The wild popularity of people taking and posting photos of themselves online has been seen by some as a sign of our moral decline into a shallow, self-obsessed culture, with one commentator renaming the selfie stick the “Wand of Narcissus.”
Over the next few years, more advanced technologies will make capturing, sharing, and consuming personal media even easier, compelling and pervasive. Innovation will center around two key areas: capturing and sharing.
The smartphone will remain the most popular device for capturing user-generated content simply because of its ubiquity – almost everyone who wants to create and share will have one.
This position will be cemented as vendors continue to see ever more advanced imaging features as the number one way to set their smartphones apart. LG’s V10, for example, has two front-facing cameras, marketed as taking better selfies. Future innovations could include using multiple cameras to create semi-3D photos and videos and “light field” technologies to capture a mind-blowing level of detail.
New devices and accessories that can do things that smartphones can’t do on their own will also emerge.
First are wearables and mountables. Some of these are already with us today, such as the GoPro cameras. Apple is reportedly planning to integrate a video camera in the next version of its smartwatch and we are likely to see the return of Google Glass, once its maker works out a way to sell the concept to a privacy-wary public.
Second are follow-me tripods and drones, which use motion capture to allow a camera to be used far beyond the arms-length limit of the smartphone. For example, a mountain biker could use a drone to remotely video their descent down a trail; a parent could set up an automated tripod to follow their child’s part in a soccer match or school play. DJI leads the field of consumer drones with video capture capabilities, with about 70% of the 3 million unit consumer drone market.
Third are 360-degree, 3D, and virtual reality devices. Samsung is investing heavily 360-degree cameras, as are Microsoft’s Nokia, GoPro, and numerous other start-ups and crowd-funded ventures. Ovum expects 360-degree and VR cameras to gain the same kind of traction as GoPro is seeing today by around 2018.
And then there are the meta cameras which exist only in virtual worlds. Examples today can be seen in the features of video games that allow users to stream, record, edit, and share their gameplay as part of e-sports competitions or via social networks such as YouTube and Twitch. Applications beyond gaming could emerge as richer forms of social networking and digital arise.
The other – and increasing crucial – side of the equation is the ability to share these new ways of seeing. I believe that, first, social and storytelling features will rise in importance. The ease with which people will capture a wealth of personal media will need to be matched by an ease of sharing. Identity and context will be key to “making sense” of all these fragments, so platforms like Facebook and Snapchat that help users to place photos, videos, live streams, and other media within their own personal storylines and social circles will be in a strong place to succeed.
Also, YouTube will capture less and less truly personal video. Google’s video site is sorely lacking in social and storytelling features. As a result, YouTube will gravitate more towards “professionals” – vloggers, multichannel networks, media companies, and brands looking to make careers and grow businesses on the back of “traditional” short-form VOD content.
In addition, Periscope will suffer from the same lack of focus as Twitter. The “build it and they will come” strategy has worked for numerous digital media platforms, but Periscope feels like a step too far. The personal live-streaming service might be attracting more creators than its peers, but it’s far from clear to the rest of the population how and why they can find and tune into something they would find worth watching.
Further, targeted apps will carve out new opportunities. Apps that address specific needs and audiences will succeed, just like Twitch did by uniting live streaming with videogaming. Similarly, live-streaming start-up YouNow is generating 100 million user sessions a month by targeting the vlogger culture, enabling live streamers to earn status and perks by growing their popularity and receiving virtual goods paid for by fans.
Finally, apps will be acquired – but not necessarily assimilated. Given how invested Facebook, Google, and Twitter are in video, they will no doubt acquire the sector’s next shining stars – as Amazon did with Twitch. But they may be wise to continue to operate any acquisitions as separate brands as Facebook is with Instagram and WhatsApp. New social apps often succeed because they offer a better way to share new forms of media or places where people can “be themselves” in different ways than the world’s Jack-of-all-trades social networks allow.
Rob Gallagher is director of research and analysis for media and entertainment at Ovum