Smartphones Won’t Kill GoPro – But Licensing Ripoffs, Boring Video and Bad Videographers Will

Jul 16, 2014

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

Smartphones Won’t Kill GoPro – But Licensing Ripoffs, Boring Video and Bad Videographers Will

Jul 16, 2014

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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You may have heard the controversy around the recent Barrons article GoPro’s Thrill-Filled IPO Adventure May End Badly, by Alexander Eule that caused GoPro’s stock to take big hit in response.

It even sparked a rebuttal by Gizmodo: No, Smartphones Aren’t Going To Kill GoPro by Michael Hession.

Well, you’ve heard it here first – smartphones aren’t going to kill GoPro – but licensing ripoffs and boring, stylized GoPro content created and shared by bad videograpers will.

Smartphones Won't Kill GoPro - But Licensing Ripoffs Boring Video and Bad Videographers Will

Keep reading and I’ll explain.

Blackberry vs. GoPro

I live in Canada near the headquarters of Blackberry – or maybe that’s Research in Motion or RIM or something like that now.  Anyway, you remember Blackberry right?  You know, the global smartphone powerhouse that is now all but out of business?

That is to say – a market pioneer and massive global corporation that produced what was essentially a single product.

Its a little bit of a touchy subject around here.

If that description seems familiar, its because I see a direct comparison between Blackberry and GoPro.  They both essentially only sell one product.  And sooner or later, someone is going to come along that makes something that is better, newer and cooler and pfffft – that’s it.

Blackberry has so far been unable to transition into a more diverse profitable business model, and I see it as only a matter of time before GoPro suffers a similar fate.

You hear that Mr. Anderson?… That is the sound of inevitability

But GoPro Is Now A Media Company

According to Bloomburg:

GoPro’s cameras let action-sports enthusiasts from surfers to skiers to sky divers take professional-quality videos, many of which get posted on YouTube. GoPro’s revenue jumped 87 percent last year to $985.7 million. While most of that was derived through cameras and accessories, GoPro plans to position itself as a media company, the filing shows.

Ya, the problem with that statement is the phrase “professional-quality videos”.

The point that mainstream analysts don’t seem to realize is that GoPros do not magically take “professional quality videos”.  Professional videographers take professional quality videos – they just might happen to use a GoPro to do it.

The reality is that almost all GoPro content sucks – strapping a GoPro to your head and doing something crazy does not produce anything worth watching.

First of all, everyday content creators cannot physically do hardly anything interesting – unless its a cat or maybe a football in the groin.

Second, like it or not, as previously mentioned, you actually need some skill to film watchable GoPro video sequences, not to mention post production.

Clip scripting, camera positioning and stability, filming technique, color grading, multiple camera angles, editing clips into an interesting storyline – all are so far beyond the skill level and attention span of the casual GoPro user its not even funny.

So yes, there may be a ton of content out there that GoPro might be able to steal license from their users – but for every killer viral action cam video there are millions of terrible shaky, videos of people mountain biking in bad light with absolutely nothing interesting to see.

In other words, here is what 99% of all GoPro footage ever created looks like:

YouTube video

(OK – so even though it is 12 minutes of shaky helmet cam footage with horrible audio, bad light and bad color – that still looked like an awesome ride.)

And here is what it looks like in the hands of a professional videographer – otherwise known as “what GoPro wants you to think your GoPro video will look like”:

YouTube video

GoPro Content Licensing Ripoff

The next major challenge that I see to GoPro’s evolution into a media company is how exactly GoPro is planning to compensate it’s users for supplying it with all that valuable content.

From Engadget:

GoPro is already exploring other distribution routes. Woodman himself knows only too well that the content opportunities are nearly endless, potentially free and ripe to be put to use. “People have so much of their footage stored on SD cards that they never share,” he said. “We could make the argument that less than 5 or 10 percent of GoPro content is actually shared.”

The base assumption seems to be that all that GoPro content floating around out there is free or nearly free and that content creators will be happy to just give it away.

In other words, GoPro is planing on making a fortune at the expense of content creators.

We all know that Facebook and other social media companies famously grab the rights to all content that is uploaded to their sites, so we can assume that GoPro is planning a similar strategy.

More from Engadget:

It (GoPro) realizes it’s sitting on a content golden goose. Content it can monetize. Content it has to do very little to obtain. Content that’s already doing big things online. GoPro tells us it’s the top-ranking brand channel on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Adrenaline is apparently big business. Because of this, GoPro’s making the conscious and, perhaps, natural leap from selling cameras and accessories to content creation, curation and delivery.

The difference is GoPro actually seems to be planning on doing what other content thieves rights grabbers (not even Facebook) have yet dared to try – directly monetizing their user’s content.

Of course, we don’t know if GoPro actually plans to compensate their content creators, but if we look at the YouTube model, there is no reason to believe that it will be anything worthwhile.

GoPro Video Is Overdone

Finally, the last issue that I see killing GoPro is simply its own success.

I don’t see this as killing GoPro outright, but I certainly see it killing GoPro’s growth trajectory.

The problem is that GoPro video has gone through such growth that it is nearly ubiquitous.

But it is also highly stylized – so much so that you can tell if a video was filmed on a GoPro after about two frames.

While the ultra-wide angle, semi-fisheye GoPro look definitely works for some scenes, it does not work well for everything – and frankly the GoPro look is getting really old really fast.

For example, here is a really cool all GoPro heli-skiing video – amazingly awesome to be sure:

YouTube video

And here is a video in the same genre, but using a much more diverse array of different film making techniques:

To me, the difference is night and day.

That, and the whole genre of extreme sports maximum jolts-per-minute action videos is over-saturated.  The first time I saw a killer first tracks skiing video – wow.  The tenth time – still cool.  The hundredth time – meh.

I don’t know if GoPro has plans to offer interchangeable lenses at some point in the future, but sooner or later the mainstream public is going to get sick of watching people with giant noses doing stupid crazy stuff.

But of course, there is still the greatest GoPro video ever made: “Hula Cam at Venice Beach”

YouTube video

The Future of GoPro

At this point, I will agree with Michael Hession at Gizmodo when he says No, Smartphones Aren’t Going To Kill GoPro.

GoPro has been competing with smartphones, along with a whole host of other very capable competing action cams for a long time.  On top of that, GoPro is a very innovative company with great products (except for the Hero3) that has managed to sell an illusion of a certain lifestyle along with its cameras.

But if I were an investor, I would be asking one very serious question – given that the hardware side of GoPro will sooner or later crash, is GoPro still worth over $2.96 billion if it exists only to rip off and repackage crappy content shot on a format and in a genre that people are sick of seeing?

Because for my money, I don’t see GoPro ever being more than a niche camera hardware manufacturer (and they are a damn good niche camera hardware manufacturer).

Of course, my net worth isn’t exactly $3 billion, so maybe Nick Woodman knows something I don’t.

Would You Invest In GoPro?

Will GoPro continue to beat out smartphones and other action cameras  to stay at the top of the action cam market forever?

Can GoPro transition into a successful media empire?

Leave a comment below and let us know what you think!


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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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13 responses to “Smartphones Won’t Kill GoPro – But Licensing Ripoffs, Boring Video and Bad Videographers Will”

  1. Renato Murakami Avatar
    Renato Murakami

    On topic, here’s what I’ll have to say: compared to several other companies that have gone public, the only thing I really see stopping GoPro on it’s tracks is if the R&D portion of it drops the ball.

    See, the negative comments are nothing new. People have been complaining about the relative small market and “crappy quality results” when compared to pro gear for quite a while now… in fact, since the camera was first released. This ship has sailed a long time ago.

    Then, GoPro suffered an onslaught of idea stealing and cloning from very big companies out there… including Sony, JVC and several other smaller companies. Yes, I know this is debatable since GoPro didn’t create action cameras by any stretch of the imagination, but it created the hype and conquered a big part of the market. It also had legit competition from start like with Contour and others.

    Still, it managed to keep it’s position after years of other companies trying to trample it. They’ve always managed to cramp even more features and more quality in their version of the product when compared to the competition, while keeping reasonable prices. Plus they created a huge following and community getting very close to the likes of Red Bull.

    You say the videos are overdone or the quality is bad, but that’s your opinnion. For lots of GoPro users the quality is just perfect for what they want to do, the videos are exactly what they expect from such a product, and the community is a huge plus regardless of monetization schemes. If the community starts leaving because they want better monetization plans, GoPro just have to respond to it. All in all, getting a share from ad revenue or leaving the community to make their own material could both be viable options, and the latter is already possible.

    Is it possible that a company will come out with a product that is cheaper and better then what they have? Shure. But then again, this can also be said for several companies that went public in the past few years and several others that works on the Internet.

    Smartphones won’t kill GoPro because their products have a specific purpose, form factor, and are tailored for it. Then they also have a specific community, among other things. For a smartphone to kill GoPro it would have to be a rugged smartphone that could be mounted in all sorts of surfaces, behave in a certain way, and be shaped for the purpose – it’s not gonna happen. It’s possible to do it, but not in the best interest of the entire smartphone market, so it wouldn’t be a smart choice for smartphone companies to do it.
    There are several comflicting specs between both… you want a small camera, but a small smartphone won’t do it. You want a set ammount of battery time for a sports cam, but if you are sharing it with smartphone functions it won’t be the ideal scenario. You don’t want your sports cam to be taking calls in the middle of shoots. You need a wide angle lens for sports cams, but for smartphone cams this isn’t always the case. See where I’m getting at?

    I mean, it’s perfectly understandable for smartphones to replace point ‘n shoots because those are general purpose cameras. They still can replace a small portion of GoPro usage, but overall I’d say GoPros have better chance of survival past Smartphone domination than Point ‘n Shoots do. The market focus with specific needs is key here.

    Also, it seems the author is suffering from a very known problem while judging communities and trends: just because you are getting bored of GoPro videos and find the quality lacking, doesn’t mean that this is valid for everyone. Don’t assume it is, and don’t write it as if you knew it. Extreme sports and other types of videos are pretty much a renewing trend and community. As long as there are people out there willing to strap a camera on a bike, car, skate, skii or whatever to share their experiences in an easy, cheap and fast way, and as long as GoPro R&D keeps going for the best solution for the job, there will be a market.
    I’m reading too many assumptions there.

    1. gs_790 Avatar

      Well, the very, very short paraphrasing of the Barron’s article is, “1.The stock is overvalued now. 2.the stock is going to loose money in the short term if you buy now. 3. I think it’s a bad long term investment because its features are duplicated by something a lot of people already own. 4. there is another, similar, company that I think is undervalued and I think their niche will grow.”

      I agree, the because of point 3 is a little silly for all the reasons enumerated in articles and comments. It’s good fodder to discuss the pros and cons of different bits of gear for different purposes. Count me solidly in the camp of, I’m okay with breaking 2 GoPros and buying a third, I can’t abide by killing an iPhone.

      But that doesn’t stop me from agreeing with the article as a piece of financial advice, which is pretty normal for your average investor after an IPO: let the stock stabilize before you, the private investor, consider buying it. And it’s worth adding, if you buy GoPro stock, you are not directly supporting GoPro, you are buying those shares from the last person that owned those shares. Although, that is also not to say that if you are a huge GoPro geek it wouldn’t be cool to buy a share, get a real printed copy of the certificate to frame or just wave around like you own 1/123,140,000 of the place.

  2. Spodo Kimodo Avatar
    Spodo Kimodo

    Nick Woodman doesn’t care. He’s laughing all the way to the bank.

  3. Rafael A. P Maduro Avatar
    Rafael A. P Maduro

    I found the article really interesting to say but, the arguments are not really there for me, i’m planning of adding a gopro to my gear for weddings since also a dji phantom is on that planning, it will bring and edge for me here in Aruba, at least from my competitors, since the only aerial company here is really busy with big productions, i do work with them when we need them here on the ad agency i work for, and their costs are prohibitive to me at least as far as weddings is concern. i also just discover a group of cool kids doing underwater photography exclusively with gopros and their business is blooming, great prices and cool concepts and only with gopros, so all and all people still have use for this camera and i don’t see a valid point on comparing them to smartphones since they have very different markets.

  4. Michael Turcotte Avatar
    Michael Turcotte

    Actually the greatest hoop video is

  5. J. Philip vanHeijkoop Avatar
    J. Philip vanHeijkoop

    What I don’t get is that Gopro is focusing so much on sports (only recently on music) while the camera is usable for so much more. I’m not a sports guy (at all) yet I love my gopro, you can stick it almost everywhere because it’s so light and if it drops it’ll probably be fine. Back in the 80s when you needed a fairly simple shot from a person drowning in a sink shot from under water (like in Darkman) they needed to build an extra sink with a transparent bottom under which they would have to place their camera (probably meaning they would have to raise the set). Now you just drop the gopro in the sink and you’re done. Or Darren Aronofsky famous ‘Snorricam’. Just google for a picture and you’ll see how big and clumsy it actually is compered to what you could do now with a simple Gopro.

    Now the only problem it has it that it’s mostly automatic, but the latest update gives you a lot more control (like iso limits).And as for shaky footage I usually shoot at a high frame rate which gives you less jello and motion blur (in the wrong place) and gives the post stabilizer more to work with.Then just drop it in a 24/25/30fps timeline and add motion blur back in. And as for the Gopro/fisheye look you can ofcourse undistort it in post or shoot in Medium or Narror Crop mode (as these do not diminish the resolution!).

    1. Ahmet Avatar

      “Then just drop it in a 24/25/30fps timeline and add motion blur back in. And as for the Gopro/fisheye look you can ofcourse undistort it in post or shoot in Medium or Narror Crop mode (as these do not diminish the resolution!)”

      The number of people who understand this, can do this and willing to do this won’t be enough for the same growth rate.
      The article was not about the hardware it was about the company and it’s strategy. While the GoPro is a good camera, it’s just like other cameras, does not make any high quality footage. It might make high resolution, good colour accuracy, whatever shots, but for high quality footage GoPro needs a human like you. Who can drop it on a 24/25/30 fps timeline and stuff like that. The masses, who generate huge demand won’t buy a new version, coz they realized that they have no idea how to shoot a pro looking film, or that they don’t want to learn it, don’t want to spend time doing it. They want to strap it on their head and get the cool movie when they download it at home. And that much they learned that it won’t happen with only a better camera.

      And most importantly: you, the person, who can make a cool video won’t share it for a global company’s benefit. You, the Pro will be the first to Go and find a maker, who does not want the rights of your hard work. For free.

  6. Fred Smith Avatar
    Fred Smith

    The stock is not a technology company so yes, at some point new technology will come out and kick this one trick pony’s ass. In the mean time it has a dominate market position since Contour, SONY and the others are not the standard for this space. Is the stock overpriced? Sure. Of course, so is the entire market when not adjusted for the artificially low interest rates.

  7. Kay O. Sweaver Avatar
    Kay O. Sweaver

    Working at a camera store I think this is a pretty accurate assessment. People are beginning to realize that the GoPro doesn’t magically create amazing footage, they’re also realizing that most of the time their GoPro is collecting dust in the closet.

    As camera geeks we drool over the next 4k 240FPS WiFi gizmo, but the average consumer doesn’t understand what any of that means. The market is getting close to saturation for GoPro and many people won’t understand or even need to upgrade.

    I think they’ll continue to do well, but don’t expect continued 80%+ growth.

  8. guest Avatar

    Hated my gopro2 from the start, the promised wifi control that took 8 months to deliver, horible controllable exposure.

  9. Ross Avatar

    The other point is that they are actually quite tough. Once people have one, especially your average joe, it’s going to be a long time for them to want to upgrade. If the market gets saturated, then they will definitely need to do something else to continue their growth path.

  10. Steĺa Avatar

    Truth is, even “good” gopro footage is WAAAY overused, under-creative, narratively pointless gimickry, with very few exceptions. It has quickly become the tv and low budget camera cliche of choice for content that has no substance.

  11. Tamer Elfiky Avatar
    Tamer Elfiky

    actually, I have started a gopro business here in Egypt, and while i do agree that the growth curve is so rapid it is worrying, the cost and ease of use is what makes it so. there are no lengthy courses to take online, its just strap on and go. I also agree that go pro needs to up its game in lenses, but i doubt anything currently competes with what they have in the market price wise and functionality for quality.