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GoPro’s new focus: becoming a media giant

GoPro’s new focus: becoming a media giant

January 31, 2014 – 2:01PM

Nick Wingfield

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”GoPro is producing some of the best short-form content out there”: Nick Woodman, chief executive. Photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

SAN MATEO, California: Inside the headquarters of GoPro, the video camera maker, there is a racing car, a collection of motorcycles and drones outfitted with the company’s products. All of them are reminders of the niche that GoPro has carved out as the camera of choice for recording skiing, surfing and other experiences too gnarly for dainty smartphones.

For its next act, GoPro wants to also be known as a media company.

It is not a far stretch. In the last decade, GoPro has built a large and passionate following on YouTube and other internet sites with its adrenaline-soaked and professionally made videos of surfers riding barrels of waves and skiers parachuting off snow-covered cliffs. Customers have independently uploaded millions of their own videos, too. And many happily label the clips with the term GoPro, which has become a sort of shorthand for action shots.

“I think GoPro is producing some of the best short-form content out there today,” said Nicholas Woodman, the company’s founder and chief executive, who owns and has piloted the racing car and motorcycles now parked in the building here. “There’s a phenomenal opportunity for us to leverage GoPro as a media brand.”

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There are other companies with media ambitions similar to GoPro’s, most notably Red Bull, the energy drink maker. Red Bull has become synonymous with extreme sports and stunts by sponsoring high-altitude sky divers and downhill ice skating races, among other events. GoPro also sponsors athletes, including the surfer Kelly Slater, the snowboarder Shaun White and others who shoot footage of themselves in action using GoPro cameras, which they then send to the company every month for use in its online videos.

But GoPro has a long way to go in video to catch up to Red Bull. The energy drink maker has 3.3 million subscribers to its YouTube channel and more than 700 million views for its videos, compared with 1.7 million subscribers for GoPro’s channels and more than 400 million views. And Red Bull TV, the company’s entertainment network, recently became available on Apple TV. Those are the types of deals GoPro is now also after.

“It’s a tough environment,” said Michael J. Wolf, a former MTV Networks executive and managing director of Activate, a media consulting firm. “If they can truly stand for action sports, and they can have quality video that people want to watch, then they can succeed.”

Building up its media business could help fortify the company in a market where smartphones and tablets have devastated dedicated cameras. One of the best known casualties of the business was the Flip Video digital camera, which Cisco Systems bought in 2009 for $US590 million and shuttered two years later. Woodman said he thought GoPro cameras and smartphones filled different needs and that smartphones were ill-suited to the kinds of rugged, hands-free uses for which GoPro is designed.

Pointing to an iPhone he placed on a desk in front of him, he said, “This gets in the way of that experience.”

GoPro has just begun to venture beyond YouTube, where its biggest audience is found, to seek out new distribution channels for its content. In October, Virgin America introduced a GoPro channel on its in-flight entertainment system featuring a 2 1/2-hour string of GoPro videos that are refreshed every two months. In its latest deal, the company reached an agreement with Microsoft for a GoPro channel that will be available to users of Microsoft’s Xbox game consoles.

The finalisation of these new distribution deals is falling on the shoulders of Adam Dornbusch, who recently joined GoPro after working in television and film. Dornbusch said the company was in discussions with many other partners, many of whom are other makers of internet-connected devices for television. GoPro is also “kicking around ideas with larger television networks” about possible co-production deals, he said.

“Some of the distributors are begging for our content,” Dornbusch said. “It’s that entertaining. It’s that aspirational.”

GoPro’s videos are often catnip for share-happy online audiences, flooding social networks with the latest daredevil creations. Many videos are produced by GoPro itself, like a recent clip featuring Kevin Richardson, who calls himself the Lion Whisperer, as he snuggles with several big cats on a reserve in South Africa. The GoPro cameras Richardson wears during the encounter offer a far more intimate view of the lions than normal wildlife documentaries.

But some of the most popular videos on GoPro’s distribution channels are shot by independent users of the cameras. One of the biggest hits, with nearly 20 million views, is a tear-jerking two-minute clip of a firefighter in Fresno, California, discovering an unconscious kitten in a burned-out home and then reviving it with an oxygen mask and splashes of water. GoPro received permission from the firefighter before professionally editing the video and putting it on its channel.

GoPro is cagey about whether its media plans include selling advertising on its videos to other companies. For now, its videos primarily advertise the GoPro camera itself in one form or another. Even the videos its customers create and upload to YouTube themselves help spread the company’s marketing message by showing, in vivid detail, the exhilarating moments people can capture with the devices.

“What their product produces is so compelling, it doesn’t feel like advertising,” said Michael Mott, general manager of Xbox apps and developer ecosystem at Microsoft. “It’s a genuine expression of the creativity and craziness of what their users are capturing.”

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About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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