The New Order

Whenever industries come under the control of few companies, shouts of 'monopoly' are bound to be heard. This is certainly the case in today's U.S. stock industry. Two years ago, the market was full of niche collections and mid-sized players. Today, Getty Images and Sekani dominate. Such change deeply affects an industry and the people within it. In this report, RealScreen asks expert Jessica Berman-Bogdan - footage researcher, co-founder of the U.S. chapter of Focal (New York), and North American representative of Pathe Archives, France - to reflect on the state of the U.S. market. After hearing the concerns of those in the industry, we let the key players ruminate on current conditions.
November 1, 2001

Whenever industries come under the control of few companies, shouts of ‘monopoly’ are bound to be heard. This is certainly the case in today’s U.S. stock industry. Two years ago, the market was full of niche collections and mid-sized players. Today, Getty Images and Sekani dominate. Such change deeply affects an industry and the people within it. In this report, RealScreen asks expert Jessica Berman-Bogdan – footage researcher, co-founder of the U.S. chapter of Focal (New York), and North American representative of Pathe Archives, France – to reflect on the state of the U.S. market. After hearing the concerns of those in the industry, we let the key players ruminate on current conditions.

Over the last decade, the archival stock footage business has become a substantial and respected industry. The business of licensing visual imagery has virtually exploded due to the advent of new cable outlets, renewed interest in non-fiction programming, the internet and the expanded use of stock footage in the advertising and corporate world. As a professional stock footage researcher in the New York City area for over 20 years, I have seen the number of libraries grow from a handful to several hundred, then shrink again as consolidation and mergers took place. Many of today’s players in the stock footage industry have big corporate names, profiles and budgets.

Our society has become dependent on immediate access to information. With the ease of internet connectivity and broadband delivery, it is simple to search, locate and preview images.

Larger archival libraries aim to build diverse collections covering many different areas in an attempt to be a ‘one-stop shopping mall of images’. They have the infrastructure, the budgets and the technical personnel to create large digital marketplaces to meet these needs.

The smaller and more specialized archives have had a hard time keeping up. They do not have ad budgets comparable to the larger corporations, nor do they have the funds to create competitive online digital delivery systems. As a result, many of the smaller libraries have sold out or partnered with the bigger corporate entities.

Online imperative

The immediacy of research and instant visual feedback of stock footage online can be an incredibly useful tool. Little can replace the ability to see the results of your search with streaming or thumbnail images. By working with large stock footage houses, your needs can sometimes be satisfied under one roof, simplifying the search process and allowing you to make better deals on licensing costs.

Yet, when searching for deeper content, nothing substitutes for a film librarian who can suggest the right shot to fit your stock needs. Referring to the large corporate stock houses, fellow New York City-based film researcher Lewanne Jones comments, ‘All of the people who knew about their collections are retired. You end up dealing with people who know about business and organization and not about their film collection.’ Additionally, as footage collections get bought and added to the large archival libraries, it is hard for staff to obtain intimate knowledge of the new acquisitions.

When collections get folded into massive archives, not only is the knowledge and expertise of the original collector lost, but very often the original film logs with back-up information for deeper content research are not transferred, saved or made available.

Binary beginnings…

The decision of what to digitize and put up on the Web poses yet another major concern. Is footage that is not uploaded and digitized any less valuable? Those who are now the keepers of our visual history are making editorial decisions about what images should be accessible. What drives this decision process?

‘The bread and butter of the larger footage library is stock shot sales to advertising agencies,’ says New York researcher Jim McDonnell. ‘Therefore, larger archives have collections where they don’t see the value of the material for non-fiction programming and only see the value of the individual shot. The content of the film is overlooked, because the archives only look at the visual esthetic and not at the original context of the material.

‘Some of the larger companies are still very willing to work with documentary filmmakers, but are not set up to deal with in-depth requests requiring very deep research.’ As the archival stock footage business only generates about 20 to 30 percent of total revenues for the larger stock footage company, resources are directed towards the high-end advertising market and not to developing and promoting the documentary market.

Imposing order

With the growing dependence on access to footage research on the net, it is important to have a well-cataloged, well-indexed and well-constructed search and retrieval system.

On-line database searches are often misleading due to lack of detail. They often do not give title information and film credits, so it is difficult to understand the original context, source and intention of the footage. A large company must depend heavily on databases to manage the huge volume of material they house. To this end, they usually hire inexpensive loggers or external asset management firms who are unfamiliar with the footage and often do not have a background in history for contextual and accurate personality identification. Inaccuracies abound.

On the flipside, many smaller private libraries built their collections to service the doc market. These collections are more manageable and staff usually have intimate knowledge of the footage. As a result, they don’t heavily depend on a database. However, in today’s marketplace, even the small company must have a web presence with a searchable database. Out of financial necessity, a small company will rely on internal staff to catalog material. The familiarity with the footage brings an understanding of the context of the original footage, allows for historical perspective and helps guide the indexing to suggest potential use of the footage for the non-fiction filmmaker.

Bottom line

Have the changes of the past years affected the actual cost of licensing stock footage? In many ways, yes. Due to the investment in digital websites, account executives at larger libraries are increasingly cautious about bottom line figures. Smaller libraries, usually more negotiable, need to stay solvent. Out of economic necessity, many are no longer as flexible in their pricing.

Compounding the issue is the ‘wide-reaching grant of rights’ that are now incumbent on producers to acquire. This certainly isn’t the fault of either the small or large library, but a decree handed down from broadcasters. Generally, producers are required to obtain ‘all rights all media worldwide in perpetuity for all formats now known or hereafter devised.’ Those rights make it difficult for any library to compromise on pricing. You can’t get everything for nothing.

The best way to achieve negotiated discounts on footage is through quantity usage at one library. Many libraries (large and small) also have pre-negotiated special rates structured for programs to be broadcast on Discovery, History Channel, etc. It is also advisable for filmmakers to utilize the relationships established research and clearance professionals have fostered with archival

houses. Researchers bring a lot of work to the various archives, and their relationships and negotiating skills can only work in favor of the producer.

Corporate stock footage entities provide a valuable search and delivery tool and the means for preserving huge stores of our past and present history. But, the role of caretaker of our visual history should not be controlled or interpreted by a select few, for then we lose the perspective of historical diversity and documentation.

Getty: Birth of a Giant


Mark Getty and Jonathen Klein found Getty Investments


March – Getty acquires London’s Tony Stone Images (now Stone Images), a prominent stock photography house, for £23.2 million (US$20.3 million). Getty Communications is formed

Annual revenue is $63 million


April – Getty acquires Germany’s Hulton Deutsch library, a privately held collection containing historic photos, for $19.2 million

April – Fabulous Footage in New York, u.s. is acquired for $2.48 million.

November – WorldView, a large European agent, is acquired for $2.7 million

Annual revenue is $85 million


March – Liaison, a German photo agency and library, is acquired for $9.4 million

July – L.A.’s Energy Film Library is acquired for $17.5 million

Annual revenue is

$100.8 million


February – Getty completes acquisition of PhotoDisc, a
Seattle-based stock photo supplier that was among the first to embrace electronic delivery of images. The deal is valued at $245.7 million. The re-named Getty Images starts trading on nasdaq

February – Allsport, a sports photo library, is acquired for $51.1 million ($27 million plus 1.1 million shares of Getty Images stock)

March to December – Getty acquires Imageways, Foteteca Stone, Australian Image Library and Sporting Pix of Australia

Annual revenue is $185.1 million


May –, a

consumer-oriented art products business, is acquired for $135 million

August – EyeWire, which offers royalty-free content, is acquired for $32 million

August – Getty acquires Online USA, a web-based provider of celebrity news and event photography October – Getty acquires American Royal Arts and Newsmakers. Together, the acquisition is valued at $13 million

November – The Image Bank is acquired from Eastman Kodak for $193.3 million. With The Image Bank comes Archive Photos, a large collection of archival stills; Archive Film, which holds 10,000 hours of footage from Hollywood features, classic docs, and TV programs; Swanstock, which boasts 100,000 images of fine art photography; and Artville, a royalty-free illustration and photography outlet. The deal makes Getty the world’s biggest commercial photo and footage company.

Instead of marketing each brand as its own collection, Getty reorganizes into four divisions: Creative Professional, Editorial and Press, Business User, and Consumer

Annual revenue is $247.8 million


January – Getty acquires i/us for $2.5 million

March – Visual Communications Group, Getty’s largest competitor, is acquired from United News and Media in the U.K. for $226.9 million. The four major brands under VCG include Telegraph Colour Library in the U.K., FPG in the U.S., Bavaria Bildagentur in Germany, and Pix in France. The company also brought with it several specialty collections such as Space Frontiers, Planet Earth and Giraudon, a fine art library in Paris. The addition of vcg brings Getty’s collection in excess of 70 million images and 27,000 hours of footage

May – an exclusive deal is signed with the National Geographic Society that makes National Geographic’s Image Collection (NGIC) accessible through

Getty Images is estimated to be worth about $1.3 billion

May to December – Cass & Cass, an agent of The Image Bank in the U.K.; four Image Bank agents in the U.S., Canada and Sweden; and a stock photo agency in Australia are acquired for $26 million

Annual revenue is $484.8 million; Web revenues are in the $100 million range. (The stock photography market is estimated to be worth $1.5 billion to $2 billion.)


October - is launched

Year-to-date revenue is $349.1 million


Getty Images expects revenue to be $430 million to $460 million

A Short History of Sekani


Todd Pavlin and Rick Gell found Second Line Search, a research, licensing, and clearance company for footage, stills and music. Stock footage houses Action Sports Adventure (sports footage licensing and production) and Hot Shots Cool Cuts (archival, contemporary and news footage) are established under the Second Line umbrella


October – Jointly held Second Line Search, Action Sports and Hot Shots acquire Film Bank, one of L.A.’s largest libraries February – The Second Line Search family of companies acquires Modern Video Library, the largest stock footage library in Germany.

Action Sports Adventure acquires the Oak Creek Film Library, ASA’s largest supplier of footage over the past five years


February – iXL, a U.S.-based internet services firm, secures US$25 million in venture capital to launch spin-off company FootageNow. Investors include: Corbis (Bill Gates’ huge stock still

business), rre Ventures, ComVentures, Infinity Capital, Bessemer Venture Partners, Waterview, Wakefield Group, Bert Ellis, iXL Executive Fund, Guy Davidson and Morris, Manning & Martin

April – FootageNow purchases the Second Line Search group for an undisclosed amount of cash and stock

October – FootageNow rebrands as Sekani. The company holds exclusive representation deals with a number of collections, including Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Hearst Entertainment and ESPN

December – Sekani scores an exclusive agreement with nhl Productions, a division of the National Hockey League, to be the exclusive worldwide stock footage clip licensor of its archive


March – Sekani strikes a deal with Paramount Pictures, a subsidiary of Viacom, to be the exclusive worldwide rep of its historic film archive, the Paramount Pictures Stock Footage Library. The multi-year agreement gives Sekani representation rights to Paramount footage dating from 1927 to the present day

December – Sekani purchases the Sharpshooter collection from Corbis and the ‘Treasures of the World – Heritage of Mankind’ collection from Germany’s SWR Media

Why is bigger better?

When your needs are specialized, [a small library] may be appropriate, but if you’re looking for a range of footage and you only have time to make that one phone call, [a large archive] is one of the places you’re going to go, because you have confidence you’re going to find the diverse amount of footage you need. Also, having a sizeable company allows us to attract some really bright and knowledgeable people.

Michael Gallelli, VP, Motions at Getty Images

When we represent a collection, it gives the content owner the ability to generate substantial revenues at virtually no cost. We have an established client base of buyers. It’s an issue of scale.

Larry Rebich, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Sekani

So, How do you compensate for the loss of expertise when you integrate an archive?

Before I joined Getty, I was a consultant with a top five consulting company, and was working with entrepreneurs at an early stage of development. We would always say that the most effective person at starting companies is not necessarily the best at growing or managing them. That’s no slight against the entrepreneurs. They have a certain skill set that allows them to make something out of nothing. There are different skill sets needed to take what has already been created and grow it into different areas. Ideally, if those separate skills reside in the same person that would be terrific. More often than not, they don’t.

Getty Images went through a very large acquisition spree over the last five years, a spree that ended around mid-2000. The goal since then has been to integrate those different companies and cultures and people into one strong, streamlined company. In some cases, the people who started with those small companies wanted to be at a small, boutique company and maybe didn’t feel at home at a much larger organization. We may have lost some people in that respect. But, I think what has been pretty good about Getty Images as a whole has been institutionalizing the knowledge that came with that acquisition and keeping a lot, not all, of the good people who came with it.

Michael Gallelli, Getty Images

HOW DO YOU balance diverse needs?

The doc business, or the archive film business, is still very much analog-based, where a customer wants to talk to someone in person. They often still fax requests, as opposed to emailing them in, and we turn around and send them preview or screener cassettes to help them identify material they need.

The investment in that side of the business, from the Web standpoint, is in line with where that business is in its evolution… I think over the next year to 18 months you’ll see some developments on the Web for archive films, but I think the stage that we’re at is more indicative of where the industry is, in terms of consumer behavior.

Michael Gallelli, Getty Images

It’s a balancing act for sure. You look at the demand and you look at where your business is coming from, and you do the best job you can of trying to balance the needs of various customer groups. You’re right that our different customer groups look to us for different kinds of content.

Larry Rebich, Sekani

Why are background files missed in acquisitions?

Often, there is no background information. Content collections are in a wide range of conditions. A particular collection might have had a proprietor or a librarian who knew the entire collection inside out, and was in business for a while doing a good job of serving their customers’ needs. But, there might be no meta-data, no cataloging whatsoever attached to that content. In that case, we have to go through and do that job. It’s rare that a collection has the full range of cataloging. Only in the last couple of years have people looked at technology as a way to do this better.

Larry Rebich, Sekani

How has all this tech affected Pricing?

I think the price per second and our average price per shot has come down over time. Any sort of investment is not automatically billed back into customers’ fees. Michael Gallelli, Getty Images

Prices are negotiated. In many cases, there may be more than one source for a shot that is suitable for a customer’s needs. That augers in favor of a stable pricing situation. I’ve seen no evidence that technology has driven prices up. I would argue that it has the opposite effect. Our ability to handle more content and more customers is actually keeping prices further down than if we had to have people trying to take on more content and more jobs without the technology.

It allows you to do more and be more efficient, and that ends up being expressed in pricing stability.

Larry Rebich, Sekani

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.