Is Kodak coming back?

Twenty years ago you couldn't help but marvel at the site of a stadium twinkling with thousands upon thousands of camera flashes and wonder just how much money Kodak was raking in. This year the last roll of 35mm Kodachrome colour film will leave the production line, bringing to an end a great part of history. At the dawn of the digital age, Kodak saw 35mm film sales plummet from $15 billion to $200 million in under 5 years. If you haven't heard much from the tech giant in the interim, aside the odd photoframe, it's because it went from a consumer facing family name to a 70% B2B specialist at almost the click of a shutter.

A few years on and Kodak is on the march once more with its familiar gold logo appearing on our shelves on increasingly desirable products. 97% of cinema films are still printed on Kodak - for the time being, at least - but now half of the company's 19 lines are digital, including consumer photo printers and more recently the Kodak Zi8 - arguably the top pocket camcorder on the market today. What's more, even though time may have been unkind to film, the number of photos we're taking has hit astronomical figures and, as far as Kodak is concerned, there's a huge part to play in that. It may have been a while since consumers saw the brand on a daily basis but Kodak still has one thing that you simply can't buy. Trust.

This year has seen Kodak reach out even further to the public with a series of blogs, a Facebook app and an iPhone app that connects consumers directly to the Kodak Gallery, a user site for uploading images where they're safer and higher in resolution than any other such service on the net. The latest step from the company in its embrace of the digital age has been to conduct a survey of the birth of the digital family called The Future of Reconnectivity. Entitled both with the public's concern over our increasingly virtual lifestyles and as part of Kodak's fact finding for future product strategy, the report sampled 2,500 consumers from France, UK, Germany, Italy and the US and asked them just how they use photos in social networking and what they hold dear in their digital lives.

By far the most telling stats were those associated with Facebook. It turns out that people with more Facebook photos have more friends. Now, that could be that they have more photos because they have more friends who take more pictures of them in the first place. They also discovered that people who smiled more in photos had more friends too. Perhaps we all like to know happier people? But probably the one that's harder to explain is that those who post more videos have more people in their networks. The report describes these users as part of a growing "digital aristocracy" and, for those who simply must be a part of it, you can help yourself out with photo editing software that will automatically remove frowns from pictures and turn them into smiles. In reaction, you'll also find groups on Facebook for people who like images of sad and angry faces. Good for an amusing browse.
 
In general, there were also patterns that emerged in what kinds of pictures were taken by different age groups. Those in their 20s predominantly took what the study referred to as "vertical photographs" - those in which the subjects were mainly on their feet. Probably something to do with youth and all that energy they have. By the 30s it was more what was described as "10 o'clock photos" where subjects were mostly sat down and largely more sedate. By our 40s, it's all about photos more for business and by 50s and 60s, it's all about family shots which seems to make sense.

The concern for Kodak more specifically is how to get the most out of our digital photo stock or how to bring out the "digital shoebox" as Kodak chief marketing officer Jeff Hayzlett puts it. On the virtual side of things, Kodak is looking at easier methods of sharing digital photos both across networks and anywhere in the home between photoframes that are yours and those perhaps at another family member's house hundreds of miles away. A large focus of the company's business now is, of course, home printing of shots but for those that wish to send their stills in the other direction, it's actually possible for to get metadata from scanned hard copy photographs. The paper on which Kodak prints were made contains all sorts of detail including when and where the printing was done. Very useful for mass digitisation and sorting.

There's clearly plenty of inroads for Kodak and enough faith from the general public in the name of the brand the world knows so well. The big question is whether or not the products and services can deliver as well as the competition. This time there's no relying on George Eastmen to invent the revolution. The technology is already there and Kodak has been behind the digital pack so far but with a combination of legacy and innovation anything is possible. What we can say for sure is that we'll be seeing more from the New York company in the consumer space to come but it's another thing altogether of how the B2B side of the business will cope as more and more cinemas go digital too.