GOING PRO

GoPro wants you to know it cares about drone racing, even though its own drone is months late

Late last year, GoPro announced to the world that it release its first consumer drone, the Karma, in the first half of 2016. Then, late in the first half of 2016, GoPro said it would push back the launch until the winter.

In the meantime, GoPro has shown that it’s still very much invested in drones. It announced today that it will sponsor the second annual national drone racing championship, which this year will take place in New York City in August.

The company confirmed that it was sponsoring the event—along with brands like insurance firm AIG and consultants Ernst & Young—but would not expound upon what it will actually do at the event. Nor would GoPro confirm sponsorship of the organizers’ larger event in Hawaii this autumn, the Drone Worlds.

GoPro has had a rough last year. Its last major product release, the Hero4 Session camera, was greeted with underwhelming reviews and sales, and the company has struggled to expand beyond its original core audience of extreme thrill-seekers and sports enthusiasts. Its stock price has tumbled to new lows, trading well below what it was initially offered for in 2014. The company has yet to show off any new products, or much of a way forward. Investors have started to lose confidence.

But it’s pinning its hopes, at least for the foreseeable future on a few things: A new Hero action camera (which may come out in time for Christmas), a virtual-reality camera, and drones. Right now, GoPros are pretty much the camera of choice for consumer drone pilots, partially due to their compact size and relative durability. GoPro arguably wants to lean on the brand equity that it has built up—both with drone owners, and regular camera owners—to show that the future of extreme photography and aerial video is Karma, whether you’ve used the company’s products just to shoot videos of yourself skiing down a big halfpipe, or you’re a seasoned drone pilot that takes amazing videos from the skies.

It’s not entirely clear how next month’s drone competition fits in with the company’s drone strategy. Karma is unlikely to be one of the super-speedy, stripped down and home-made drones that racers use in these sorts of events. Perhaps GoPro, which sponsors myriad other extreme sports events and athletes, sees the sport as the next in a long line of outsider sports trying to hit the mainstream, much as ESPN, which will be broadcasting the competition, seems to think.

GoPro’s quarterly earnings call is on Wednesday (July 27), and expectations are low. It remains to be seen if any of the company’s bets will help it move beyond the faddish camera that propelled it to Wall Street, or if like many drone races, the company’s fortunes will end in a spectacular crash.

Image by Lars Plougmann on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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