Last month, GoPro, Inc. (GPRO 1.04%) held what founder and CEO Nick Woodman rightly called the company's "largest ever introduction of products," unveiling two new Hero 5 cameras, its Karma drone, improved editing apps, and a cloud-based subscription service called GoPro Plus.
But this week, the rubber finally hits the road.
On Sunday, GoPro announced that those two cameras, the Hero 5 Black and Hero 5 Session, are now available at select retail stores and at GoPro.com. Make no mistake: This is arguably the most important product milestone in GoPro's history. How consumers react to Hero 5's retail availability starting this week could easily make or break the company's fortunes going forward.
Why Hero 5 is so important
First, Hero 5 Black and Hero 5 Session represent the respective replacements for GoPro's previous higher-end Hero 4 Black and Silver cameras, which were launched almost exactly two years ago. Though unit sell-through has shown significant improvement (up 10% sequentially last quarter, outpacing sell-in by 50% for the second straight quarter), since GoPro narrowed its product line to just three cameras earlier this year, GoPro's revenue has still suffered significant declines lately under this lineup, most recently falling 47% year over year in the second quarter, to $221 million.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether that decline is primarily a function of a shrinking overall market for wearable cameras. That seems to be the case at a glance: Even as GoPro saw revenue fall on a year-over-year basis last quarter, it also pointed to third-party data showing its second-quarter combined digital camera/camcorder unit share climbed 110 basis points over the same period in both the U.S. (to 21.3%) and Europe (to 9.4%).
But those market share gains are misleading taken in isolation. It's no mystery the advent of better smartphone cameras has caused the overall camera/camcorder market to decline. But smartphones still can't replace the utility or video quality of GoPro's rugged wearable cameras. So this doesn't rule out the possibility that many eager consumers may have remained on the sidelines waiting for GoPro to release these new products.
An ambitious effort. Is it worth the wait?
To that end, GoPro is doing everything it can to woo those consumers off the sidelines. That starts with more aggressive pricing at $399 for the Hero 5 Black and $299 for the Hero 5 Session (compared to $499 and $399 for the Hero 4 Black and Hero 4 Silver, respectively).
At the same time, GoPro is consciously keeping the younger $199 Hero 4 Session -- which was initially introduced at a too-high price of $399 in July of last year -- to offer an attractive entry-level option for consumers while maintaining its easy-to-understand "good, better, best" approach. In addition, as I pointed out last month, GoPro's aggressive pricing should have little to no effect on average selling prices (ASPs) or margins thanks to a combination of streamlined manufacturing costs and its higher-priced Karma drone, which is scheduled to hit store shelves later this month.
Moreover, the Hero 5 cameras up the ante at these attractive prices with compelling features. Both are compatible with GoPro Plus, to which users can subscribe to for $4.99 per month for the ability to auto-upload photos and videos, then easily access, edit, and share that content using either a mobile phone or computer (Hero 4 camera users can still subscribe, only without auto-upload). And unlike the Hero 4 Black and Hero 4 Silver, both Hero 5 cameras are also waterproof (to 10 meters) out of the box with no housing, have voice control with support for seven languages, and feature professional-grade electronic video stabilization. Hero 5 Black also sports GPS location capture, superior stereo audio recording with a three-mic system to reduce wind noise, and a 2-inch touchscreen with simplified controls.
But will this be enough to help the company return to sustained, profitable growth? GoPro investors had better hope so, especially considering management has previously indicated GoPro expects to collect the "vast majority" of its full-year revenue in the second half of 2016. In the meantime, unless GoPro offers investors an update on initial demand for Hero 5 between now and its third-quarter conference call later this month, we'll need to wait for the answer to that question.