Looking Back to Look Ahead


NOTE: I first wrote about this in my blog, but got so many favorable comments, I want to share this with you here. Also see my blog for more comments about this.

In wrapping up the year, I was going to talk about technology, but there are a wide variety of other sites that are busily engaged in dissecting the latest technology, so I’ll leave them to play in their sandbox.

Um… well, OK. Here are three quick observations on technology for the coming year:

1. For 2011, camera technology will continue to change EXTREMELY quickly. This means that any camera you buy today will be out-of-date in less than 2 years. If you can’t make it pay off in that short a period of time, you are better off renting. I don’t see any incentive for camera technology to stabilize for another couple of years.

2. Apple will update Final Cut Studio in 2011 — probably early in 2011. Apple is not abandoning the platform. This is not the apocalypse. The world will not end. I’ll have more news on this when I’m allowed to talk about it.

3. The capabilities of your storage will become more important than the capabilities of your computer. And, as a corollary, tapeless media means that media asset management will become mission-critical for even small shops. Whichever company solves the puzzle of how to make asset management informationally-rich, while at the same time easy to access, will make a fortune. You can’t edit what you can’t find.

What I want to focus on, instead, are eleven trends for 2011 that showed up in 2010. These are:

  1. Budgets will never go back to where they were.
  2. The increasing expectation that one person should "do it all."
  3. Media technology is ubiquitous.
  4. There is a total disconnect between production and distribution, and neither side respects the other.
  5. Tapeless media is a fact of life.
  6. "The Cloud" is absolutely a two-edged sword.
  7. Our audience is impatient.
  8. It’s become a "download world."
  9. Audiences expect everything to be free, or, at least, really, REALLY cheap.
  10. The demise of traditional media means that marketing is more diversified, more complex, and more critical than ever before.
  11. "Good enough" is good enough.


The recession has made everyone much more sensitive about price. Clients have many faults, but they can watch a bottom line with the best of them.

As long as these economic doldrums continue, expect continued pressure to do more for less. Don’t buy gear because you can use it, buy it because you can’t keep a client without it.

Never sell yourself as "having the lowest price." You’ll always lose. There’s always a college (or high school) kid more than happy to do it for free. You can’t pay the rent with "free." (I talk more about this in my Grow Your Business webinar.)


Remember the phrase: "Jack of all trades, and master of none"? Technology is making media easier to use every day. But my email in-box is testament to the fact that "easier" is NOT the same as "easy."

Very, very few of us are gifted composers, musicians, writers, directors, editors, and designers. Not to mention all the other crafts that go into telling stories visually. Yet clients expect each of us to do everything.

I don’t see this trend abating. Which means we have two options: crawl back into bed and hide for a couple of years or reach out and build a team of free-lancers to serve as a mutual aid society.

I got caught in this trap for a while. I figured I needed to know everything about everything. As I discovered, this is an unattainable – and VERY frustrating – goal. What I REALLY needed was to know people who knew stuff I didn’t. Then, when I got stuck, I had someone to call.

So, start building your personal network, to supplement where you are weak. Since doing favors for someone, no matter how desperate they make it seem, wears really thin, really quickly, figure out how to pay them for their time. Payment means they will be willing to help you the next time you need it.

Then, when a client says: "Can you do this?" the answer is yes. From the client’s point of view, you are doing it all. From your point of view, you’re farming it out to someone in your network.

This means that you can accept jobs that you would not normally be able to take, thanks to your network. And the folks in your network are happy because they don’t need to worry about managing the client or looking for the gig.

Everyone wins.


We need to compete based on our skills, talent, and contacts.

It is no longer sufficient for us to "have the best gear," nor the most creative skills. That will help you land a client, but not keep them.

When high school kids have the same gear you do (in fact, this last year, I’ve trained two sixth-graders that have gear a pro would be proud to own) gear is no longer what sets you apart in the market.

I have a friend that started in this business because he liked buying gear with his profits at the end of the year. Now, he’s got a bunch of out-of-date hardware, outstanding leases, and clients that aren’t interested.

We all know people who are far less qualified than ourselves, yet seem to get work.

First, keep your technical skills sharp – training is always a good thing (yes, I grant this is a bit self-serving, but it is still true).

But, second and even more important, sharpen your people and communication skills. Clients work with people they know and like more often than people they hate.

People and communication skills don’t require investment in technology, they require an investment in yourself. An investment that will pay dividends big time in our budget-challenged future.


Most of us are making money creating projects for the Web (even broadcast projects have a web component today). Yet Web distribution doesn’t care about the quality, cost, or content of your project. From Bit Torrent to YouTube, and the full spectrum in-between, they are just moving bits. A project that cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce is reduced to digital 1’s and 0’s and transits virtually free across the web.

Distribution websites have no vested interest in providing quality, or content. They are not regulated by anyone. They just move bits to the largest number of eyeballs.

Which means they don’t value the projects you worked so hard on. Certainly, they don’t value them the same way you do. Which means they want to charge as little for them as possible in order to maximize viewers. Free is not a successful business model.

This also makes it hard on the other side of the equation: the folks that invest money in production have a very limited role in distribution. Which means it is harder to show how someone can make money by investing money in your production, when distribution is so disconnected. Production is really expensive. Distribution is really cheap. They have two different and incompatible pricing models.

However, if we can’t attract production dollars, we’ll have nothing to distribute.

The pirate sites have totally figured this out. They steal the content they distribute in order to sell advertising to the visitors they attract. They completely devalue production costs in order to build audience. Great for them, miserable for us. On the other hand, if they really cared, they wouldn’t have started a pirate site in the first place.

Which means, we need to figure out how we are going to make money on distributing our project BEFORE we start production.


Tapeless media is the future. It is easy to use, flexible, reusable, and provides the capability of supporting every conceivable video format.

It also requires a complete shift in everything we know about media.

Tapeless media is so easy to use, we shoot too much of it, overwhelming our storage.

Tapeless media is so flexible, we tie ourselves in knots trying to untangle editing with incompatible media formats.

Tapeless media is so reusable, that we use the same card over and over, which means archiving our media is critical.

Tapeless media is so infinitely variable, that we need to invent entirely new systems to keep track of it.

Nothing beats good planning before starting production. However, now we need to add asset management and archiving to the list of critical decisions that need to be solved before we start production.


The cloud is a great way to collaborate.

However, the cloud is a also great way to permanently lose all your data – if you aren’t careful. This week’s outage at Skype, and past data losses this year at Intuit, Twitter, Hosting.com and other vendors taught us that data on the cloud is no more, and no less, safe than data stored locally on our own gear that we back up.

So, if the cloud is in your future, be sure to make backups and store them locally. The Cloud is the future, but it’s reliability is still a question mark.

My favorite watch-phrase comes from Harry Potter: Never trust anything when you can’t see where it keeps its brain. My personal feeling is that business critical information should be stored locally, while information that you would not be upset if it were lost or hacked should be stored on the cloud.


Consumers, and that includes clients, are conditioned to expect everything instantly. This also includes us. (Look at how incensed you get if your favorite application isn’t updated, say, weekly…)

Two examples from this year illustrate this point. The first is the brouhaha over Apple’s "abandoning" Final Cut Studio. Why? Because Avid and Adobe updated their products, while Apple did not. Somehow, in the minds of these doom-sayers, the lack of an instant update to respond to the competition equates to a lack of interest in the program.


I read somewhere that Apple spent almost 10 YEARS working on the iPad before release. Software the size of Final Cut Studio has development cycles that run between two and four years.

The only thing instant in software development is the press release. Everything else takes time.

Another example is Hollywood film marketing. Hollywood makes it seem that the amount of time needed to go from an idea to a finished film is the length of a 20-frame dissolve. Effects shots that can take 48 hours just to render magically "pop" on the screen during the behind-the-scenes video.

We are all guilty of minimizing the amount of time it takes to do anything. Unfortunately, our clients believe the hype, not the reality.

This means that we need to work really, REALLY hard in setting expectations at the start of a project. Clients have no concept of render or compression times — which means we need to educate them on the process or they’ll leave us for someone else with a smooth patter that glosses over the reality.


Blu-ray Disc is slowly getting pigeon-holed into a distribution mechanism for the big six studios. As a format, it will never have the dominance of DVDs. Its death will take a while, but Blu-ray is not long for our world.

For the rest of us, the world is moving to downloads only.

This means that we need to develop a distribution strategy that allows us to make money on downloads. Compression skills, knowledge of download vs. streaming technology, and pricing geared around downloads (instead of optical media) are the survival skills for the future.


This has been a big eye-opener for me this year.

The success of the App Store, where everything sells for 99 cents or, at most, a couple of bucks, sets expectations that all downloads should be priced as cheaply.

Complicating this is that the audience disconnects production costs from distribution costs. "Sharing files on the Internet is free, therefore, your downloads should be free," is the general theme. The problem is that this totally overlooks what it cost to create the content in the first place.

Low-cost pricing works when you are selling to the mass market. However, this pricing model doesn’t work when you are selling into niche markets.

I don’t see this expectation for lower prices changing in the future. Which means the only way we are going to make money is to sell our projects in significant quantity to make up for the lower individual price, or sell them to an audience that needs the information so badly that price is not the primary condition to a sale.


"Going viral" is a great concept – but, very, very hard to achieve. And, even if you DO go viral, that doesn’t mean there’s any money in it.

In the past, we’d take out an ad in an industry publication. But, if you thought our industry has problems, they pale to what traditional media channels are going thru. Across the board, print publications are hurting, and so is broadcast. The traditional audiences for these media are vaporizing.

This means that we need to take a much more active role in marketing our products than ever before. And the term "marketing" includes more than ever before: print in all its forms, email, websites, and today’s newest buzz-word: "social media."

Social media – Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in, and the rest – have grown to such influence that I hired a marketing person just to focus on this new technology. There is no doubt that this media drives visibility and opinions. What I am not yet convinced of is whether they drive sales as well.

There is no question that Internet marketing and promotion is a moving target. What worked last year doesn’t necessarily work this year, or next. Analytics are critical and so is someone to sweat the details on your marketing.

The burden of marketing has fallen to our shoulders and needs to be part of the planning process for any new project. Even projects destined for "free" distribution need to think through how they are going to tell the world that they exist.


I grew up with the mantra: "The better the quality, the better the project." Or "better is better."

This is no longer the case — videos that are egregiously awful are getting millions of hits on YouTube. Clearly, quality is not a determining factor for many videos today.

Quality is in the eye of the beholder. Which means that if it is good enough for the client its good enough for me.

If budgets are falling – and they are – and deadlines are getting shorter – and they are, as well – then it is foolish for us to invest our time creating silk purses when the client is happy with a sow’s ear.

(Translation for those under the age of 50… "The client determines what is good enough.")

There is a time and place to pursue great quality. And, I suspect, each of us knows exactly when that is.

However, don’t pursue perfection when the client isn’t interested. We should ALWAYS meet and, preferably, exceed what the client expects. But what the client expects – and is paying for – isn’t perfection – it’s for it to be good enough.

Those are my thoughts. I look forward to your comments.


13 Responses to Looking Back to Look Ahead

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  1. da bishop says:

    Very, very few of us are gifted composers, musicians, writers, directors, editors, and designers


    In actual fact, 10 years ago I was repeatedly told not to even try. However, I am all of the above, and there’s a *big* crossover between all of them.

    Same as in the music world, you won’t compose a very good symphony unless you can play all the instruments. There’s subtleties which are only learned by experience.

    By the same virtue, you could be great at composing orchestral music, but you just won’t do the job right making film scores unless you actually make films.

    One way is to form a band, where everybody has a relationship. Or, one just goes at absolutely everything. Ideally, a band should be a bunch of players who can do it all.

  2. da bishop says:

    Oh, regarding the “iMovie” story, it’s a bit more interesting than you think.

    QuickTime Pro used to do most of the features of iMovie. I suspect that when they were making a new version of “QuickTime Pro” they bloated out the features a bit, and decided to call that a video application in its own right.

    I say return to the QuickTime style of the Classic OS, where making a quick edit is dead simple, the way of working was to have a a few windows open with chunks of video (the equivalent of a bin), and you just copy-paste. Really, this could actually be integrated into the Finder! In actual fact, somebody could do this with a bit of 3rd party zip-on.

    Yes the new iMovie does rather suck. Creeping featuritis is a disease. But give me FCP any day. TBH strip it all into individual frames and I’ll bung it through photoshop.

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