Game over for Contour, as action camera market gets too hot


posted Friday, August 23, 2013 at 2:03 PM EDT

A couple of days ago, we told you about the latest company to get in on the action camera game, as GPS manufacturer Garmin debuted its VIRB camera lineup. At the time, we noted that the market for action cameras was heating up, and it seems it's gotten too hot for at least one entrant.

Long-time action camera brand Contour -- originally known as VholdR -- was among the earliest entrants to the action camera business. The company launched its first camera -- the Twenty20 -- way back in 2007, just two years after Woodman Labs' GoPro set the stage (and the public's expectations). This year, the company has been offering two action camera models with its familiar bullet-shaped housing, the Contour+2 and ContourRoam2.

The Contour cameras had a distinctive bullet shape aimed at making them more streamlined, thanks to a reduced frontal area. They were arguably more stylish than the GoPro, too.

All seemed normal until the start of August, with the official company blog updated with PR posts as usual, and its Twitter and Facebook feeds continuing to be updated, but then everything changed. On August 6th, a news story on GeekWire noting the company's closure slipped by almost unnoticed. Simultaneously, the cameras suddenly went off the market, with both -- and all their related products, including mounts, accessories, and parts -- either listed as not in stock, or simply removed from the company's site altogether.

And from there, the story has gradually gathered steam. Company co-founder and former CEO Marc Barros has blogged about the closure, seeming to place the blame on Contour's customers for holding expectations that were too high. Bloomberg BusinessWeek has posted an analysis piece, more realistically blaming the dominance of rival GoPro, and its seemingly-unlimited marketing budget. And as for Contour itself, it has yet to make any public statement at all -- although that may have something to do with the fact that there's nobody left to answer questions. Employees, it seems, found the office locked and their jobs gone with no forewarning whatsoever.

Contour offered its cameras with customizations for various fields such as hunting.

And all the while, more newcomers like Garmin -- not to mention consumer electronics giants such as Sony, Panasonic, and JVC -- are getting in on the game, heating up the action camera market to white-hot levels. All of which begs the question: just how big is the action camera market, and can any of these new competitors hope to catch up with the GoPro? And if not, which will be the next to stumble?

In the action camera market, it would seem, the only company that can truly breathe easy is Woodman.