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.
Following are 4 items worth noting for the Nov 9th week:
1. Will Cisco's new Flip Video camera ad campaign fly? - Cisco deserves credit for its new "Do You Flip" ad campaign for its Flip Video camera, a real out-of-the-box effort comprised entirely of user-generated video clips shot by ordinary folks and celebrities alike. As the campaign was described in this Online Media Daily article, finding the clips and then editing them together sounds like heavy lifting, but the results perfectly reinforce the value proposition of the camera itself. The ads are being shown on TV and the web; there's an outdoor piece to the campaign as well.
Cisco acquired Flip for nearly $600 million earlier this year in a somewhat incongruous deal that thrust the router powerhouse into the intensely competitive consumer electronics fray. Cisco will have to spend aggressively to maintain market share as other pocket video cameras have gained steam, like the Creative Vado HD, Samsung HMX and Kodak Z series. There's also emerging competition from smartphones (led by the iPhone of course) that have built-in video recording capabilities. I've been somewhat skeptical of the Cisco-Flip deal, but with the new campaign, Cisco looks committed to making it a success.
2. YouTube brings ad-skipping to the web - Speaking of out-of-the-box thinking, YouTube triggered a minor stir in the online video advertising space this week by announcing a trial of "skippable pre-roll" ads. On the surface, it feels unsettling that DVR-style ad-skipping - a growing and bedeviling trend on TV - is now coming to the web. Yet as YouTube explained, there's actually ample reason and some initial data to suggest that by empowering viewers, the ads that are watched could be even more valuable.
One thing pre-roll skipping would surely do is up the stakes for producing engaging ads that immediately capture the viewer's attention. And it would also increase the urgency for solid targeting. Done right though, I think pre-roll skipping could work quite well. At a minimum I give YouTube points for trying it out. Incidentally, others in the industry are doing other interesting things improve the engagement and effectiveness of the pre-roll. I'll have more on this in the next week or two.
3. Watching the NY Times at 30,000 feet - Flipping channels on my seat-back video screen on a JetBlue flight from Florida earlier this week, I happened on a series of highly engaging NY Times videos: a black and white interview with Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem, then a David Pogue demo of the Yoostar Home Greenscreen Kit and then an expose of Floyd Bennett Field, the first municipal airport in New York City. It turned out that all were running on The Travel Channel.
Good for the NY Times. Over the past couple of years I've written often about the opportunities that broadband video opens up for newspapers and magazines to leverage their brands, advertising relationships and editorial skills into the new medium. By also running their videos on planes, the NY Times is exposing many prospective online viewers to its video content, thereby broadening what the NY Times brand stands for and likely generating subsequent traffic to its web site. That's exactly what it and other print pubs should be doing to avoid the fate of the recently-shuttered Gourmet magazine, which never fully mined the web's potential. I know I'm a broken record on this, but video producers must learn that syndicating their video as widely as possible is imperative.
4. Nielsen forecast underscores smartphones' mobile video potential - A couple of readers pointed out that in yesterday's post, "Mobile Video Continues to Gain Traction" I missed relevant Nielsen data from just the day before. Nielsen forecasts that smartphones will be carried by more than 50% of cell phone users by 2011, totaling over 150 million people. Nielsen assumes that 60% of these smartphone owners will be watching video translating to an audience size of 90 million people. Its research also shows that 47% of users of the new Motorola Droid smartphone are watching video, vs. 40% of iPhone users. Not a huge distinction, but more evidence that the Droid and other newer smartphones are likely to increase mobile video consumption still further.
Enjoy your weekends!