With all respect to highend system vendors, I see a massive trend bearing down like a freight train in the digital content creation market. So do most people I meet in the content creation arena. There’s the sense of awe, excitement, and yet trepidation that the way they’re doing business today will melt awayto something we don’t entirely foresee.
I’m speaking of the muchpromised desktop revolution. It’s here, Dorothy, and we’re not in Kansas any more. We’re witnessing the mass adoption of desktop computers for steps in digital content finishing and distribution that formerly required costly proprietary hardware or softwarebecause desktops formerly lacked the performance we needed.
Now that highperformance desktop solutions are readily in our grasp, both vendor and content creator are experiencing a fundamental business change. The desktop revolution is smashing the entry barriers, bringing independent studio and boutique competitors out of the woodwork.
I believe we are entering Part 2 of this market evolution: content delivery. Content creators are not just gaining a competitive edge because they work on affordable systems with faster silicon or leaner, more efficient software applications. They are winning work because they can repurpose it and deliver it on the Web, on CDROMs, interactive kiosks, DVDs and more while maintaining the prized element of creative control.
I believe Part 2 is happening because Part 1 of the desktop revolution set the stage for application extensibility. In other words, just like the computing industry, users have come to believe it is no longer OK to require dedicated equipment for every minute step in the postproduction workflow. Why should it? The technology now exists to allow a Macintosh G3 or Windows NT to be readily soupedup with acceleration technology so it supports graphics creation, compositing, animation, audio, special effects and high end finishing touches.
Once creators taste the freedom of working in high-performance desktop mode, they rarely want to go back to the time-delays and higher overheads. Indeed, they rarely can go back because once a savvy facility enters the market and offers better, more competitive services, word gets around. Clients start asking for that heavy dose of cool effects they saw on someone else’s demo reel. Given sophisticated, low-priced effects, clients will frequently choose price over the cache of being able to tell their friends their work was created on a big-name, high-end system.
Before, content distribution required outsourcing to service bureaus or the purchase of dedicated hardware and software solutions because the computationally intensive nature of video compression made it take too long when done on a desktop. The technology now exists to overcome this limitation. This is a huge leap, but a logical one. Every client wants to amortize its design and production expense across multiple formats. Every facility wants to see its work not only appear in front of as many eyeballs as possible but to appear cleanly and professionally presented.
The ability to readily repurpose and deliver content holds incredible avenues for working smarter and grabbing more of their clients’ marketing expenditures: client reviews via the Web instead of waiting for next-day air shipments; repurposing animations in commercial spots into Web banner ads; delivering QuickTime movies of product demos via the Web; distributing demo reels via CDROM as well as Beta tape; offering compression bureau style services for clients’ internally created work; doing live Webcasts of sporting events; and more that we don’t yet foresee.
Like many changes, the use of desktops for content delivery, my Part 2 of the desktop revolution, is bringing us back home to our core skills as designers. The predominant skill this community can offer is its design talent.
Yet our ability to nimbly take clients’ work into different formats and make each format a mastery of design requires a new skill set as repurposing and delivery experts. It’s totally different to design with an eye for interactivity on the Web, or for the large size formats like HDTV. Add to that challenge the need to master the details of compression so that images made as D1 video really do look clean and cool on a CD-ROM and the work of the post house escalates in complexity.
The forward-thinking among the post-production community have a gold mine of opportunity ahead of them if they can demonstrate a one-stop` shop ability to deliver dazzling content across multiple media and can do so at more of a value than the shop down the street.