Footage libraries have long looked at the still image industry wistfully. While that close cousin of footage was busy stacking dozens of thumbnail shots on a single browser page and processing e-sales from around the world, motion picture archives were debating the best digital format to which they should transfer their film properties and patiently awaiting widespread adoption of broadband.
Fast forward a few frustrating years and footage archives are still trying to predict the format of the future and waiting for delivery methods to improve. But, the more things stay the same, the more they change. Despite some lingering technological concerns, significant strides have been made towards moving the footage industry to its most logical marketplace, the World Wide Web. Clips can now be viewed online or downloaded for trial edits, and broadcast quality clips can be sent electronically or via satellite.
These advances mean archives continue to look at the stills industry and think: us too. Among them are several smaller collections that recently launched on the Web. Consider these the next generation after the large, pioneering portals – one that plays up its unique attributes, whether those be content or technology.
What follows is a look at how three of the newest players are trying to redesign the online footage experience – how they’re optimizing the Web, attracting footage providers and most importantly, generating revenue.
FootageBox.de: Preaching a global search platform
FootageBox intends to become the Google of the footage industry. Just as everyone turns to that search Goliath to find anything and everything on the Web, Annette Scheurich, CEO of Mainz, Germany-based prodco Marco Polo Film hopes footage folk will log onto FootageBox to source any and all footage requests. ‘The future will be global footage search,’ she contends. ‘The representation of individual libraries by a regional representative will be the past in a few years.’
Scheurich also predicts that today’s web-based footage portals will soon be antiquated. ‘Portals now direct you to individual libraries. Then, within every individual library you have an individual search engine,’ she says, unimpressed. On FootageBox, the material from every provider is explored through a single search engine. The user is directed to a specific library only after a clip is selected.
In short, FootageBox is a global marketing platform for archives. But, its setup capitalizes on current tech tools. Just like Google, FootageBox’s search engine, developed by international software manufacturer Convera, offers advanced searches in which species and location can be specified. Alternately, researchers can type in a regular old sentence and get results. As well, sub-shots of a sequence or different sequences that have similar qualities, such as texture and color, can be sourced from the results. When the desired footage has been found, a vhs quality mpeg clip can be downloaded from the Web for a trial edit. The next step, which has already been built into the architecture of the site, is to distribute footage via satellite, be it vhs or hd quality. ‘It will be broadband in the future,’ says Scheurich. ‘That’s not currently implemented, but we know the satellite download works, as we’ve done tests.’
It’s worth noting, however, that at E130 (US$160) per minute, with delivery happening nearly in real time, satellite transmission is not inexpensive. Plus, the receiver needs to purchase a specific set top box. ‘If you’re transferring an hour, then it won’t make sense; it will be too expensive,’ says Scheurich.
Scheurich and her team at Marco Polo didn’t always have such a grand vision for getting their archive online. ‘We thought that if we started a library now, we had to start it online, otherwise it would be an antique,’ she explains. ‘But, it soon turned out that an online solution for a footage library is E6 to E8 million ($7.3 million to $9.7 million). That’s just not possible for a single archive. You don’t know that in the beginning, because everyone can put moving images on their website. But, to really market footage online and make it searchable and accessible, there’s huge logistics and development behind it.’
In the end, Marco Polo partnered with T-Systems, an information and communication service provider based in Hamburg that’s a division of Deutsche Telekom, to get FootageBox off the ground. MP invested about E3 million ($3.6 million) and T-Systems contributed between E4 million and E5million ($4.9 million to $6 million). Archives that deal directly with FootageBox pay the company a 15% commission on every sale. Companies that work with Marco Polo to join FootageBox – where Marco Polo handles all the footage requests for the company and helps get their content online – also pay the webco 15% of sales and then split the remaining revenue 50/50 with the prodco. ‘Most individual filmmakers just can’t invest in things like this,’ says Scheurich. ‘The business model is: we invest first and then we share the revenues. If they want to have more of the percentage, then they have to pay for the service. That’s another model.’
FootageBox currently offers footage from the wildlife-focused Marco Polo Archive, though Scheurich says several provider contacts are pending. ‘To really make this work, we need more content on the platform,’ she admits. ‘Everyone knows they must be online and have moving pictures on their website. The step to realize how big the advantages are of marketing through FootageBox – through a functioning online library – that’s the crucial point.’ The platform is particularly interested in wooing hd providers. ‘hd is the future format,’ says Scheurich.
OceanFootage.com: Staying niche to live online
Based in Pacific Grove, U.S., OceanFootage.com is a truly specialist archive. ‘We initially considered doing a broader offering, but quickly decided to move into the ocean realm,’ says Dan Baron, the founder of OceanFootage.com, who also boasts a Masters in marine biology.
Launched two years ago, Baron’s intent was to streamline the process by which providers get their footage online, and how buyers search and purchase that footage. Core to his vision was having the archive completely live on the Web, a goal made possible by keeping the collection niche. ‘Some of the bigger stock houses have sample clips online, because they have such diverse collections,’ says Baron. ‘We don’t keep any material offline.’
Initially, the archive had about 10 hours of material, mostly on DV. Today, OceanFootage.com has more than 75 hours of sharks, whales, seabirds et al on formats ranging from DV to HD and film, all of it culled from the work of about 40 cinematographers, including underwater HD guru Howard Hall, and Bob Cranston of giant-Humbolt-squid fame.
The business model is simple: OceanFootage.com takes a 30% commission on all sales. (This might be considered low for the footage industry, which sees commissions run as high as 60%.) To cover the archive’s startup costs, which Baron puts in the six figure realm, and the expense of transferring and maintaining the footage online, providers are also charged an annual fee of $550 for the first 30 minutes of content. (Alternately, they can opt for no fee, but a higher commission on sales.)
In exchange, providers canmanage their own material. Says Baron, ‘We offer them access to our clip log technology. They can set key words, set their own pricing. They have complete control over every aspect of all their footage that’s online.’
And, they get a check every quarter. ‘Quite a few of our providers are getting in the tens of thousands range,’ he notes. And, ascribing to the theory of flaunt it if you got it, the archive also includes a hot link in each clip description to a profile of the provider. The client can then search that cinematographer’s work specifically, or continue to browse the archive as a whole.
Baron and his colleagues work with the individual cinematographers to decide what of their footage should be digitized and how best to configure workflow, since the material must be delivered in DV for upload. Master copies in the original format are then stored by the archive. This allows the website to avoid having too many similar clips, and enables purchases to be processed quickly.
For buyers in a hurry, whole transactions can be completed online – another attribute that sets the archive apart from the bulk of its competitors. Every clip is available for download, including watermarked dv versions that can be used in an editing suite. Unmarked, broadcast quality DV clips are also available for master delivery. Says Baron, ‘You can accept the license agreement, pay by credit card and download the master material [on line].’ Those who prefer a more personal touch don’t have to contact the individual providers, as OceanFootage.com can negotiate and process sales from start to finish.
Though the annual costs of running OceanFootage.com run to six figures, Baron says the archive is already making a profit. It also has plans to expand into other niches. Currently, it’s gathering content for a new collection called NatureFootage.com. ‘That makes sense to us, because the kinds of clients we’re working with are doing nature documentaries,’ explains Baron, adding that the two collections will be joined under a single, yet-unnamed umbrella company. They’ll also be linked online, though Baron isn’t ready to say how.
‘It’s an expensive endeavor,’ he says of launching an online archive. ‘We spent four years developing the technology with some fairly high-end programmers, which is why providers don’t have access to this technology. They want to have their own websites, to brand their name and market their own stock footage – these days you have to get your material online. We’re providing these tools to the cinematographer, so they can compete in this market.’
TVData.ru: Bringing remote archives together
Searching for footage in Russia is like searching for a ruble in a haystack. It’s a huge country with a rich history and a maddeningly inaccessible archive system. Even Russian-based prodcos cringe at the thought of combing through the files at Krasnogorsk, The Russian State Documentary Film and Photo Archive in Moscow. In 1999, Oxana Selekhova launched TV Data, Russian Footage Catalogue as an antidote to this predicament.
Based in Moscow, the archive began as a bricks and mortar outfit that served only Russian providers and buyers. In September 2003, having amassed a collection sourced from indie prodcos and cinematographers from across Russia that includes newsreels and doc footage of private art collections, it expanded its operations to the Internet, and began soliciting international clients. U.S.-based sports net espn is among TV Data’s global clientele.
‘What we are doing is marketing those libraries for them. The online database helps, because [the providers] can download without our help,’ explains Selekhova, who is general manager of TV Data. ‘This application is the best thing for us at the moment, because internet connections all over Russia are very good in the major cities.’
Selekhova characterizes TV Data as an intermediary between international buyers and Russian providers. Out of necessity, however, the archive is very involved on the front end. ‘Once in a while, we send a person to work with a local archive,’ she explains. ‘We’re interested in having any company join us that has good quality footage. Primarily, the archives are contemporary, so they have many things digitized and they know what exists on the Beta source. But, some are old fashioned; we have to teach them how to work with us, and how to sell to other companies.’
TV Data takes a 30% to 50% commission on sales, depending on the amount of time, money and expertise it has invested to close a transaction. ‘Sometimes [the providers] know only roughly what’s recorded, so we have to review all the tapes and then digitize them,’ as well as catalog them, notes Selekhova. But, since TV Data will source the sought shots, the archive grows with each new request. The collection is currently accumulating about five to six new clips weekly.
Given Russia’s distance from the world’s main production centers, TV Data includes an online preview system that streams clips at one quarter dvd quality. ‘We can post mpeg clips, but most companies in Europe and the U.S. aren’t satisfied with mpeg video and want time coded VHS.
They still work in an old fashion way,’ says Selekhova. ‘Unfortunately, it’s too expensive in Russia to broadcast high quality video [on the Web].’ VHS tapes can be prepared in two days, but delivery takes about one week.
Selekhova estimates that TV Data’s revenue fluctuates between $50,000 and $100,000 each month. ‘It’s covering our expenses, but we haven’t reached a point where we are working for profit only,’ she notes. Selekhova adds that the company is still improving the site, particularly the search tool and the quality of online clips. TV Data is also working to overcome the reputation that Russian archives are cheap. Says Selekhova, ‘We try to keep the rates the same as other stock footage companies, but our customers know Russian companies sell their footage for less, and often ask us to lower the price. They know that Russian companies will sell footage for $500 per minute. What do you do?’