When GoPro made its market debut in 2014, there were plenty of questions as to whether the company would be able to translate its success from the action-video market into the mainstream and make the GoPro more than a niche product. After all, digital cameras have been almost entirely cannibalized by the smartphone world. While GoPro's cameras were undoubtedly more rugged than a smartphone -- you'd hardly want to risk your precious phone to get a skydiving shot -- it was hard for many to see how the company could make the GoPro appeal to the non-daredevil consumer. And even if it did, it was also hard for many to see how the firm could persuade people to keep buying them over time.
GoPro acknowledged that it could't survive on hardware alone, but the company did have a plan to deal with that. In its initial public offering documents, the firm outlined a plan to invest not only in the cameras but also in the videos they recorded. The videos made by its own customers served a dual purpose: to promote the product and help it score licensing deals to make money off the content. GoPro Chief Executive Nick Woodman called this the "virtuous cycle" and proposed that by helping users manage and promote their videos, GoPro's content side would become as important as its cameras.
But the company hasn't taken full advantage of that opportunity, according to Edison Investment Research analyst Richard Windsor in a Thursday note to investors.
"In our view the growth priority for GoPro should be to take its products and its users and create an ecosystem around them," he said. "However we do not believe that GoPro has really considered an ecosystem strategy and as a result is now suffering the consequences."
Combined with slower sales, that's led to a rough holiday season for GoPro in 2015 -- which in turn paints a pretty tough picture for the year ahead. GoPro has historically relied on the holiday quarter for the bulk of its annual sales. In fact, one of the risk factors listed in the S-1 it prepared when it decided to go public was: "If our sales during the holiday season fall below our forecasts, our overall financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected."
That said, this doesn't mean it's definitely curtains for the firm. GoPro's staked a claim in the burgeoning drone market. And its hardware, Windsor notes, is still ahead of the competition -- something that may buy it the time needed to really build up an ecosystem. But he also said that time is starting to run out and that GoPro may be on other firm's shopping lists.
“GoPro’s PER [price-to-earnings ratio] is likely to fall further," he said. "It is at this point that it could become an acquisition target, and we see Google, Sony or Amazon considering on picking up GoPro at a bargain price.”