Tech startup: Slopeviews Corp.
INITIAL LIGHT BULB: Working together on another business venture, James Hay of Telluride and James Lee of Breckenridge were having lunch in the latter ski town when the topic of Google Street View arose. As they discussed the much-hyped virtual counterpart to the real world, the conversation soon veered to the question, "Is anybody taking Google Street View to the ski slopes?"
Hay and Lee saw an opportunity to take interactive Street View-like media to the next level with 360-degree video. They launched SlopeViews and bought a softball-sized dodecahedron (a 12-sided instrument) with 11 high-definition cameras mounted on it a few months later. "We've skied with it; we've climbed with it," Hay says. "You can mount it on a backpack or car or a helicopter. It's a very versatile system."
Just after the Vancouver Winter Olympics, the company launched a Whistler demo - the world's first immersive ski map," touts Hay - on its website to show the power of 360-degree video targeting the ski industry.
IN A NUTSHELL: While Google released a product called Slope View during the Winter Olympics, it doesn't feature video or much in the way of interactivity. "What's missing is something that's fun to experience," Lee says.
SlopeViews' OnSnow portal, currently in beta mode, can showcase both a resort's slopes and the streets in the ski town below with 360-degree video. Users click and drag on the video to change the perspective. "You can have some fun with it," Lee says. "On the slopes, there are people in the shot and you're moving, and there are people skiing around you."
Noting that the recent push has been video-mapping the streets in various Colorado ski towns, Lee says he envisions building a comprehensive library of 360-degree video content to create "a visual-based one-stop shop" for people planning their next skiing and snowboarding vacation.
"The 360-degree video will be the navigation for the entire website. You can go down the slopes," he says. "You can go into that dive bar. You can go into the natural-foods store. We think we'll be able to keep people on our site a lot longer."
Lee and Hay say SlopeViews has a unique revenue model they are not yet willing to disclose. Hay says they are in a sense waiting for the market to catch up with them. "We're waiting for it to break through. It's eventually going to go (to 360-degree video) - it's going there right now." The ski industry's recessionary fiscal woes have proven another hurdle.
Lee says he sees 360-degree video as "the next techie step for marketing," adding, "We're approaching potential partnerships from every possible angle." To this end, SlopeViews has also partnered with an outside company to provide 360-degree video production services to the golf industry.
THE MARKET: The $4.5 billion U.S. ski industry - $2 billion of which is accounted for by Colorado - spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on marketing. Resorts' budgets have been tight in recent years.
FINANCING: Lee and Hay have self-financed SlopeViews to date. "We've grown this thing organically from the ground up," Hay says. "But we are seeking funding to help drive it forward."
"Nobody's using 360-degree video as a navigational tool. You can't get that from Google Street View. What we're trying to do is get away from the text-based website and make it more visual. We want to make it as close as possible to being there."
- SlopeViews co-founder James Lee