As a cinematographer for action sports media house Poor Boyz Productions, Jace Panebianco carries about three GoPro cameras with him everywhere he goes. The cameras are small, easy to use, and capture the stoke in 4K.
"I always say that the best camera is the one you have in your hand," he said. "A lot of times that's a GoPro, whether you're in the barrel or in a bar or in an airport or wherever... Our Who Is JOB? series has worked out in large part because Jamie O'Brien pretty much always has that camera in his hand."
Who is JOB? follows O'Brien as he surfs, drinks beer, and otherwise enjoys an enviable life. It's safe to say that most action sports athletes use point-of-view footage to promote themselves, and most of that POV footage is shot in GoPros.
"Basically at this point, we've all used them and know how they work," Panebianco said. "There's really not much else out there.
All is not well at GoPro, however. On Wednesday, on the heels of the Consumer Electronics Show—where GoPro had no new products to display, only promises of its coming drone—the company announced a seven percent cut in its workforce and well-below-average earnings for the past quarter. Wall Street spooked at the news, and the stock fell 28 percent, to its lowest ever. Since Wednesday, analysts and the media have made it abundantly clear that the company needs some repair—or at least a new product.
"One of the issues, I think, seems to be that you don't have to buy a new one every year," Panebianco said. "Does the average consumer need to get a GoPro 4 compared to a GoPro 3? I don't necessarily think so."
Panebianco acknowledges that we're on the edge of that technology—that in a few years we'll all probably be watching TVs with 4K resolution—though not there yet. He had three GoPro cameras in his car when I spoke to him; two were Hero 3 models, released in 2014. And that's part of the problem: the Hero 3 was still working for people when the Hero 4 came out. Panebianco's third camera was the Hero 4 Session, which was released last July for $399.
Hero 4 sales were slow out of the gate, and in September GoPro cut the price to $299. Then in December it reduced the price by another, apparently in hopes of higher holiday sales. That didn't happen, and Wednesday's announcement is the result. In a companywide email obtained by ReCode, CEO Nick Woodman claimed responsibility for the price change.
"While we clearly made a mistake pricing Session at $399 (more specifically I made the mistake, it was my decision), I'm proud of how we responded," he wrote.
Before GoPro released its camera system in 2004, there was no category of action sports cameras, but when the small devices showed up, people started using them almost immediately.
In the world of action sports, however, GoPro is more than a camera maker; it's a pioneer in a new commercial landscape. Today, companies turn to stories—legit ones in picturesque places with cool people—to encourage consumers to buy their stuff. GoPro made a tool to capture these stories, and established a community around the people who used it.
Waterman Kai Lenny, 23, has been on the GoPro roster since 2011. By the time he became part of the team, he'd already been uploading surfing, paddle boarding, and windsurfing edits to his YouTube channel—all filmed on his GoPro. Lenny is, of course, the obvious consumer and producer of GoPro content. The devices have been endemic to surfing and other watersports since CEO Woodman, a surfer himself, came up with the idea of an ice cube-sized camera.
"For me, there's nothing else that can show people exactly what I'm going through," Lenny said. "After getting barreled all day, it's like opening a gift to come inside and see what the footage looks like."
GoPro declined to comment on how the company's recent troubles will affect athletes, though global communications director Rick Loughery stated that the company will maintain "a robust athlete sponsorship program, and yes, if you are a young surfer you can definitely have the goal to be on the GoPro team one day."
Lacrosse player Paul Rabil is perhaps a less obvious GoPro athlete. He's the only lacrosse player on the company's roster, having signed on with GoPro two years ago. Rabil is currently working on a GoPro edit with the Bryan Brothers, who have gained some following through videos of their trick golf shots.
The partnership reflects a broadening of athlete types for the camera maker, which is something that experts feel the company needs more of. After Wednesday's announcement, analysts pointed to a lack of diversification as one of the company's biggest hurdles, something new products could solve, as well. GoPro's quadcopter drone, called Karma, has been the subject of plenty of speculation from experts, mostly because it will be the company's first offering outside of cameras.
How much Karma will help GoPro's financial future remains to be seen, but within the world of action sports, confidence in the brand that has provided athletes a unique platform seems unshaken, at least for now.
"GoPro is huge for our sports," Lenny said. "Any time they get us together for an event, they get the best athletes in the world there."