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Autofocus technology comes out of the lab with the debut of the SX-70 Sonar OneStep and the

Pronto! Sonar OneStep. More cameras this year are the Presto!, Pronto! BC, MemoryMaker, 600, Instant 10, Instant 20, Instant 30. Lands pet project Polavision debuts with instant movie film that uses a groundbreaking additive color system and features a state-of-the-art factory with computer controls, laser cutters and clean rooms. Polavision promptly flops due to 3 minute cassettes that must be viewed on a tiny screen not projected and because video tape has entered the consumer market. Type 608 film gets added to the list.

The Polaroid Corporation was founded in 1937 by Edwin Land. While its early products focused on everything from eyewear to gunsight filters, the company was most famous for its innovative instant film cameras that hit the market in 1948. During the next three decades, Polaroid became one of the most successful technology companies in the post-war era. Sales grew at an annual rate of 23%; profits grew at 17% and its market capitalization exceeded $1 billion.

The problem with Polaroids strategy (as with most technology-based companies) was that they began to regard their business as a series of technology challenges and not market challenges. They assumed that once their technological innovations were ready, the market would follow with the result of ever-increasing profits. And while the strategy worked for the better part of their existence, it all came it a screeching halt with one large technology bet that went sour.

Polavision was to be Polaroids biggest technological breakthrough - an instant movie system similar to Polaroids instant camera. Polavision included a camera, film, and a special movie viewer that was used to both develop the firm and subsequently view the movie. While the system used a new type of color additive process which allowed for instant developing, its shortcomings were significant the movies only lasted 2 1/2 minutes; there was no sound; and the extremely slow firm speed required very bright lights when taking the movie. The project had been in the R&D pipeline for over a decade and was championed personally by Edwin Land. Others within Polaroid werent so confident with the outcome. Polaroids president Bill McCune was probably the most skeptical; he felt that Polaroid was making too big a technology bet on a new product that lacked any type of market research. After many delays, Polavision hit the market in 1977-the same time that video-based systems were being introduced by competitors.

The results were stunning but expected. Polavision bombed in the marketplace. With its high cost and poor film quality, Polavision could not even compete in the market against existing Super 8 cameras and projectors, whose days were already becoming numbered due to the emergence of the new video-based systems hitting the market. Polaroid had to write-off all the R&D costs along with most of the manufactured product at an immense cost to the company.

Former Polaroid freelancer Paul Giambarba remarked about the new Polavision system:

"I tried using the product but it was obviously a turkey compared to anything I was using that Kodak offered [..] Instant movie film was an engineering achievement but it's precisely what separated Polaroid techies from Polaroid pragmatists. There just weren't enough customers out there on whom to work the magic."

The Polavision failure was the first straw in the eventual demise of the Polaroid Corporation. The same poor management that allowed Polavision to hit the market without proper market research later allowed Polaroid to completely misread the impact of digital imaging on their highly profitable instant film business.

On October 11, 2001, Polaroid filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Almost all the companys assets (including the Polaroid name itself) were sold to a subsidiary of Bank One. A new company was formed which operated under the name Polaroid Corporation. Polaroid cameras were discontinued in 2007. A second bankruptcy was filed in 2008 and production of Polaroid instant-firm ceased in 2009.

Heres the takeaway: Polaroids demise was caused by an almost non-existent market strategy and a mistaken belief that disruptive innovation success is the result of overcoming technology challenges and not business model challenges.

What it was: Polaroids instant-photography movie system, the result of three decades of experimentation and research.

Why it was brilliant: Even Polaroids still-image instant cameras, such as the amazing SX-70, remain among the most impressive feats of consumerelectronics wizardry ever. Polavision made instant movies by capturing an amazing eighteen instant photos a second, courtesy of a handheld camera that used handy film cartridges.

Why it was doomed: Many brilliant tech products have failed because they were ahead of their time; Polavision flopped big-time because it was simply too late. It was pricey ($675) and the movies it created were short (two minutes and forty seconds) and silent, and could only be watched on the bundled tabletop screen (they were too dim to be projected). None of this might have mattered if the system had been released in 1967but in 1977, it was up against early consumer video cameras and VCRs. From the day it launched, Polavision looked shockingly retro, and its catostrophic failure eventually contributed to the sad exodus of legendary Polaroid founder Edwin Land.

Its legacy: Polavision may have been a disaster, and todays Polaroid itself may be nothing more than a shell company that slaps its logo on other companies products. But the basic ideainstant moviesis as appealing today as it was in 1977. Whats a Flip camcorder other than what Polavision wanted to be but couldnt?

Video sidelights: Even marketing starring Danny Kaye (and later Ed McMahon, who tried to reposition Polavision as a business product) couldnt save Polavision.

If you had walked by Polaroid's Headquarters in 1979 you might have heard two things - 1) a bumping noise of heads rolling down the steps and 2) a sound of a wake lapping against the shore, caused by a departing ship being missed. But why? Two years previously Polaroid had launched an 'instant' movie film format on an unsuspecting world. It was almost instant, you could watch your film 90 seconds after shooting, using a special viewer-processor. It was called 'Polavision'. One glance at the camera that used Polavision gave some clue as to the thinking behind it. The camera bore more than a passing resemblance to the new fangled video of the era. Whilst video cameras in the late 70's were not incredibly large, they weren't camcorders, that is, the recorder component was a separate item from the camera and usually carried around on a belt on the cameramen's waist, there was also usually a separate battery too - so the whole ensemble was very cumbersome, very expensive and not light either! By comparison cine cameras were incredibly lightweight and cheap. Someone at Polaroid must have seen this situation and spotted a niche for a cheap lightweight movie camera whose results you could view almost instantly. What they hadn't seen was that video would dominate the domestic film making scene so rapidly, aided in not small measure by the introduction of the camcorder and smaller video tapes such as video8 and VHS-C. By the time Polavison came onto the scene the film based market was already loosing ground to the video upstart. The Polavision idea put 40 feet of Super8 footage inside a proprietary cartridge, this cartridge also contained the chemicals needed to process the film. Inserting the film onto the dedicated Polavision player would allow the film to be processed. The idea, on paper, wasn't that bad, so what went wrong? Apart from arriving on the market at least five years too late, corners seemed to be cut at every turn. The camera was initially to be made by Bell & Howell, but inspection of the eventual model would reveal that the production camera was made in Austria by Eumig. The lens was modest (a 2x zoom) and appeared underspecified compared to all rival Super8 cameras with the exception of the camera provided with the Agfa Family. Polaroid had been presented with an opportunity to produce a film that would last longer than the 3 minutes and twenty seconds obtainable with the normal Super8 50foot reel. However opting for only 40 feet of film meant that Polavision cartridges ran for only two and a half minutes.

The fact that the film remained trapped inside the cartridge meant it couldn't be edited and had no potential for sound either - this alienated serious film makers and Polaroid would have to fall back on the mainstream public - a public already embracing video tape technology. The upshot was that Polavision sold in embarrassingly small numbers and ended up being sold off at very low prices. It was considered to be one of the biggest follies in an industry littered with ideas that somehow failed to make the grade Polavision

Useful Links

Original box Polavision cassette - note hole for built-in lens near film gate Polavision cassette interior - there is a compartment under the plate (with writing '28th movie') where the processing chemicals were stored We are able to copy films shot on Polavision but this requires the film to be broken out of its cartridge. The film is then copied and returned on a conventional film reel. This process costs 6.00 per reel and the original cartridge is destroyed by the film removal.

As an interesting footnote thanks to the emergence of video sites such as YouTube some very obscure clips have again seen the light of day and Polavision is readily explained.

the image on the right links to a clip for an official Polavision commercial apparently presented by Danny Kaye. The claims that the films would still be fine when '... certain persons went off to college' now appears to be very optimistic.

The next link is ideal to show the mechanics of the system and gives an insight into the deterioration that the films tended to suffer, the video has been shot directly off the projector screen, whereas we take the footage out of the proprietary cassette precisely because the unit is unsuitable for transferring purposes.