With today's unveiling of FlipShare TV, the folks behind the enormously popular Flip video cameras are betting that users want to watch their personal videos on their big-screen TVs and also be able to share their videos with friends and family. I think Flip is 100% right about users' interests, but the company's proprietary and expensive FlipShare TV approach is off the mark, and will likely flop. Flip would have had more success by partnering with key players in the video ecosystem, benefiting from both their momentum and numerous co-branding opportunities, while also avoiding costs incurred to develop and market FlipShare TV.
FlipShare TV consists of 3 items: a small base station that connects to the TV via HDMI or composite cables; a USB stick that has a proprietary 801.11n wireless interface so that videos on the computer can be streamed to the base station (and hence viewed on the TV); and a remote control. Included FlipShare software lets users create "Flip Channels" which are groups of videos. FlipShare TV costs $150, a not-insignificant amount given Flip video cameras themselves have MSRPs of $150-$230, but can often be found for far less via online deals (I bought my daughter one for $60 recently).
The problem with FlipShare TV is that it takes a grounds-up approach to solving problems that could have been solved instead through smart partnerships and relatively straightforward integrations. Flip should have created a free or nearly free TV viewing and sharing feature that would have helped distinguish Flip's video cameras from the extensive list of competitive products hitting the market rather than creating a whole new product.
FlipShare TV's core proposition is of course making users' videos viewable on their TVs. The most obvious approach to doing so would have been to just partner with convergence product companies who are jockeying for position in the living room. The first partner in this space would have been Roku, which just released open APIs to support its Channel Store. I anticipate many other convergence players (e.g. Blu-ray, Internet TVs, gaming consoles, etc.) will similarly offer APIs to inexpensively broaden their offerings. As this occurs, Flip could have piggybacked on these devices. Netflix is doing this pre-emptively in the absence of APIs through brute force integrations; if it had wanted to, Cisco, Flip's parent, could have afforded to do so as well.
FlipShare TV's other value proposition of sharing could have been addressed through partnerships with companies such as Motionbox, iMemories and Pixorial which are targeting the family's "Chief Memory Officer." Motionbox is in fact already on Roku's Channel Store, which would have meant one less Flip integration. These companies are agnostic about how users capture their video, but all would have likely been eager to partner with well-known Flip to add to their brand awareness and their own value propositions.
YouTube would have been another obvious partner to enhance sharing. Granted YouTube lacks a strategy for getting onto the TV, but its online reach is unparalleled and features that would have enhanced YouTube uploading which is already prevalent among Flip users could have been valuable.
A major kink in FlipShare TV's sharing approach is that the sharee (e.g. grandma and grandpa) themselves also have to buy a FlipShare TV so they have the base station to connect to their TVs. Pew recently estimated 30% of seniors now have broadband Internet access (a number that's likely far higher for grandparents who have tech-forward, Flip-buying kids and grandkids). My guess is that sharing videos via a private YouTube channel would have been adequate for most of them if faced with the alternative of spending $150 for a proprietary setup.
All of these potential opportunities somehow didn't register with the Flip team. Their focus on a proprietary approach seems so complete that they didn't even choose to leverage existing wireless home networks among their target audience (Pew estimates home wireless penetration at about 40% for all broadband homes; it's likely double that or more in homes where a Flip camera's been purchased). Instead, additional cost was added to FlipShare TV system with the proprietary USB wireless stick.
I could be way off base on this and underestimating consumers' willingness to buy proprietary hardware, but I suspect I'm not. FlipShare TV's underlying concept of viewing on TVs and sharing is right on, but my guess is that its execution will yield little success. The lesson here: when partnerships are readily available, capitalize on them.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
If your family or extended family is like most, then someone in your home is what Josh Grotstein, CEO of Motionbox, refers to as a "Chief Memory Officer" or family "CMO." That's the person who's responsible for toting the camera/camcorder, uploading, developing and distributing the family's photos and videos to family and friends, and storing the treasures for future use.
And just as the proliferation of digital cameras launched Ofoto, Shutterfly and SnapFish (plus sites like Flickr, Picassa, etc.), who targeted the family CMO to help manage and create further value from their growing digital photo collections, the advent of inexpensive video cameras is creating a new set of companies looking to help CMOs manage their family's video assets.
While still early days, the impending explosion of video-capable smartphones, coupled with cheaper HD camcorders and popular low-end video cameras (e.g. Flip, etc.), all suggests this is yet another growing corner of the market fueled by broadband video's adoption. To learn more I spoke last week with Josh and with Andres Espineira, President and co-founder of Pixorial, which recently emerged from private beta.
These companies and others in the space like iMemories, provide a number of key features and value propositions - uploading new or archived digital video (or sending physical tapes), easy transcoding from multiple formats into multiple formats, storage, online editing to create short movies which can be shared online and offline, and customized hard goods/gifts
The primary play here is to get the CMO engaged in the act of editing raw video footage, to stay organized and/or optimize their memories. Sharing becomes a pretty logical extension though, as does getting other stakeholders involved. For example, these stakeholders could include other moms/dads uploading video from their kids' soccer games to multiple wedding guests who shot their own video. Getting these people to mix and edit (and then share and order hard goods/gifts) is the behavior these companies hope to engender. Since most people don't fancy themselves as video editors, the online tools need to be extremely easy-to-use.
Another point of commonality is that these companies all use some type of "freemium" model, where a base level of service is offered for free, with the goal of converting a percentage of freebies to paid services tiers. The freemium model has become widely used online, and has been further popularized recently by Chris Anderson's new book "Free," which contends "freemium" is the way of the future.
Yet as Josh explained, freemium creates a delicate balance, where user behavior must be carefully monitored. The biggest cost driver is storage, so as more free users look to these services as providing back-up redundancy, a higher percentage of them need to be converted to paying in order to make the whole model work. Josh explained that Motionbox (which has raised $17M to date and is the granddaddy of the category with 2M+ registered users) has continuously tweaked its model to optimize the conversion process. It is moving to a model where free users get a finite number of free uploads, and then beyond that you have to pay. In a world where YouTube is the free standard for video sharing, creating and effectively communicating the value of being a premium sub is all-important.
Assuming this hurdle can be surmounted, the proliferation of convergence devices suggests even more tailwind for the category. Think about being able to easily share and access your movies online through devices like Roku, Xbox, Internet-connected TVs, etc. Even incumbent service providers (cable/satellite/telco) could find value in offering personal video services, white-labeled by these companies.
While video is a more complex media format than photos, as more CMOs shoot more video that they want to save and share, it's likely this category will continue to see plenty of growth.
What do you think? Post a comment now.