MO PRO

What GoPro needs to do in 2016 if it wants to survive

GoPro, the company that makes small, mountable cameras for those who enjoy the extreme (and their pets), has hit a rough patch. This week, Morgan Stanley analyst James Faucette downgraded the company’s outlook, and Wall Street’s confidence in GoPro’s ability to produce another hit is fading: GoPro stock dipped from about $65 in August to $18 this week—roughly 25% lower than its IPO price back in June 2014.

In GoPro’s most recent earnings statement, the company said that it had sold nearly 18 million cameras to date. But the company’s most recently released camera, the cuboid Hero4 Session, has seen its price slashed in half since being released in July, most likely due to lack of demand, and it’s starting to feel as if everyone who wants to record themselves hurtling down mountains, out of planes, and off cliffs already has a GoPro. If the company doesn’t want to follow a similarly precipitous path, it has to do something big soon.

GoPro cameras have been successful in part because they’re so portable and mountable, and the high-quality footage they shoot gives millions of viewers new perspectives, from surfing massive waves to what it’s like to be a dog. Now GoPro needs to figure out how to translate that feeling into new products, and it has two big ideas for how to do that: drones and virtual reality.

Build on its buzz

Over a year ago, Quartz reported that GoPro was looking into building a drone. Now, GoPro has announced the release of its own quadcopter, called “Karma,” in 2016.

Karma’s footage, teased below in a short video, is smooth and stable, but hardly reveals how the company will differentiate itself from what’s already on the market.

GoPro declined to provide any more information about what the drone will do, or when exactly it will be available.

GoPro has reportedly been testing its drone design over the year, and brought in specialists to help build it. Pablo Lema, who is leading its “Aerial Capture Products” division, was previously the product management director at US drone manufacturer 3D Robotics.

But releasing a drone that’s as good as what DJI, 3D Robotics or Parrot offer won’t significantly improve GoPro’s revenue, unless it can compete on price. Drones are expensive, and consumers are unlikely to drop the brands they’ve grown loyal to, just to use a GoPro-branded version.

To really impact GoPro’s business—especially with imminent additional hassles for flying drones in the US—the new drone has to be a step-change in aerial photography, and one that changes the way we think about images, just as its cameras made us rethink video. To grab a significant share of the consumer market, it may have to be something simpler, smaller, safer, or higher quality. And it’ll have to launch soon—DJI will likely release its next consumer drone in the spring, and Parrot recently announced the next version of its mid-range Bebop drone.

What's next?

What’s next?

Immerse us

GoPro’s other big bet for 2016 is virtual reality. In May, the company announced it had partnered with Google to create the 16-camera rig “Odyssey,” as well as video-editing software that stitches camera footage together into a VR video. The two companies spent the rest of the year perfecting the technology, and recently started accepting applications from videomakers to buy the systems for about $15,000. GoPro also has a four-camera rig developed for professional videographers that apparently costs upwards of $3,000.

Neither of these products will sell in high volumes, but they represent GoPro’s stake in an industry-wide belief that the future of media lies in immersive video. Consumer VR devices, like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, and HTC’s Vive, are expected to hit the shelves in early 2016. And when consumers aren’t playing videogames on them, they’ll need something to watch.

Virtual reality technology might not yet be at the point where it’s possible to carry a VR camera around with you, as you would a GoPro or a smartphone, but videomakers are already finding interesting ways to make big rigs portable. BuzzFeed, for example, recently published a video of forest fires in California, shot by a drone strapped with a 360-degree camera rig. We’ll see more of these sorts of videos in the coming year, and GoPro intends to join that immersive world, whether with drones or cameras.

GoPro also fancies itself a media company, having brought its curated video channel to YouTube, its own site, Roku, Amazon Fire, games consoles, and other streaming services. In addition to content shot by professional daredevils and users, the company also inked deals with the NHL and the X-Games in 2015 to strap cameras to sports stars, giving viewers a peek into the action. GoPro has even started licensing out the content it owns—like a Getty Images for extreme action. If GoPro can do the same with its VR content—perhaps even start selling ads against it, or bringing that technology to live sports, it might be onto something.

Release a new classic

While the Hero4 Session appears not to have been a great success, it could find a home in GoPro’s forthcoming drone line. And GoPro will likely release a new camera with higher-quality video recording, as well as nifty gimmicks like waterproofing. With enough additional value in each iteration, GoPro might be able to follow Apple’s example and convince customers with older GoPros to start trading up regularly.

But in a recent report shared with Quartz, Morgan Stanley analyst James Faucette said one of the main things holding GoPro back was its video-editing software. Professionals can handle high-resolution files and run them through high-end editing software to make their videos. But the user who strapped a GoPro to a dog for a wedding, on the other hand, might will struggle with 8K video.

“The bigger issue is that key challenges of off-loading, storage, and editing content have not been adequately addressed for a product intended to be ‘taken anywhere to record everything,'” Faucette wrote. “Similarly, we think limited video editing usability improvements are likely to limit quadcopter/Karma adoption.”

GoPro bought CineForm, a video editing company back in 2011, and Kolor, a VR company with a video-stichting tool, in 2015. But if it remains harder to edit GoPro videos than your own smartphone videos, there’s a risk that customers give up on extreme cameras and simply start buying ultra-protective phone cases.

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