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Review: Avid CEO Louis Hernandez Jr.’s Book, “The Storyteller’s Dilemma”

By Steve Harvey. Avid CEO Louis Hernandez Jr. discusses storytelling, creativity in new book.

Montclair, NJ—“It’s easier than ever to tell stories, but it’s harder than ever to make doing so economically viable. That’s the storyteller’s dilemma,” writes Louis Hernandez Jr., CEO and chairman of Avid Technology, in his latest book.

The Storyteller’s Dilemma: Overcoming the Challenges in the Digital Media Age (Hal Leonard, 196 pages), the third book from Hernandez, is an analysis of the impact of digitization on the wider media industry and a projection of where we go from here. In four parts—how storytelling is innate in humans; how we arrived at the current dilemma; why technology is a great enabler, though it produces unintended consequences; and one potential way forward—he lays out a perceptive and thoroughly researched dissection of the impact of digitization on the worlds of film, broadcast, news and music, and explores how, frankly, we can do better.

In presentations on behalf of Avid over the last several years, Hernandez (@lhernandezjr) has already laid out many of the observations of the content creation business contained in this book. As he has led Avid away from its somewhat rocky past and positioned the company for a stable and prosperous future, he has spoken about visiting clients from across the content creation spectrum. Drawing from those encounters, he peppers this book with astute firsthand observations regarding the intersection of storytelling and technology by individuals including Star Trek and Star Wars film editor Maryann Brandon, Sinclair Broadcast Group SVP and CTO Delbert Parks III and Herb Trawick of Pensado’s Place.

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The book is written by the head of Avid, of course, so it’s no surprise that Media Composer, Pro Tools and other company products are referenced. But then there is no avoiding the dominance of Avid technology in the media industry. All six of the major film studios, nine of the 10 leading international news networks and four of the five largest TV station groups use Avid tools. More than 70 percent of today’s commercially published music and over 80 percent of streamed original content is produced using Avid solutions, he says.

The dilemma, as Hernandez sees it, is that the unintended consequence of digitization is that creative, informative and inspiring storytelling is being jeopardized. He argues that by moving to digital workflows while retaining antiquated systems, we have made things difficult for ourselves.

Digitization demands new connections, creates more complexity and results in less predictability, he writes. Media companies are having to pour money into the monetization of content, investing in storage, archiving and retrieval tools and digital distribution. He adds that converting digitized media from one format to another and making it compatible with the world of available devices is big business.

At the heart of his thesis is the observation that there is an imbalance in investment between the tools and the content. Media businesses are challenged by the economic burden created by an emphasis on distribution, the complexity created by the proliferation of devices and unproven business models, and increased competition due to the explosion of content, Hernandez writes. Consumers are bewildered by choice, requiring curation and direction from trusted sources to avoid being drowned in a tsunami of content. As a result, he says, a smaller proportion of content is being consumed, and newer creative content and creative artists are losing out economically.

But this is no Luddite screed. There’s nothing wrong with digitization; we just need to be more thoughtful about how we proceed.

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One of the biggest issues facing the media industry is “disconnected, redundant workflows based on proprietary technologies. It’s too complicated to get things done because processes, services and assets differ at various points in the value chain,” writes Hernandez. But while Avid is an active member of the groups defining industry standards and working to make these proprietary technologies interoperate, “I believe that over the long terms, it is preferable to adopt open standards-based tools across the value chain,” he states.

The lower level functions—file formats, data transmission, archiving, metadata tagging, digital rights management—currently consume a disproportionate amount of time, money and effort. “If we eliminate the things that don’t separate us—those common elements—we can focus on the things that do differentiate us,” he writes.

“I believe the way forward lies in creating a shared-services platform that all participants in the media value chain can tap into,” he suggests. These technologies, processes, formats and standards should be universally recognized and highly automated, and not a source of added cost and complexity.

“Sharing the joy of stories is part of our social fabric,” concludes Hernandez, stressing the need to act now and get ahead of the issues. “We must think about what makes us unique, rather than consume all our time, resources and attention dealing with short-term issues…. [A]dopting standards and shared services is the most viable way to accomplish this, the one that will benefit everyone—storyteller, audience and everyone in between.”

Hal Leonard •