Larry Jordan Looks Back at 2016

Posted on by Larry

Commentary2.jpgOn the Digital Production Buzz this last week, Michael Kammes asked me what I thought the highlights of 2016 were. As I was thinking about it, I realized that these fell into four areas:

Here’s what I talked about.

DISTRIBUTION

We are in the era of “live video,” just not on traditional distribution outlets. FaceBook Live and Twitter with Periscope, join YouTube in live streaming – not just sophisticated productions, but single camera talking heads. In fact, simpler productions generated massive audiences.

We are in the age of the YouTube/Facebook star.

Instagram launched disappearing videos, though whether they ACTUALLY disappear is still open to question, Instagram having caused a major stir earlier in the year when it was discovered that stills that were supposed to be erased were, in fact, still hanging around.

What happened in 2106 was that social media was prioritizing video content as their next big revenue stream. And the audience was there to support it.

Traditional media – broadcast and cable – continued to see a decline in their overall audiences. Both these outlets are still really, really big, but not as big as in the past and nothing in current trends shows them increasing their audiences anytime soon – except for live, special events. These include sports, awards shows and special “Broadway” productions; expect to see more of these.

However, it is very interesting to note that NFL football – long the bellwether of perpetually increasing audiences – saw a consistent downturn in viewers this season. It is too soon to know whether this was an aberration caused by the election or the start of a trend.

Cable, also, is losing subscribers – “cord cutters” – at an increasing pace due to continually higher cable costs and, more importantly I think, extremely poor customer service. At some point, I have to hope that companies will realize that customers are their best asset, not their worst enemy. But, for many, that knowledge has not translated into any actual, measurable improvement in service.

However, while traditional outlets are wilting, OTT (Over-The-Top) services like NetFlix, Amazon, Hulu and others are soaring. The opportunities for filmmakers to find distribution – even production funds – in these new services has never been better; especially for edgy, non-traditional ideas. You only need to review the list of candidates for Oscars and Emmys this year to realize the surprising dominance of these new channels that exploded from nowhere in the last couple of years.

Thinking of alternative ideas, VR (Virtual Reality) is a mess. Generating more hype than revenue, VR is launching more slowly than expected. Every major VR hardware manufacturer reported slower sales than projected last year. Kirk Hamilton wrote: “2016 was not the Year of VR, it was the year of the start of VR.”

I think he’s being optimistic. While Augmented Reality got a huge – and surprising – boost from Pokemon Go last summer, there is no great killer app for VR. Yes, there are a lot of VR games out there – and almost all of them are not very good.

I think a strong argument can be made the VR is good at providing experiences, or describing environments, but there is no strong evidence that VR can actually tell a compelling story. Because a good story requires focus and direction, which is exactly the opposite of the key strengths in VR.

The upshot is that the high-end of the market is shrinking, which means that it is looking for risk-averse ways to re-purpose proven ideas and franchises rather than gamble with new ideas. (Even “sure things” lost money at the box office this year; think: “Bad Santa 2,” “Ghostbusters,” “Zealander 2,” and “BFG.”) However, the new distribution offered by OTT services is expanding profoundly and providing new ways for filmmakers to find a large audience and, potentially, lucrative distribution.

HARDWARE

On the hardware side, for Macintosh systems, the big news is that there wasn’t any big news.

Apple decided to get out of the monitor and Airport business and began another in a long-line of sea-changes in ports and connectors.

The new MacBook Pro was released with some amazing storage performance but, overall, desktop Macs languished. This was caused, I think, not by problems at Apple but by problems with Intel who has lost the ability to develop desktop CPU chips on a regular basis. All their desktop chips are behind schedule, as Intel shifts its focus to complete in the mobile chip space.

This resulted in desktop systems that were either underpowered, late or not released. When it can take up to eight years to develop a new CPU chip – and the average is four – there is no fast way out of the mess we find ourselves.

Consequently, iMac and MacPro upgrade cycles are extending into years, rather than months. Within 24 hours about two weeks ago, two conflicting reports were released. The first said that “great desktops were on the roadmap for 2017.” The second said that “desktop systems had lost focus at Apple, with engineers leaving or being reassigned.” In 2017, we shall see which of these two reports is true.

On the other hand, GPUs from AMD and nVidia are blowing the doors off performance in a race to see who has the fastest GPU. Both companies made major releases last year, with even more power showing up at CES later this week.

DVDs are increasingly difficult to create, even though there is still a strong market for them, especially for weddings and videographers. However, both Adobe and Apple abandoned this market years ago. Since then, nothing has appeared that will take its place; downloads are nice, but not the same as a keepsake you can hold in your hand. Thumb drives are not the answer.

The biggest news from a video editor’s point of view was the release of the new MacBook Pro. This has the potential to be a powerhouse, with the fastest storage I’ve ever measured, the ability to drive one additional 5K or two 4K monitors, and a perfectly adequate – though not stunning – CPU.

The kvetching about connectors and battery life is just a smoke-screen from people who are paid to complain about Apple. Apple ALWAYS changes connectors – generally about two years too soon – so this is not a surprise. And when was the last time you did a major edit exclusively on battery power? I’m not saying battery life shouldn’t be addressed, but it is not important to the work we do.

However, I will agree that Apple needs to seriously reconsider what Pros need in a laptop and it doesn’t start with thinner. Attempting to blend iOS features into a computer is not necessarily wise – look at the dumbing down of Pages, Numbers and Keynote. And if I wanted an iPad with a keyboard, I would buy an iPad with a keyboard not a laptop. I expect laptops to do more.

Finally, in the short notes category:

SOFTWARE

The Mac operating system continued to blur the lines between iOS and desktop systems. There is a lot of debate on whether this is a good idea or not.

There were major updates to Adobe, Apple and Avid editing systems. In fact, Avid is showing more signs of life now than in the last five years. Finally.

In video editing the trend toward real-time playback with rendering pushed into the background accelerated. In other words, all the heavy computing is shifting to the GPU whenever possible because of the increased performance the GPU offers.

The industry is moving as quickly as it can to 4K images, yet, around the world, HD is still totally viable and many videographers are still shooting SD because that’s all their distributor/cable/satellite system will support. In other words, we are continuing our multiple frame size / multiple frame rate / multiple codec world for another year. And that is NOT surprising…

HDR is all the rage and, I think, an excellent goal for the future. However, while we can shoot high-resolution high-dynamic range media, we can’t affordably monitor it. The process of converting to HDR began in earnest in 2016, but will take 2-3 more years to complete. The thing I like about HDR is that it can make even SD images look good, while 4K images look breath-taking.

There was also a lot of interest in shooting 8K, even 16K images. Somewhere along this march to ever higher resolution, we will reach a point where video resolution exceeds our ability to perceive. Personally, I think that point is 4K. But, every manufacturer needs a competitive edge, so expect the drum beat of “more pixels” to continue into 2017. The hype won’t stop.

BUSINESS TRENDS

From a business point of view, the wild card – which occurred in 2016, but will play out in 2017 – was the US election. For better or worse, change is coming and I suspect we will all be in the thick of it.

On the business side, I’m still seeing way too much competition for limited jobs, which continually forces budgets and day rates to decrease. Working in media is an exciting career, but we still need to pay the rent. And eating really isn’t optional.

The implosion of VFX houses has slowed, but the entire VFX industry is under extreme pressure – in budgets, expectations and deadlines.

The other trend that I see is that as software becomes less expensive and available to more people, clients are unable to see the difference between operating the software and creativity. Consequently, creativity is no longer valued.

This reminds me of what happened in the music industry. Music has become a commodity. If a song is only worth 99¢, it becomes very hard for a “normal” musician to make enough money to support themselves by selling their music. Yes, the market is much bigger and distribution costs are less; but the costs in time and money to market to that potential audience become far greater. And far too much of the burden for marketing falls to the individual artist.

I’m seeing the same thing in video – clients feel that because the software is easier to use, they will get the same results regardless of the skills of the person using the software. Clients can’t seem to separate the ability of the tool, with the creative skills of the person operating it.

And, with too much competition for too few jobs, too much of our time is spent trying to find work than actually working. The solution: polish both your people AND technical skills. And get help with your marketing, even if only part-time.

SUMMARY

2016, in many ways, continued the trends we saw establish in 2015. But there were still plenty of surprises and twists during the year as well.

I’m interested in your thoughts on the highlights – or lowlights – of the year. Feel free to share them in the Comments below. (And, as a note, all comments are moderated, so if your comment doesn’t show up immediately its because we haven’t reviewed it yet.)


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