOT of time talking with customers and within the company to arrive at that decision.”

Adobe Media Encoder (AME) is a different case. Not only is it a stand-alone product, we also provide an OEM version for other developers to use, plus five different versions used in different Adobe products. “This was crazy.”

Internally, this year, we restructured the development team and standardized on a single version of AME. When AME CC comes out, it will support ProRes. It will support DNxHD. It will be a great transcoding platform for Prelude.

“Run a test with AME CC and you’ll discover how much faster the latest version is. It will be on par, or better, than any major competitor.” And we are not stopping there. Wait till you see what it looks like next year.


I asked Bill to sum up his feelings about this product release.

“Honestly, this is my third year at Adobe. I was involved in every single aspect of this feature set. It’s the first [development] cycle where I had a full team of experts.”

“I am as proud as I could be of what the team has delivered. The teams outdid themselves — they did an amazing job. The NAB Show was amazing, and I can’t wait for the launch.”

28 Responses to An Interview with Adobe's Bill Roberts

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  1. Jeff says:

    The problem is that with all the so called improvements that come with CC – many customers don’t want CC and a subscription based software. It simply boils down to that. As a lifelong Adobe customer, I could care less if subscription costs were $1000 a month or $1 a month – I won’t be upgrading to the Cloud. Adobe will earn $0.00 from me. I don’t rent software. I will never rent Software.
    My $ will go to an Adobe competitor. With over 20,000+ signatures on the Adobe petition, I’m not alone.

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