Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.

Cinemagram: Part Photo, Part Video

Cinemagram is a mobile app for the iPhone and Android, which allows its users to turn mobile content into moving scenes it calls cines. What are cines? Think moving portraits in Harry Potter. A cine is essentially a fancier, more stylized version of a GIF—a hybrid beast—part picture, part movie, and as its Canadian founders would be proud to point out, stunningly beautiful.

That’s right, I said Canadian. The app was designed and developed by Montreal-based startup Factyle, Inc., led by co-founders, Temoojin Chalasani and Marc Provost. This is not the duo’s first picnic either; Factyle, Inc. was also behind the personalized, social newspaper app, which you may recall, Smartr.

Creating a cine takes mere seconds. It is as easy as whipping out your smartphone, opening the app, clicking ‘capture’, recording some quick footage, picking the best four seconds, editing it to your liking, and sharing it on Twitter or Facebook, or saving it directly to your phone’s camera roll. During the simplified editing process, users can choose from Instagram-esque colour overlay effects, adjust the speed of their cine, and even add animation masks so that only certain portions of the cine will move. Equipped with these easy-to-use tools, the app has spawned a wide range of creative content, from funny memes to beautiful scenery, and artsy expressions. Users can create a moving picture, emotionally and literally.   

Just six weeks after its launch in February of 2012, Cinemagram had already attracted over one million users, an impressive start to say the least, and maintained a growth rate of about 100,000 new users per day for quite some time afterward. Industry experts were deeming it, “hyper-growth.” While this growth has since slowed, as is natural after the initial hype of a launch, it has remained constant at tens of thousands of new users daily. Once social functionality was built into the app (omitted from the original version) in October 2012, Cinemagram reached the number two spot in the US iTunes free Photo and Video app category, and fourth overall free app. The graph below depicts Cinemagram's ranking in both respective categories since its launch. In its first year, Cinemagram was up there with the giants.

Cinemagram has since obtained a ‘series A’ funding totaling $8.5 million, with investments from notable VC firms Menlo Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Real Ventures (Factyle’s first backers) and Atlas. Not surprisingly, the Canadian team has since relocated to the technological hub of San Francisco, where they hope to take their app to the next level. Perhaps another billion-dollar Facebook acquisition awaits them—only time will tell.

Cinemagram is not the only one providing mobile generated micro-movies. There are niche competitors such as Sony’s Motiongraph, Flixel, and also broader slightly differentiated competitors like Instagram. However, Cinemagram’s most fierce competition has and will continue to come from Vine, Twitter’s take on the concept. Each application has its own vision for how images should be brought to life, but Vine and Cinemagram certainly look the strongest. There are a number of differentiating benefits, which cause me to prefer Cinemagram to Vine (some of them here).

With the advent of social communication tools such as Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and Pinterest, and their marriage with ever-advancing mobile technology, sharing and viewing photos has become easier than ever, no matter when or where you are. Part of the reason online photo sharing has become so wildly popular is because of the consumable nature of pictures themselves. The founders of Cinemagram certainly identified and capitalized on this trend. Cinemagram has ultimately made videos as sharable, and easy to consume as photos. This has been one of the most fruitful trends for Cinemagram. The more ‘snack-able’ online content is, the more it will be consumed and shared. Cinemagram has specifically designed its cines to be almost as lightweight as pictures, in terms of the amount of data required to view them. It is difficult to stress the importance of this enough, especially in the mobile world. Lightweight moving-picture hybrids make for a nimble app with seamless flow. The butterfly-bee analogy really is fitting; if Cinemagram were a boxer, it would have footwork like Mohammed Ali, and it definitely packs a harder punch than your average photo. On the other hand, if it used clunky, traditional video files, the app would be almost unusable.

These are not the only trends Cinemagram has used to its advantage. Much of Instagram’s success, and certainly a part of their competitive advantage, are attributable to the photo-editing functionality they have built into the app, capitalizing on the popularity of ‘Photoshop-ing’ pictures before sharing them on social media sites. Cinemagram offers its users a similar experience, and has too capitalized on this trend to afford itself a competitive advantage in its space.

One of Cinemagram’s most valuable features is its full integration with both Facebook and Twitter, especially lined up against Vine, which Facebook has completely blocked from integrating due to its status as a competitor of Instagram. You can send a cine out to a friend as an email attachment, or even directly to your Tumblr, all with just a few touches. Cinemagram’s high level of integration with existing social media platforms has created a synergistic effect, and ultimately generated mutual benefits in terms of more user activity and higher levels of engagement. Its integration with Facebook and Twitter has helped speed up the adoption process, as it has enabled cines to quickly go viral, and at the very least be seen by a sizable portion of peoples’ friends or followers.

Despite Cinemagram’s incredible success and the barriers they have overcome thus far, there are still potential risks to be heeded, and obstacles to be conquered in order for the app to be received to the extent of Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Monitoring inappropriate content has long been a problem for any online content-creating social application. These types of apps, Cinemagram being no exception, always attract their fair share of pornography, and sometimes content containing violence or racism, among a host of other things many users may find offensive. While Cinemagram has been able to implement the necessary controls to protect and detect this kind of content.

Another potential barrier, though not an immediate concern, is the fact that Facebook, a very likely potential acquirer, may have provoked a future retaliation by blocking Cinemagram’s integration to competitor Twitter. Ultimately, should Facebook acquire Cinemagram down the road, Twitter may follow suit and block it from integrating, which would limit the app’s usefulness and likability. However, for the time being such a block is unlikely even if Facebook were to acquire Cinemagram, as Twitter has not blocked Instagram’s current ability to connect with Twitter. It seems this is likely due to the mutually beneficial synergy the photo-sharing app has created with Twitter; no more Instagram for Twitter users, might mean less Twitter activity overall.  

Finally, though the team has successfully attracted ‘series A’ seed funding, if it is to emerge completely and be received as a mainstream social media platform, Cinemagram’s ability to continue to raise money could either make or break the app. However, as mentioned earlier, Cinemagram has secured financial backing from a group of prominent venture capital firms, which acts as a signal of value to other VCs or angel investors. Even though it is my guess that Cinemagram will have no problem raising more capital when the time comes, at what is sure to be an even higher overall valuation, financial uncertainty for the long-term is definitely one of the largest risks the app currently faces.

We can, however, be certain of one thing; Cinemagram has been extremely well received by the marketing community. During its short life so far, Cinemagram has most notably caught the attention of USA Network show, Suits, which rolled out a contest where it called upon its viewers to submit their best Suits-related cines. In fact, the contest, part of Suits’ integrated marketing communication campaign, is still currently underway! The rules are fairly simple: download Cinemagram and create an account if you have not already, ‘follow’ Suits’ feed, and capture and create your favourite Suits scene as a cine. The fan with the best cine every week wins a prize pack full of Suits merchandise, which includes the entire first season, among other goodies. They promoted their contest through tweets like the one below.

In this case, USA Network has used Cinemagram as a tool for their Suits brand to engage its fan-base through the creation of original content, and vice versa. Giving viewers the opportunity to reach out to their favourite TV show and put fourth their own creative spin, creates an enthralling experience for the fan—there’s even a chance their favourite cast member might see, or retweet it! Here, and here, are two examples of funny cines that came out of the contest—the second cine was actually tweeted by Suits!

Outside of any contest format, there have actually been plenty of cines where people have pointed their smartphone at their TV or computer screen, wanting to create content from their favourite brands, TV shows, popular YouTube clips, or music videos—all without the respective brands even having to ask! This is an extremely good sign in terms of Cinemagram’s practicality and potential for impact as a marketing communication tool. It will be very interesting to see what other creative ways Cinemagram can be tied into creative brand campaigns!

We certainly live in an exciting time as business students, and aspiring marketers.

- Jake Housdon, Queen's Commerce 2014 Candidate

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