Lights, Camera, Action Camcorders

While watching TV the other night, I saw something shocking: a commercial for a camcorder.

Why shocking? The camcorder business is going into the…uh, commode, especially the so-called “pocketcam” camcorder, the sub-$200 models popularized by Flip.
For around five years, Flip-style camcorders were the hoola-hoop of the imaging business. Nearly every mainstream and not-so-mainstream camcorder company suddenly wanted into the hoola-hoop…er, pocketcam business.
But around 18 months ago, Cisco decided that profit margins on Flip camcorders didn’t exactly produce…uh, profit. So Cisco the non-consumer electronics company shut down the consumer electronics camcorder business it had bought just two years before.
Flip’s death coincided with the rise of 1080p video recording capability being included in nearly every new smartphone and nearly every new digital camera over $150. These mediocre cellcams and mediocre digicam cams obviated the consumer need to carry around a separate – and larger – mediocre pocketcam.
And then Kodak, the second-biggest seller of pocketcams, went into the…uh, commode earlier this year. In the wake of these pocketcam disasters, nearly all the camcorder makers who had entered the pocketcam business quickly reversed course and exited the pocketcam business.
Thus, the aforementioned camcorder commode condition. DTC projects camcorder unit sales will plummet 15 percent in 2012 and another 13 percent 2013. Camcorders are likely to never see sales growth again. In fact, camcorders could become a specialty category ala D-SLRs or audiophile speakers in less than five years.
Wear your camcorder
It is because of this deteriorating camcorder environment that I found the camcorder commercial shocking. But the commercial didn’t come from one of the usual camcorder suspects.
The ad was for GoPro, a maker of wearable, waterproof and shockproof so-called “action” camcorders.
In the last two years, GoPro has gone from a niche camcorder maker to one of the top 10 camcorder suppliers. Three of the top five best-selling camcorders on Amazon are GoPro models. Best-selling models numbers 6, 8 and 9 are waterproof models from Kodak – which, as noted, is out of the camcorder business. Best-seller number 12 is a wearable model from another relatively new action camcorder maker, Contour.
This GoPro sales trend is not an American aberration.
The best-selling digitale camcorder on German Amazon: GoPro.
The best-selling camcorder on Great British Amazon: GoPro.
The top two best-selling cámerscopes on French Amazon: GoPro.
The top two best-selling camcorders on Canada Amazon: GoPro.
The top two best-selling videocamere on Italian Amazon: GoPro.
The top two best-selling videocámaras on Spanish Amazon: GoPro.
You get the idea.
Jumping the action bandwagon
As a result of GoPro’s sudden sales success, action camcorders have suddenly become the new hoola-hoop…er, I mean pocketcam.
Sony, Panasonic, Samsung and Toshiba all have added sub-$200 waterproof SKUs to their lineups in the last year. In late June, JVC unveiled its Adixxion wearable camcorder. Others are likely to jump on the waterproof camcorder bandwagon.
One supplier told me waterproof/wearable is the only way to differentiate their other unnecessary product from smartphone and digital camera camcorders.
As with all fad product trends, the action cam rush is unsustainable.
Most obvious, as with all bandwagon products, the waterproof camcorder will soon be flooded (pun intended), and will naturally collapse the market pool leaving only the heartiest action cam swimmers.
But more important is the limited addressable market. How many outdoor types are there who will buy all these action camcorders? Are action camcorder makers hoping their action camcorders aren’t as shock or waterproof as claimed requiring new action cam replacement purchases?
And what happens to the action cam market when more and more smartphones become waterproof?
No, the judgment here is that action cam sales action itself is the aberration and is likely to fade far faster than the pocketcam business.