GoPro at the 2015 Tour de France

The Tour de France made a great addition to its coverage this year. Velon, a joint venture of 11 of the world's top cycling teams, partnered with GoPro to mount GoPro cameras on some of the cyclists and crew in this year's race.

The footage has been spectacular. You can find it on Velon's Tour de France homepage, on GoPro's site, and of course on YouTube. If you want a quick 2 minute sampler, edited with music, here are highlights from Stages 1-7.

I'm partial to the footage that's edited but not scored with music. It has the feel of found footage, and the lens distortions of the extreme wide-angle GoPro lenses and the ambient soundtrack brings to mind one of my favorite documentaries of recent years, Leviathan.

This is one good example, highlights from Stage 4, the cobblestone stage, a recent addition to the Tour. You see cyclists pulling over to pee on the side of the road, spectators gawking as one cyclist stops to check his tire pressure, a crash in one wet righthand turn, and other moments that occur in most stages but may be skipped by regular television coverage. All of the footage is from a unique first person (first bicycle?) perspective. If you've ever wondered how computers see, for now the answer is probably through a stationary fisheye lens.

In Stage 3, a huge crash caused chaos in the peloton. This footage from a GoPro mounted on the chest of a team ORICA GreenEDGE mechanic gives a wholly original sense of the carnage. One can feel the occasional adrenaline rush of being a pro cycling mechanic in a stage race. It's thrilling ambient journalism.

I often cringe at the found footage Hollywood conceit because it depends on believing that someone would be holding a camcorder and filming every moment, even when being chased by giant lizards or witches. But the rise of the GoPro and other sports cams now gives a more believable scenario for such movies. We're not too far off from the first Hollywood movie shot (ostensibly) on a GoPro or other such action camera (that is, it could be shot on a higher end cinema camera but pose as a GoPro), or pieced together from snippets of iPhone videos. It's a whole new aesthetic, but one that's familiar to this generation raised on Snaps and Snapchat Stories.

More major sports should consider integrating such cameras into their broadcasts, or, as the Tour de France did, as supplemental footage on the internet. I'm not holding my breath, but it's not surprising that more peripheral sports have led the way here. Incumbents tend to be reliably sluggish.

The GoPro life, broadened

First watch the GoPro Hero3 promo video, released in October 2012:

Then watch the GoPro Hero4 Black promo video, released in September 2014:

Do you notice a difference?

I do, and it's not about video quality. It's subtle, but the earlier GoPro promo is made up almost entirely of footage of people participating in extreme sport or recreational activities. While the whole promo is a hell of an adrenaline rush, it clearly positions GoPro as being a camera for the adrenaline junkies who are wired differently than most.

The latter video maintains GoPro's brand leadership as the camera of choice for people in the most exciting moments of their lives, but it is more inclusive. There is footage of kids dancing at EDM festivals, a cowboy riding a horse, stars blinking to life in a time lapse of a night sky, and people whale watching. Granted, there's still a dose of the more extreme stuff—some Japanese driving Lamborghinis through a city at night, two guys climbing an iceberg that threatens to crumble and dump them in the middle of the ocean—but that material makes up just a portion of the footage.

This is a brand trying to appeal to a broader base of consumers. It makes sense. The size of the market for people who ski off of cliffs and do somersaults in the air is limited. It's still a $400 or more camera, so it's not as if GoPro is including video of people lying on a sofa binge-watching Scandal, but I'd expect the shift to continue the next time they update their product line and release a promo video. I wouldn't be surprised if that promo includes footage of a young child cannonballing into a pool while filming himself with a GoPro attached to a selfie stick, or footage from the family dog's point of view as she chases down a frisbee on a sandy beach, or even drone footage of an outdoor wedding.

Perhaps we may even start to see a celebrity or two make a cameo appearance, to give the GoPro a wider type of lifestyle appeal, not just one centered around activities for people not afraid to die. I also suspect they've pushed up against a ceiling on price (the Hero4 Silver runs $400, the Hero4 Black $500, and that's just the starting point before piling on costs of accessories like mounts and additional batteries). GoPro will likely want to start pressing down what is for now a generous price umbrella for competitors must salivate when they see GoPro's $7B+ market cap.