From Across the Pond – Convergence of Video and Stills

Julian Jackson digs into the UK Market and updates us.

Video is starting to become the new essential for stills libraries. Although the two majors have had motion divisions for years, most UK photo-libraries avoided video for a number of reasons: technical complexity, bandwidth and the uncertainties of a new market, compounded by the economic difficulties of the past few years.

However there has been a steady move towards footage from UK libraries including Alamy, Robert Harding World Imagery, Science Photo Library (SPL), Bridgeman Art Library, and others. Two recent London events confirmed this: fotofringe,and footageMarketplace. There was a crossover of libraries at both events, which is surely a trend, as previously there was a distinct separation between stills and motion-based suppliers. Perhaps the long-foretold convergence between stills and moving pictures is actually on the way?

One of the first to dip their toe in the market was SPL in 2009. Ben Jones, their Head of Motion, said, “The world was quite different from the world of stills, which we knew very well, so there was no easy way to segue into footage. It was a challenge for us, but we spent about two years planning the move and getting the content and technical operations into place.” The recession had slowed the development of the marketplace, but it seemed that 2013 was the year when footage was really taking off. Darrell Hodgetts, Digital Account Manager at the Press Association echoed this, “We have had a 400% year-on-year growth in video”.

There was a remarkable unanimity amongst the exhibitors at footageMarketplace that educational publishers were now seeking video content. Ben Jones noted that there were various monetization strategies, including subscription models, single clip sales, and also complete mini-programmes a few minutes long, about different aspects of chemistry, for example.

Barcroft Media, which was originally a news agency based around stills and text, have had success in specializing in what might be termed the extreme side of news video, unusual people, animal antics and somewhat freakish subjects. Ping Kwan, their Sales Manager, extolled their You Tube channel as a top marketing tool. They have had 91 million hits. She was not worried about unauthorized uses – reckoning that the exposure was worth it, and they have a system in place for tracking infringements.

Two notable medium sized libraries which have added footage to their stills offerings are Robert Harding World Imagery, famed for their travel content, and Bridgeman Art Library, known for their licensing of fine art images, including hard-to-find material in private collections.

Harding acquired environmental library Specialist Stock in early 2012, which had a lot of filmed material in its archive. Robert Harding said, “It was a steep learning curve. If you are not technically-minded, you need someone who is. They are big files, they need special processing. you need a lot more time than you think you are going to need.” Integrating the footage, cataloguing and ensuring there was sufficient content for users needs has taken Harding a year to get their offering into a shape where they are happy to market it. Michael Kelly, Digital Asset Manager, said that the lack of global industry standards for footage was a big problem, and that coming from the world of stills, where this is well-defined, was quite eye-opening. Kelly said he found the lack of standards “archaic” although he now thought that there would be move towards a set of globally-recognized video standards which would benefit both the industry and the customer.

Robert Harding cautioned that now having Standard Definition material was worthless, as everyone wanted HD, and that also undigitized film was less valuable than sellers might think, because of the costs of digitization, and that also a lot of it was in a 4:3 format which no longer fits the move to wider framings in many applications. There were significant costs, both financial and in personnel time, involved in moving into the footage world, which should not be underestimated.

It also seems that the move to video means broadening the content offering. That can be most clearly seen with Bridgeman, whose video clips include not just artists at work, which is to be expected, but also film of the First World War, including trench warfare and aerial combat, and a tranche of Dutch colonial material going back to the 1920s, from the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.

The advantage of footage is that, as a broad generalisation the fees are higher, and that the market is expanding rapidly – all sorts of end-users want to have more rich media, as opposed to the saturated market for stills.

The other significant industry pulse from both fotofringe and footageMarketplace seemed to be that the industry was cautiously optimistic about the future. It was felt by many different stills and footage vendors that the worst of the economic effects had bottomed-out and while the economy was not great, it was slowly improving and better times were ahead for those suppliers who were flexible in their approach to the marketplace.

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