“Unbreaking” an Industry Begins with Honest Conversations and Better Collaboration

By Adrian Pennington

The industry is at breaking point in the midst of seismic change but it can survive if stakeholders act collectively – starting now, urged Jeff Rosica, President and Chief Executive Officer, Avid Technology.

Presenting a keynote at the HPA Tech Retreat in Palm Springs this month, Rosica was frank about the uphill task faced by everyone involved in media and entertainment. “As industry leaders we need to come to grips with the fact that we’re standing at the precipice of ‘breaking an industry’ and are facing an industry-wide mess,” he said.

“I am truly worried that we could be heading for a disastrous time. Some things are already breaking and some we will have to break in future, but we can avoid disaster if as an industry we look carefully at what is hitting us, we all get aligned on the same page and we collaborate better.”

Rosica is a widely respected media technology leader who has spent nearly four decades at the top of the industry for companies including Phillips, Grass Valley and Avid. In that time he said the industry has encountered change and always managed transitions effectively.

“I’m worried that we’re in an unprecedented time where we’re facing significant headwinds from what feels like all directions – North, South, East and West – at once. We are in danger of breaking apart, but I believe we can also unbreak this trend.”

Rosica essayed four areas of change that are impacting the industry globally. These include the wholesale disruption to business models as traditional production and distribution is forced to adjust to streaming and access to content by consumers anytime, anywhere on myriad digital devices.

“We are in the midst of this change which is creating a lot of angst and pressures on each business,” Rosica said. “But if that wasn’t enough there are three other areas coming at us fast.”

We are also witnessing significant change in operating practices, he said: “Processes and workflows developed and proven over decades are being ripped and replaced.” Those practices have tended to be incremental to a linear approach of creating content, from script to production through post, that have barely changed in a century. The evolution to digital tools and IP networks has paved the way for a change in that methodology, the pace of which is now being accelerated by automation.

A third headwind comes from changing technologies and deployment patterns. Covid irreversibly altered the expectations of workers when it comes to the flexibility of being able to work from anywhere and caused the industry to rethink how content is created, he said. Remote, collaborative and hybrid production models are the new norm.

“We must get much more drastic in our efficiencies,” Rosica urged. “We are still inefficient as an industry. We need to do more.”

On top of this, Rosica expressed concern about the industry’s talent drain. When the skills required of innovators and technologists in the M&E industry are no longer purely engineering and electronics – but also computer programming and software-based skills from adjacent industries in professional AV, video gaming and IT, the M&E industry must fight harder to recruit and retain talent.

“Our industry is running out of people,” he warned. “We have to be very careful about leveraging global talent.”

The fourth area of change Rosica identified is within the ecosystem of providers and service providers. “Few companies are not facing financial challenges, which were only exacerbated by the strikes last year. In addition, companies face the existential threat of disintermediation. The nature of who is doing what with whom is changing dramatically.”

Technologies like Cloud, IP and Artificial Intelligence are game changers in their own right but the tech revolution isn’t stopping there. There are issues of data security and data integrity and combatting deepfakes to contend with. Interactive media and new depth-enhanced immersive experiences to be embraced.

“There have always been technology shifts in our industry, but we’ve never seen this many happening in parallel,” Rosica said. “Across the board, technology is creating substantive change. It is unprecedented.”

No-one is immune and everyone should be involved in navigating the industry’s future.
“No matter if you are a technology supplier, a postproduction house, a production company, studio, freelance artist, content creator or content owner – everybody in media and entertainment needs to unite in discussion. If the industry can’t function effectively we will all suffer.”

He urged attendees and the wider community to talk. “We’ve all got so much going on at once and so much coming at us that we have to spend more time talking about how we are going to prioritize, get aligned and stay aligned, and avoid a more difficult situation in future.”

His speech wasn’t all gloom and doom. There is light at the end of the tunnel, he said. “The good news is consumers have a raging appetite for compelling content and they will pay for it. We are not making something as an industry that people don’t want.

“The other good news is that we have very fine organizations and bodies like HPA, MovieLabs, SMPTE, DPP, ACES and more who can be the vehicle for organizing collective discussion and change. But we still have to get aligned between them all. Each organization has its own prioritization, messaging and agenda. Not that that’s a bad thing but there’s so much going on we’ve got to make sure everybody realigns on the same path.

He added, “I know that we all see these things from our own perspective but I’m not sure we are all internalizing them and really understanding the profound nature of what we are facing. We need to start talking about how to navigate change. We’ve got to realize that we cannot tackle all these headwinds at once. We have to prioritize.”

As the head of one of the industry’s leading developers of software tools for film and TV, Rosica’s views on the threat and promise of Artificial Intelligence and Generative AI are worth hearing.

He is adamant that Gen-AI and AI in general will not supplant the need for human editors or creatives anywhere.

“I remember when digital tools first arrived there were concerns that these would do away with the need for artists, but we have many more artists working today using software tools to create content.

“The history of technology tells us that AI will enable people to do more and will open up opportunities for them. It will definitely cause change but not even AI will eliminate the need for a creative person. Not in my lifetime do I think AI is going to tell me compelling stories from start to finish. AI will put more tools in the hands of creative professionals so that they can get their job done faster, more efficiently and even more creatively.”

He doubled down on the theme, arguing, “When more powerful tools have entered our industry it has driven efficiency but it has also driven more powerful storytelling. When it all shakes out I think that will happen again, but we first have to admit that AI is going to change the way we go about our business.”

Rosica is in his last term at Avid, which he has led into a $1.4 billion buyout by an affiliate of private-equity company STG. But he is not about to ride off into the sunset.

“I’m not dropping the mic and wishing everyone good luck! These things need to be said because I want all leaders and key stakeholders in our industry to think about them. We’ve all got to engage and collaborate a lot more.

“If I was having this discussion with Avid, I’d be saying the same thing – and I do, by the way. You can’t do everything at once. We have to face these things. We have to prioritize and we have to do this collectively as an industry. We have all got to realise that there is a lot happening here. Transformation is afoot and we have to manage our way through it.”

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