How unclear use of language has caused two weeks of panic about FCP X

Over the last two weeks, a huge amount of grief and panic has been caused by imprecise use of language. Specifically, the definition of the word “pro” that has been implicitly adopted in the pro vs. consumer FCP X conversation, is incoherent. As a consequence, the word “consumer” is also being misapplied. Nobody seems to have noticed.

Look at the features that have become the focus of this debate: XML/OMF/EDL export, audio track assignment, deck control, video I/O. Who needs these features? Primarily, it’s people delivering for broadcast, and people cutting feature films. That’s what “pro” has come to mean in the current discussion: broadcast and feature film work. And if you’re not a pro, you’re a consumer.

This has lead to the creation of a narrative in which the old FCP was targeted primarily at pros, because it had these features, while the new version is targeted primarily at consumers, because it lacks these features. In other words, Apple’s focus has shifted, from the pro market to the consumer market.

The problem becomes obvious when you restate this narrative with the unpacked definitions of “pro” and “consumer”. The old version of FCP was targeted primarily at editors doing broadcast/feature work because —

Wait. No. It wasn’t.

FCP has always been primarily targeted at the overwhelming majority of actual video pros (defined here simply as people who get paid to edit video) who don’t do broadcast/feature work — they do web video, event video, corporate video. These folks are probably more than 80% of the market for video editing software sold at a non-trivial price point.

This is why Apple didn’t wait on features like XML support before shipping FCP X. Not because it’s a “consumer” product (consumers do not buy $300 content creation software), but because most of the actual pro video market — if we count everyone who makes money editing video as a pro — does not require high-end workflow features.

Fundamentally, Apple’s priorities didn’t shift from the original Final Cut Pro to FCP X. The reason FCP 7 had a bunch of features to support more niche markets, and the initial release of FCP X is missing some of these features, is simple: ‘classic’ FCP had been around longer, so Apple had worked its way around to implementing lower-priority features, i.e. features that matter to fewer customers.

The same thing will happen — is happening already — with FCP X. If you believe this process lead to a credible tool for broadcast/feature work the last time around, there is no reason to believe it won’t this time. And probably a lot faster; the first release of FCP X is much closer to meeting the requirements of these market segments than Final Cut Pro 1.0 was in 1999.

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9 Responses to How unclear use of language has caused two weeks of panic about FCP X

  1. Wow, I fundamentally disagree on this one. Sure there were allot of people that didn’t need the high end features of Final Cut Pro, but there were a lot that do. And I used FCP X for a week before returning it, and don’t see it as ever being able to be the same platform, just the magnetic timeline alone does not allow for organization that is necessary in long form editing, and it is a fundamental principle of this new program.

    Final Cut Pro X is aimed at a much more prosumer market, not just because of it’s lesser features, but because it is trying to fundamentally change how people edit to what they think is a an easier method (something I don’t agree with). Apple has decided they have an easier way, that is better, and have decided that all editors need to adopt their method instead of Apple adding new features to an existing product.

    Also I don’t buy the 1.0 argument, because Apple could easily have done what adobe did and bring Final Cut Pro 7 to 64 bit, and then added additional features, like the ability to use the magnetic timeline, but instead they deprecated the old code base to make a new program that is fundamentally different than they old program, and will never fully replace the old version. They have already said it will never open Final Cut Pro 7 sequences, and that is not pro behavior in the slightest.

    I would also argue that the ability to hand a mixer a well organized timeline is a feature that goes way beyond the need of people delivering to broadcast. Sound mixing is essential, and the tools in FCP X are not there to make the Sound as good as it needs to be, even for web delivery. We may be all may be gaining more skills, but any project that is making money could use a real sound mixer, and no sound mixer is going to want to edit audio that is completely unorganized as comes out of FXP X via Automatic Duck, in fact it will cost you a ton more to get that mix done, and that should affect the editors who are not making as much money and not delivering to broadcast even more!

    And yes the price (which I see as $399 and not $299 as Motion and Compressor are essential) is too high for consumers, but I think Apple is going to see that very shortly, when it does not get nearly the adoption they wanted and drop the price to something more akin to $99, and then it can really be the upgraded consumer program that it really is.

  2. Chris Kenny says:

    I’ve seen people say again and again that the magnetic timeline isn’t suitable for long-form editing, but I cannot, for the the life of me, figure out why. It provides many more features for organizing complex sequences than are present in traditional multitrack editors.

    Apple could not have easily done what Adobe did with respect to 64-bit support. Premiere Pro had a relatively modern codebase, written on top of Adobe’s own (again, relatively modern) in-house application framework. FCP 7 was written directly on top of the aging QuickTime and Carbon APIs, which Apple decided years ago, for good reason, not to bring into the 64-bit world.

    It’s true that Apple didn’t have to radically overall how the timeline worked. But the new approach is more logical, not inherently any less “pro” (I’ve got most of a post on that subject already written), and really is more accessible. Being accessible to new editors has been a huge part of FCP’s success over the last decade including at the high-end of the market, because new editors don’t stay new forever. A lot of more experienced editors who have given the new timeline a decent workout quite like it as well. I do. I think Apple is entirely serious about pros learning and using this interface. If you think they’re not, you’re underestimating how ambitious they are.

    As to the audio issues, a majority of web projects, in my experience, don’t get audio processing beyond what’s possible in FCP X. For everything that does require such processing, we already know that Apple is working on a way to tag audio clips for better organized export.

    I think the idea that FCP X is intended as consumer app, and Apple misjudged the price point by 400%, isn’t very credible. Apple has been in this business for a pretty long time. I seriously doubt they just spent three or four years developing an app for a market that effectively doesn’t exist and never has (consumers willing to spend $400 on content creation software).

  3. Francois says:

    I think the main point from Kenny is this :

    “FCP has always been primarily targeted at the overwhelming majority of actual video pros (defined here simply as people who get paid to edit video) who don’t do broadcast/feature work — they do web video, event video, corporate video. These folks are probably more than 80% of the market for video editing software sold at a non-trivial price point.”

    They are “pro” also. Just not Broadcast /Cinema.

  4. Cris Daniels says:

    Well I guess we will just have to let the market decide. So far Apple is very much the loser. I’ve been trying to give FCP X a chance, but really it is far to limited and I’m afraid Apple can’t add in whats missing.

    I need to wait for all the best features? I don’t have time for 1.0, and neither does anyone else who makes a living off this industry.

    The most sickening part of it all are the industry pros who are blindly defending Apple, all while acknowledging the massive shortcomings of the software. Clearly these “industry pros” are either on the payroll or don’t want to loose their beta privileges. At least it helps us separate the objective voices.

  5. Chris Kenny says:

    I have no formal relationship with Apple at all. I’m not a beta tester, and they certainly don’t pay me. Why am I defending Apple? That’s actually the subject of a post I was working on for today. Check back in a few.

  6. Phil says:

    FCP X is for the digital media creator. Digital in, digital out. That’s the core market Apple feels will dominate for the next decade.

    This isn’t an application for film/video. Those are 20th century tools, that happen to still be widely used. Apple is just betting that it won’t be the case in a few more years. It’ll be all digital from beginning to end.

    We’ll see how it pans out, though I suspect all the people decrying Apple now, will be back sooner or later.

  7. John A. Calhoun says:

    I see this as the usual panic and carping about shortcomings of an Apple product. The same happened for iPod, OSX, iPhone and iPad.

    One of the things that Apple does do is respond to their consumers. Remember when people complained about the iPhone being “closed to 3rd party apps”? They needed to figure out a way to provide apps, and yet prevent malware from getting on the phones. They figured it out.

    I see the same situation here. They will add the necessary bits of code to a pretty impressive piece of software. This time next year, the complaints will have faded after a few dot releases.

    A couple final thoughts; I don’t agree that Apple intends this to be a ‘consumer’ app. If this were the case, why would audio be set to 5-point surround by default??? No consumer does surround and probably less than one tenth of 1% of prosumers do a surround mix. Second, Apple has included Light Peak technology on it’s machines. This is another piece of kit that is only of use to those who might need to push 1080p thru 4K through wire. Again, not necessary for most consumer and prosumers.

    I do fault Apple for removing FCP7 too early in the process and not allowing for professionals to feel comfortable about doing the crossgrade when they feel ready.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that Apple will get its ducks in a row over the next year and all will be well.

  8. First, let me say that I have been producing video as a professional for nearly twenty years now. I have to say that this whole thing brings back familiar memories.

    Once upon a time, most video editing was done with synchronized video decks, time base correctors and very expensive dedicated CG titlers. To do a basic A-B roll with any kind of precision with basic dissolves or wipes and titles that would seem crude to iMovie users today took nearly $250,000 worth of gear if you counted the two pro cameras for the two angles, wave forms and vector scopes, and of course, calibrated broadcast monitors.

    Then a little thing called the Video Toaster happened. “Pros” in the industry forecast the end of video editing as a profession. What once took $250,000 could now be challenged by $15,000 worth of gear.

    Me? I never had hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend, but $15 to $20k, well, that I could do. I left ABC and flew solo, and even through the ups and downs, I have loved the ride. They said the Toaster wasn’t ” broadcast quality”, that it didn’t fit into any kind of professional work flow, but you know what? I cut a lot of TV commercials and even half hour TV shows, in SVHS and 3/4 inch no less – and you know what? They aired just fine. It wasn’t long before I heard my former employer had purchased a couple Toasters for “on air” use.

    It wasn’t long after that when the non- linear editing revolution came along, and again, pros moaned that their profession was dead because anyone with a few grand could learn Premiere or Speed Razor and even if Avid hardware was faster, for many clients, the savings was worth a little extra time. Lord knows I won many a client away from mighty Avid houses with my little boutique studio, and it wasn’t the price, it was the ability to get the story they wanted told.

    So, the point of all this is simply this; things will change, and most times, in the end, it’s for the better. Second, there will always be a place for the professional story teller, concentrate on building those skills with whatever tools you have at hand. Back in my day if you didn’t know the likes of Chyron and Grass Valley, you weren’t – a true professional – how many ” pros” today make good livings without ever having heard about those pieces of ancient tech? Third, remember that those who say it can’t be done are most often run over by those of us who just go ahead and do it.

    I have spent my whole career as an “underdog” fighting the big dogs. Sure Apple threw some things out so people need, and I for one am not terribly thrilled about not being able to open my FCP7 files, but if you give FCP X to a good storyteller, I bet amazing things can be done with it, I know I plan to give it a look when I wrap a few of my current projects up.

    And one last thought, 99% of edits in Hollywood films are straight cuts, and 99% of the remaining 1% are dissolves and wipes, and I’m pretty sure FCP X can handle that. If you are a “pro” threatened by the democratization of editing, feel free to call it quits. I, and those like me will do as we have always done, learn the tools, bend them to our will and concentrate on being professional storytellers – it’s the talent for design and storytelling that sets you apart, not the tools. And for those who need more than FCP X can deliver today, fear not. Stick with FCP 7 for now – either Apple or third parties will fill in the blanks. They always do.

    P.S. One of my recent edit sessions saw me working on a client project in our suite while my client sat at the producer’s table editing a video for his church on his MacBook in iMovie. How sign of the times! When the chips are down, they still go for the professional storyteller. Concentrate on learning that and you will still be golden when all we have to do is think about the edit we want….

  9. Hans Charles says:

    John, I’m going to post you response to my students so they can have a brief and amusing history on editing and a peek into the future. Thank you for your contribution.

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