Market segmentation, IT & skepticism

Early on, there was huge skepticism about what Red was doing. This came largely from people who had experience with traditional film and video acquisition, and they were skeptical with good reason. The RED ONE looks like a huge leap in technology, coming out of nowhere.

The crucial point many of these skeptics failed (and often still do fail) to understand is that it isn’t coming out of nowhere. It’s just not coming out of the traditional film/video acquisition industry.

Red is being built around technologies — and, perhaps more importantly, adopting a mindset — from a much more competitive and fast-moving industry, where features are driven by technology rather than by market segmentation schemes. I’m speaking, of course, of the commodity information technology market — the market where, for instance, hard drives have gotten 250 times larger (per dollar) in the last 10 years.

Now, of course, digital technology has been invading the traditional film/video acquisition industry for more than a decade. You can’t, as far as I’m aware, even buy an analog video camera these days, and several major motion pictures have been shot digitally. But the crucial difference is that while the existing vendors in this industry have co-opted some IT technology, they haven’t adopted the mindset I mention above — of building products around what the technology makes possible.

If one conceives of the motion picture camera market as a continuum, with low-end consumer camcorders at one end and film cameras at the other, for a very long time, products have been clustered mostly at the extremes, without much in the middle. This makes sense, historically, because for a long time shooting at high quality could only be made so cheap (due to the unavoidable cost of film stock), while low-cost electronic acquisition could only be made so good (due to technological limitations). There really wasn’t much of a continuum at all; there were two distinct markets with very different budget ranges and requirements.

High-quality digital acquisition has removed the material conditions which required this. For some years we’ve been seeing consumer camcorders slowly creep up-market, and increasingly find use in filmmaking, but for the most part the traditional camera vendors still don’t really seem to understand what has happened. They’re still mostly using new technologies to build cameras for the same old market segments — consumer camcorders at one end, and expensive systems designed for deep pocket customers like broadcasters and major productions at the other, with little in between.

Red isn’t thinking like this; they’re starting with what’s possible and figuring out how to make the best camera at the best price.

I’m not approaching Red from the traditional film/video industry — I’m approaching it from the IT industry. My reaction when I first heard about Red was not “They can’t do that!” but something more like “It’s about time someone did that!”

This entry was posted in Industry Commentary, Tech Commentary and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply