Yesterday, one year after the banking collapse, Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said during a forum at the Brookings Institution that the recession was â€œvery likely over at this point.â€ The unemployment rate, he added, could and probably would still rise for many monthsâ€”making the economy feel sluggish even though the worst, technically speaking, was behind us.
That same kind of hopeful cynicism was in evidence at this yearâ€™s IBC show, which came to an end yesterday. During my booth appointments at the show, talk of new products quickly led to talk of business in general. The news was good, if guarded: product orders and RFPs for installations are on the way back up, but most agreed that customersâ€™ budgets were only slowly inching back toward their previous levels of abandon. The traffic in the RAI Convention Center halls, on the other hand, was downâ€”officially only 7% off last yearâ€™s attendance.
Some exhibitors, like Echolab, were still feeling flush from orders at NAB for Atem, an affordable 1 M/E switcher, now shipping, that accepts just about any source signal and has a growing appeal for corporate, church and event production facilities. Many of Echolabâ€™s traditional broadcast customers, President Nigel Spratling told me, are reeling from flattened budgets and therefore wary of investing right now in larger systems.
One type of larger system that canâ€™t be ignored by anyone dealing with multiplying, high-res files is shared storage. Omneon and EditShare, who announced its acquisition of the Lightworks NLE and Geevs servers on the first day of the show, both reported upticks in sales.
There were other success stories. Quantel, absent from NAB, reemerged at IBC with its best financial results in ten years. Granted, that decade was very tough on Quantel, as it watched Apple and Adobe and Autodesk sweep up its core customers. But by giving its sQ server newsroom customers what they wanted, which includes integrating Final Cut Pro edit suites into their workflows and making it all accessible via a Web browser, the company found a way to both bring back business and live peaceably in a multi-format universe.
Along with the brighter business outlooks came introductions of smaller, leaner products catering to tight budgets, from Anton Bauerâ€™s T4M superfast four-slot battery charger to Grass Valleyâ€™s K2 Solo server, exactly half the size of the companyâ€™s K2 Summit. Sound Devices debuted the pint-sized but powerful 552 Production Mixer, its first field mixer with its own integrated digital audio recorder. AJA entered a new product category with its small and affordable KUMO routers, featuring SDI, HD-SDI and 3G SDI support and Web-browser control.
Autodesk Flare, the â€œbaby Flameâ€ released at NAB, is also selling well, according to the company. But not in the way Autodesk had originally expected. Bruno Sargeant, Autodeskâ€™s Film and Television Industry Manager, told me that VFX supervisors are taking to Flare in surprising numbers, pushing their assistants onto the bigger machines while they take the flexible, pared-down models into their finishing suites and even on set.
4K RED Rocket playback support was a familiar refrain at press conferences and on the show floor, and Jim Jannard himself came out to talk about REDâ€™s latest prototype, the EPIC-X, at a demo and discussion with Assimilate inside the RAIâ€™s big theater. Jannard explained that he was actually stepping in for Ted Schilowitz, REDâ€™s tireless rabble rouser and the afternoonâ€™s intended speaker, who was taking time off due to a medical emergency. â€œOne of his batteries broke,â€ said Jannard with his trademark elliptical candor, â€œand heâ€™s going to get it fixed.â€ We wish Ted well in his recovery.
DaVinci drew crowds to its new home in the Blackmagic booth, many simply curious to see just how seamless the recent acquisition had been. So far so good. On Sunday, president Dan May told me that the company had just taken orders from Londonâ€™s Smoke & Mirrors for two new DaVinci systems. â€œThey needed help, and what they were lacking in resources, we knew we had at Blackmagic,â€ he said. â€œBut I think weâ€™ve also convinced DaVinciâ€™s core customers that it will continue to do what it does bestâ€”real-time color correctionâ€”and is not in danger of becoming a quantity product.â€
In other merger news, Grass Valley awaits the final sign off on its sale, which SVP Jeff Rosica, who heads the Grass Valley business within Thomson, said would be made public within the next few weeks.
Word of Avidâ€™s acquisition of storage company Maximum Throughput, also known as Max-T, was confirmed during the show, though the deal actually happened back in July, right under all of our noses. What will this mean to the popular Sledgehammer product line?
3D made a brief if not fully dimensional appearance at the showâ€”The Foundry touted version 2 of its stereoscopic plug-in, Ocula, and the theater hosted a 16-minute preview of James Cameronâ€™s Avatar on Sunday night.
Finally, Adobe showed tech previews of Adobe Story, its metadata-driven scriptwriting software now in public beta at the Adobe Labs. It has evolved into a hosted application that you can share with multiple viewers across the Web, and will be part of the next version of Production Premium.
What do these small, yet significant product upgrades, consolidation news and decent attendance numbers at IBC â€™09 add up to? Another good reason to believe the industry is starting to recover. And that whole is certainly worth more than the sum of its parts.
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