It's a Small World: Global Networking Shapes the Stock Footage Business

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After several years of increasing demand for stock footage and aproliferation of resources, the marketplace is beginning to take a newshape. That shape is an echo of many other industries that have gonethrough similar growth periods.

Recent acquisitions by major players are creating global stock footagenetworks offering massive resources in a highly systematized manner. Ifadvertising agencies, entertainment producers, and corporate video makersare facing a choice among fewer and larger suppliers, there is also anindication that smaller, niche-oriented footage houses will still be around.

While the larger firms will arm themselves with the Internet, CD-ROMs, andkey-word search to navigate through their extensive libraries, the smalleroperators will offer the services of real people with extensive personalknowledge of a specialized inventory's content. These persons will oftenoperate as consultants, responding to concepts that can't easily be definedby key words.

On the acquisition scene, Getty Communications and The Image Bank havepositioned themselves as leading players. The most recent shoe to drop, onJuly 25, was Getty's acquisition of Energy Film Library. On April 23, 1996,Getty, already a major resource of still images, had acquired FabulousFootage. Another large resource had been created last June 3, when TheImage Bank, owned by Eastman Kodak, acquired Archive Films.

Jan Ross, president of Energy Film Library Studio Film, notes that many ofthe details of consolidating her operation with that of Fabulous Footageremain to be resolved but that the footage operations were to be integratedas Getty's stock footage division, with Energy serving as the main office.She adds that these operations will be able to take advantage of Getty'soffices in more than 30 countries.

"Both Getty and Energy have been involved in distribution through digitaltechnology," Ross points out. Energy provides material via the Sprint Drumsnetwork, which goes to some 75 agencies, feature film companies andpostproduction facilities. She reports Energy has about 30,000 clips onDrums so far, along with 5,000 shots on the Internet.

With the Fabulous Footage operations acting as sales offices under theEnergy banner, Michael Carpentier, Toronto-based international marketingmanager, expects to see further consolidation of footage resources. This isstill a relatively immature industry with lots of mom-and-pop companies,"he comments. "We'll see a handful of larger players along with some smallerplayers in niche markets such as specialized nature and extreme sports."

Rick Wysocki, senior vice president and managing director of the FilmDivision of The Image Bank, commenting on the industry's consolidation,says, "It's what has happened in a lot of industries. As the industrybecomes global and the demand also becomes global, certain companies aregoing to become powerhouses." As for the acquisition of Archive Films, headds, "The attraction for us is the content to put on our network. We havean unparalleled distribution network, with over 70 offices worldwide."

At Archive Films, Patrick Montgomery, president, points out, "The consolidation in our business is being driven by the large stock photo houses, who are the big players in the business. They've decided that the future of ourbusiness will be driven by those who license all types of images." Beingpart of a larger operation, he adds, "gives us the resources to keep ongrowing. There is the opportunity to do business digitally, which requiresup-front expenditures." With a database of about 25,000 films on theInternet, he expects now to speed up this process.

Matt White, president of WPA Film Library, also sees the cost of technologybeing a driving force behind consolidation. He points to such futureexpenses as compression of materials for downloading to large servers. Hecomments, "Getting film into digital form is terribly expensive, and thisalso involves restoration. This requires deeper pockets." WPA is part ofMPI Media Group, which also has a strong home video distribution group.

Consolidation, done correctly, can provide a major service to clients,according to David Seevers, manager, sales and marketing at ABC VideoSource. Already consolidating the resources of ABC News, WorldwideTelevision News and British Movietone News, his operation is still lookingto expand, he says. He points to the possibility of acquisitions orco-ventures with libraries looking for better exposure in the U.S. With thelarger footage houses offering a broad range of materials, Video Sourcesees a future beyond news clips, Seevers notes. Within its inventory, ithas begun to categorize beauty shots, having made reels on various citiesand singling out such subjects as the sun setting on the Capitol.

"Those who don't have all the bases covered are going to have to merge inorder to survive," asserts Victor Rumore, president of Cascom,International. His Nashville-based company, he says, has the full gamut,including archival material, current news, graphics, special effects,nature and beauty shots. Cascom's main categories are special effects andbackgrounds, but Rumore says his operation is constantly creating andacquiring new material.

As consolidation continues, holds Rick Gell, president of Second LineSearch, it will become more difficult for smaller firms to compete withthose that have a large network. He notes they will have to advertise andmarket more aggressively and be financially able to pay the advances andguarantees necessary to secure the large collections. With Action SportsAdventure and Hot Shots/Cool Cuts under the same ownership as Second LineSearch, these operations now have 11 worldwide locations, with the mostrecent one in Istanbul.

Meanwhile, Henri Ehrlich, president of Lookout Productions, seesspecialization and personalized service as the key to success for histwo-year-old New York-based operation. His company's forte is stylizedfootage from around the world, including extreme sports, experimental filmsand emotion-conveying takes that are shot for the library or specially forclients.

"Most agencies don't have the time to go through a lot of material,"Ehrlich asserts, "so the ability to move quickly and intelligently with agood eye can be more important than a mechanical approach. We presentfootage in a way that can inspire art directors and producers, rather thanbeing a passive archive, having everything in the world and waiting for theclient to call."

Moving against the consolidation trend, last January Mark Heller leftStreamline Film Archives to start up Streamline Stock Footage. Meanwhile,the original company, under Mark Trost, has changed its name to F.I.L.M.Archives. With materials from the beginning of film, Heller's operation isadding current materials via its own shooting and representation of others.

Both of the New York operations claim personalized attention and deepknowledge of inventory to be important factors. With archival films goingas far back as 1898, current beauty and location shots and contemporarynews footage from Cablevision's News 12 on Long Island, F.I.L.M. Archivesparticularly addresses itself to clients with concepts that can't behandled "by a guy sitting in front of a computer screen and popping in akey word," says Trost.

Ken Powell, co-owner of Imageways, Inc., sees Eastman Kodak's acquisitionof The Image Bank a few years ago as only the beginning of superpowersgetting into stock footage. He speculates that the next big player will beMicrosoft, which already has set up Corbis Entertainment to handle thedigitization rights for still images. Meanwhile, he points out, the natureand sports shooters who have formed stock houses in recent years will findthat its easier to be represented by a larger concern. As for his13-year-old New York-based operation, Powell says it's a well-roundedlibrary of beauty shots and archival and news footage.

A small stock-footage company with no overhead may be able to continue inthe marketplace, says Joe Lauro, president of Historic Films, but amedium-sized operation with substantial overhead will have a hard time ifit is selling standard footage. His company has taken the specialized routebut also has broadened its base with two recentmoves.

Formerly known as A.R.I.Q. Footage, it has broadened its financial base bymerging with Sofa Entertainment, which owns the Ed Sullivan TV shows. Mostrecently, it has formed a relationship with AP Television in which Historicrepresents its footage in North America and the AP operation representsHistoric's footage globally. Along with the AP footage, Historic has twoother areas of specialization: Historic films of all types throughrepresentation of Fox Movietone News outtakes and Pathe News, plus some35,000 musical clips in every genre from the 1920s through the '90s.

As the stock footage industry stretches and twists into its new shape, anumber of internal changes are taking place at stock footage houses: EnergyFilm Library is now representing Film World, Australian stock footagecompany with local scenics, lifestyle imagery and global footage; T-BoneFilms, with edgy, Generation X material; and Australia's Sports Film, withsubjects ranging from boxing to water sports.

The Image Bank has introduced a new search and retrieval system calledImage Index CD. Serving all of the company's offices, it can search throughthousands of hours of footage in minutes to find a specific clip, Wysockisays. A client version is being considered, he adds. In a separateoffering, CDs have been sent out to still users, containing about 10,000stills. For motion images, The Image Bank has five CDs with a sampling ofabout 200 clips each.

New collections for Archive Films are The Christian Science Monitor TV NewsArchive, with coverage of 1985-92 by the now-defunct cable news service;the Los Angeles County Film Collection, covering such subjects as growth,gangs and homelessness in the '50s and '60s; Westwood One, audio archivesof Mutual Broadcasting System; and the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museumvintage industrial films of the '20s and '30s.

Eight libraries of various sizes have been brought in by WPA in the pastseveral months. The largest is an exclusive distribution agreement with TheDuncan Group, which produced the Mystic Lands series for The LearningChannel. This involves more than 500 hours of material from around theworld. A videotape promotion has been sent to about 10,000 customers toinspire usage of stock footage. It begins with a fast-talking delivery ofhistorical and everyday catch-phrases such as "Faster than a speedingbullet," "That's the way it is," and "Garbage in, garbage out," combinedwith their logical or facetious visual counterparts. This is followed byexamples of commercials using clips, many from the educational andindustrial films of the '30s, '40s and '50s.

ABC Video Source now has its entire ABC News inventory computerized, andits stories and shotlists are represented on CD-ROM from 1963-91. WorldTelevision News also is fully computerized, with CD-ROM data from 1980-96.About 60 percent of British Movietone News is now catalogued on thecomputer system. Seevers says the operation hopes to have its entiredatabase shifted from a mainframe to a server by next summer.

Cascom is now represented in 66 countries, according to Rumore. It hasadded its own mastering and duplication department and offers onlineediting on its Avid 8000. Second Line Search has a continuing project ofsupplying materials for Encyclopedia Brittanica CD-ROMs. According to Gell,this included the task of locating and clearing stills of more than 1,000scientists.

New collections at Action Sports Adventure, reports Mike Mertz, director ofsales, include the Don Shoemaker Collection, with all forms of racing andprofiles of leading Olympics athletes; and women's basketball material viaan agreement with the American Basketball League.

Hot Shots/Cool Cuts, according to director of sales Andrew Conti, hassigned Avaco, a Japanese collection of more than 50 varieties of time lapseflowers, all shot in 35mm. It has also signed Filmgo, a leading Italiancommercial producer, which has a broad representation of lifestylematerial. Streamline Stock Footage is working out an arrangement with "aninternational company" to handle the New York operations for an Internetservice that would research the files of all participating stock footagehouses for specific shots. Heller also reports representation of RJTV, withsome 25,000 hours of vintage TV programming and commercials; and SinisterCinema, with 10,000 titles in horror, science-fiction and fantasy films.

F.I.L.M. Archives is representing Rhino Video Collection, includingesoteric specialty tapes, "B" movies, performances, TV programs andlive-action fairy tales from Europe. It is also representing a collectioncontaining world conflicts starting with World War I. The newest core ofmaterials at Imageways is images from the '70s and early '80s includingslice-of-life and documentation of technological changes. Powell reportsthis material is being converted to video tape elements with correspondingtimecode reference materials.

Historic Films has acquired the Rollin' Down the River Library, footage ofthe rock-oriented variety show hosted by Kenny Rogers from 1971-73. Thestock houses report continuing growth in stock footage usage via existingcustomers. While the production of CD-ROMs had appeared to be a majorgrowth area only a year ago, some now have reservations that there will bea boom in this area.

"The CD-ROM business has kind of peaked and now has begun to shrink,"asserts Montgomery of Archive Film. "It's a business that overestimated themarketplace, and now there's a shakeout among CD-ROM suppliers." One thingthat the CD-ROM technology has done, according to Carpentier of FabulousFootage, is open the way for royalty-free still photography distributed onthis medium. He believes that stock footage, via the digital video disk,will follow suit and that the industry will move away from having onlyfixed-fee-for-usage arrangements.



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