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VI.6 Nov.-Dec. 1999
Page: 60
Digital Citation

Strategic outlook


Authors:
Janet Abrams

"The most compelling content in the world is your own content," says Dan Schiappa, explaining why people’s images of their own children, parents, other relatives, and friends will always be intrinsically more interesting to them than globally branded characters or figures from public affairs. As vice president for business development at PictureVision, he is responsible for envisioning strategic development. Thanks to Schiappa and his associates, photo dealers can now scan normal film rolls via Photonet Online <http://www.photonet.com> so that friends and relatives can take a look at the family snapshots too. Schiappa is forging alliances with service providers and software producers such as Sony, Microsoft, America Online, and Adobe. "What we’ve done is build an environment to share photos instantly, one that can also stretch into the digital camera space," said Schiappa. "The digital process has made this much easier."

Currently available in the United States and certain European countries, the service is targeted at that hard core of amateur photography: the traditional nuclear family and its increasingly dispersed network of relatives. Chosen friends and relations can access the photos by means of a password and security code. The Internet not only offers an alternative to the ritual of gathering around the family album; it also fulfills one of the original goals of interactive television: personalized content.

But getting consumers accustomed to the shift from traditional to digital photography is no overnight process. PhotoNet refers to "rolls" of film as a key to image storage, even though digital cameras don’t use them—a legacy of photography’s roots. PhotoNet is also closely tied to the existing photo-development infrastructure, with its network of labs and drop-off points.

"Strategically," said Schiappa, "we’ve decided that instead of attacking the film-processing market, we’re going to embrace it. We’re saying, "Now that you have a digital camera, don’t think you don’t need those people anymore."

Figure. Snap happy: in 1998 220 million disposable cameras, and 2.9 billion rolls of film were sold worldwide.

The local film-developing shop could be bypassed altogether, by uploading digital images to an online service to make "straight digital" prints. But PhotoNet is aiming for the mainstream market: More than 70 percent of people using photo-finishing services are women, the so-called "soccer moms." "Film finishing in the US is about convenience," says Schiappa. “If it’s not fast, easy, and convenient, then people aren’t going to use it."

Digital photography is an "evolution rather than a revolution" and will take time to become predominant. The next major push will be the merging of the digital video camcorder and the digital still camera. “When families can go on vacation and take one unit that does everything, at high quality and reasonable cost, digital photography will really take off."


"If it’s not fast and convenient, people won’t use it"

 


Figure. Traditional print-film camera users simply mark a box on the photo-processing envelope, or request PhotoNet at one-hour processing venues. Their images are then scanned at high resolution and uploaded to one of PhotoNet’s servers for access over the Internet. Digital camera users simply upload their images to the Web site so that relatives can order prints at a location convenient to them. PhotoNet customers can e-mail photos, create e-mail "postcards," order reprints and enlargements, download images at various resolutions, and order merchandise emblazoned with selected images.
With 2,000 on-site processing outlets, another 1,000 locations in partnership with Wolf Camera and Video, and numerous wholesale drop-boxes, Kodak is the US market leader in the field.

And new storage technology is facilitating this: Sony’s new flash memory "Memory Stick," about half the size of a piece of chewing gum, allows storage and transfer of high-resolution still images from a camcorder or digital still camera to a computer.

Schiappa acknowledges there are privacy concerns with family photos online: "They’re on the Internet! Geez, everybody in the world can see them!" We didn’t want people to be able to break into other people’s memories, so we were very adamant about security measures." These now include a highly encrypted roll-ID and a numeric code—an "owner’s key" that enables customers to order, delete, or share their prints "without giving carte blanche to others." PictureVision is working with an Israeli company, C-Safe, to incorporate technology designed to prevent unauthorized downloading or modification of images.

Because people spend approximately eight times as long on Photonet as on a Yahoo-type portal, it is obviously ripe for advertising. Schiappa expects the scan and upload fee to disappear, with revenue coming instead from advertising and "back-end transactions" such as print orders and—in the future—creating a montage of your portrait with celebrities or cartoon characters.

Personalization is regarded as critical: customers can already customize greeting cards with their own images and will shortly be able to apply photos to clocks, plates, cakes, and cookies. Long-term storage is now available in a partnership with America Online, to be known as "You’ve Got Pictures."

Market research by PictureVision’s imaging-software partners shows the main changes customers make to their images are red-eye removal, cropping, and zooming. Soon, PhotoNet will offer those features online. PictureVision also plans to develop an online community for family newsletters and other activities, encouraging repeat visits to the site. And a partnership with a broadband service, such as @Home or Road Runner, is likely because PhotoNet is a "bandwidth-sucking application," given the size of image files and the need for a robust user interface tailored to non-specialist users.

"Broadband will feed into PCs and into TVs," Schiappa predicts, "with people leaning back in their chairs, pointing, and clicking." Asked how he sees the future of the family and photography, Schiappa outlines a relatively unchanged scenario. The home may become "more of an entertainment facility," with various applications running on a network from local servers, but photography’s function as family memory-catcher will remain. "I personally believe this company should in the next 20 years continue to focus on the core family, with a distributed larger family unit, but Mom, Dad, and kids largely unchanged. No matter what digital technology you have, people are going to want to capture a moment of their lives and share that experience with other people."

Figures

UF1Figure. Snap happy: in 1998 220 million disposable cameras, and 2.9 billion rolls of film were sold worldwide.

UF2Figure. Traditional print-film camera users simply mark a box on the photo-processing envelope, or request PhotoNet at one-hour processing venues. Their images are then scanned at high resolution and uploaded to one of PhotoNet’s servers for access over the Internet. Digital camera users simply upload their images to the Web site so that relatives can order prints at a location convenient to them. PhotoNet customers can e-mail photos, create e-mail "postcards," order reprints and enlargements, download images at various resolutions, and order merchandise emblazoned with selected images.
With 2,000 on-site processing outlets, another 1,000 locations in partnership with Wolf Camera and Video, and numerous wholesale drop-boxes, Kodak is the US market leader in the field.

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