Will Pro Tools strike back at NAMM?

When I went to NISS to learn the secrets of audio-production, learning the software Pro Tools was one of the major subjects, along with electronics, acoustics etc. Almost before we knew what a decibel was, we were sitting in front of a Mac repeating specific shortcuts for the software. Having recently attended the university where independence of education is very important, I was critical of the fact that one software-company had such strong connections to the school. This would give Pro Tools and it`s owner Avid a big advantage against its competitors (cubase, nuendeo etc.)  It would almost force the students to choose Pro Tools as their platform in their future career, to choose another software would mean that the student has wasted a lot of time during the studies: The skills in Pro Tools does not give much “synergy” in other parts of audio production, it`s a complete system for audio studios that has been industry-standard for the past 15 years. Walk into a recording-studio in Nashville, or an audio-editing studio in Hollywood, and you will most likely see a Pro Tools rig. So why worry? Choosing Pro Tools seemed a safe choice, the software is too big and important to ever become irrelevant.. At this time in 2007, Pro Tools was just as reliable as the international banking system.

And so far Pro Tools has held it`s position. The basics of the program hasn`t changed much,  once you learn the workflow, you easily adapt to new versions of the software. Their loyal customers, for example those who come from the Pro-Tools certified audio schools, will not change their software unless they have no other choice. This secures a stable situation for Pro Tools and its owner Avid.

However, there are some skies in the horizon. Looking at the financial situation of Avid, things are not looking promising. Since the release of the latest version of Pro Tools, Pro Tools 10, the stocks at Nasdaq have almost halved in value. Their third quarter results of 2012 reveals that they lost 16-18 million dollars during that time.

This situation can`t continue, and Avid has to find ways to make more money on Pro Tools. Let`s hope they dont do the same with Pro Tools as they did with when they bought the music-compsoing software Sibelius: they sacked the original development-team and replaced them with someone cheaper, resulting in an inferior product.

My cousin is a computer-expert, and he gave me some ideas as to why Pro Tools might be struggling. In general, when software develops over a long period of time and becomes very big, it becomes more difficult to develop: you have so much old code and hardware that needs to be taken into consideration. At one point, a new competitor X can start from scratch and easily make a superior product with the most recent technology. Sometimes X takes over the market, until he also becomes too big and a new brand emerges.. This is a cyclus that is well known in the world of computer-buisness.
And I think it applies to Pro Tools: today they are not always in the cutting edge of technology. For example, they are the only software of its kind who still runs in 32-bit, whereas the competition has moved into 64-bit a long time ago. (The reason for this is that Pro Tools still need to support loyal customers who use old hardware (tdm) that can only use 32-bit.) Meanwhile, small companies like Cockos make software that run much more efficient on modern computers..

In october 2011, Avid launced a new series of hardware, HDX, that would replace the old HD-cards with TDM-plugins. They had to do this because the old cards slowed them down compared to the competition.. But this was a controversial move among their customers, because it forces them to replace all their pro-tools cards within a couple of years. The question is, will all the customers transfer to the new hardware? Although no sales numbers are official, the bad financial situation of Avid suggests that the new HDX-cards have so far not been a success.
The problem with HDX has been that third-party developers have been very slow to make software for the new hardware. Perhaps they don`t have the incentive to help Pro Tools retain its dominating position in the market? New powers are emerging: Apple owns the video software Final Cut and audio-software Logic that both are in direct competition with Avid. Apple are probably not very happy about software-companies making products exclusively for Avid, and who knows what they can do to prevent this..
One company that has publicly proclaimed that they will not support the new hdx-standard (aax-DSP), is the important plugin-manufacturer Waves. They say that supporting AAX-DSP takes 72 man-years, and it`s too much work for them. Instead they prefer to use the VST-standard that can be used in most other Daws.  My guess is that Waves also want to make products that competes with Pro Tools HDX, by developing Sound Grid into a product that uses servers to give extra DSP to DAWS for plugins. (in theory, servers can be much more powerful than HDX-cards.)

Pro Tools can still turn the tide, but they have to act quickly: the upcoming NAMM is the perfect opportunity to strike back. Rumors says that Waves have changed their mind, if they announce aax-plugins for Pro Tools, I am sure that the loyal HD-customers will upgrade to HDX in large numbers. And if Pro Tools announce 64-bit compability they will attract many new customers as well..

But if nothing happens at Namm, I fear that the Avid-stocks will continue to fall. And then who knows what this big commercial company will do with Pro Tools..

So if Pro Tools gets squeezed by its competitors, what happens to audio-schools like NISS that have invested heavily in Pro Tools gear and knowledge? Looking at their website, it seems that they might have plan B ready: Niss is an authorized Apple-school.. Now, if that company fails, that`s another story..

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