Tuesday, 9 June 2015

"Captain Mainwaring, we're all doomed!"

The business of using third party content in media projects has always involved finding the best material and then licensing it. Inevitably this meant using established and reputable sources - archive houses and stock agencies - but with the tidal rise of showcased material constantly coming online, this business and creative model is looking increasingly like a sand castle on the shoreline. While some sources are staying intact through output deals with big clients like broadcasters, the strain on the conventional royalty and copyright structures, is becoming critical. The greatest casualty could turn out to be the independent researcher who knows where to go for licensed content but is constantly made to look "old school" in the face of the much more varied range of material available outside the walls of the sand castle.

Clients are demanding this wider world be accessed for their productions which is very visible on the net, so keeping to known sources is beginning to look a bit like some restrictive union practice with no place in the 21st century. Where does this leave the creative world?...very like the Wild West with the legal profession as the marshals and sheriffs. There seems to be no longer any place for the skilled searcher, familiar with the terrain. That might just be a necessary evolutionary step but there's little sign that the implications have been considered or even noticed, accept among the practitioners under threat. It could be another example of sleepwalking to a slowly evolving disaster. After the independent researchers have gone elsewhere, the agencies and suppliers might look to fill the gap - and are doing that quite effectively already - but they might only be taking up arms to defend the embattled citadel for a little while longer. In the long term, it's a scenario of doom.

The answer has to be in finding some kind of accommodation with the evolving technology. The problem is: nobody seems sure where that point is.

Friday, 6 March 2015

a growing market...

The third survey of the global footage industry carried out by US trade association ACSIL (the Association of Commercial Stock Image Licensors) and Thriving Archives has reported a fast growing business, especially for those companies, many new to the market, whose approach involves dedicated units to the trade and an across the board offering. Overall there's a 40% increase in the size of the market from $394m in 2011 to $550m but underlying these figures, the trend towards more inventive online digital distribution and shrewd marketing strategies is definitely winning out. Companies like Framepool, Shutterstock and Pond5 are challenging the older archive or stock suppliers by offering a range of media from sound effects to graphics as well as stills and footage. The 167‐page report provides in-depth analysis derived from a survey, conducted over a two-month period in late 2014 with 90 stock footage companies. 

Surveys like this are clearly acting as something of a wake-up call to the fairly traditional business based on single media offerings and fairly hidebound licensing business models. The trade is undoubtedly in need of a shake-up to bring it into line with both current technology and the state of real world IP. Either these newer entrants will gobble up the  cottage industry operators or the business will consolidate into a few key ecommerce-enabled giants leaving the niche operators fighting over a share of smaller and smaller pieces of the pie. It's a clear warning....

acsil.org and thrivingarchives.com

Thursday, 19 February 2015

footage availability - the opening and shutting doors

It's always a bit of a surprise at a time when there's a tendency especially among producers to regard everything as almost instantly available, that there are moments when it most definitely isn't. The current BBC wrangle with the British royal family about access to coverage of Prince Charles' life in previous documentaries on the grounds of copyright - for which read "control" - is a good example of archive only apparently being accessible. If you can get to it - in the name of the common good and fair comment - you might not always be able to broadcast it, especially if you're a "state" institution like the BBC open to having the levers of power applied. And if you're not, there are still ways to try to stop you even getting access to it because the footage might reside in the BBC archive. It's an arbitrary and very contentious restriction, even though here the issue appears to have been resolved through "channels". It's a cautionary tale nonetheless.
   This is especially interesting now not just because the row has pushed archive into the media limelight, even if only as a stalking horse for darker editorial concerns at the Palace, but because the argument has come at a time when an up and coming supplier of stock footage like Stockeon has gone out of business altogether. Part of the movement of enterprises offering all kinds of content - music, stills, graphics and sound effects as well as footage - this adventurous supplier seems to have lost out through lack of investment in its development. Its material has gone offline - I hope not for ever because it had some very promising contemporary coverage of diverse locations and activities - but as a private enterprise not easily controlled by any state, it is subject to the same vagaries of the market as any other commercial venture. Its demise waves a warning flag at the all too easy Google-driven assumption that everything is available everywhere.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

copyright and music in online video

An interesting article about underlying rights in video content online with special reference to
YouTube clips is on the Reelseo site:


It tackles the issue of the double standards of producers only too keen to protect the rights of their projects while happily plundering the content of others they find online. The words: "Copyright protection has certainly changed from a practical standpoint since the age of the internet." can't be contradicted but the dilemma is perfectly put: "While the laws protecting creators have strengthened since 1996, the practicality and ease of using copyrighted images and videos makes protecting your work a constant challenge. There are so many questions that need answers like “if I use a Google image in a video or in a blog post, what types of ramifications might there be?"

So often the underlying rights are ignored - and LinkedIn is still full of producers asking for advice about which rules to observe in using "found" material. There's no question, people are not becoming better informed, so it's not just still but probably more than ever a digital honeypot that can be a trap for the unwary!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

any colour you like as long as it's black - and white

A good article about an underused resource at the US National Archives:


Coming from the National Archives' "Prologue" magazine, the piece documents the Ford Motor Company's Motion Picture Laboratories. In the thirties, FMC was one of the largest movie production and distribution operations, producing thousands of reels of "Americana in Motion" that covered the early 20th Century. They are now held in the film vault of the US National Archives. Over 95% of the collection is in the public domain and available to view and copy. 

Monday, 19 January 2015

industry consolidation

With the news of Shutterstock going head to head with Getty with increasing acquisition of collections, it's not at all clear that creating vast content stores with all encompassing shop windows for the passing purchasers is the way the market wants to go - at least from the buyer perspective. Of course there are economies of scale and the big guys do the ecommerce thing better than anyone but the worry is that once the boutique is gone, the unique, the different, the distinctive that all buyers prize almost all alse, is lost. It's not the intention of the consolidating powers but like the designers of the huge out-of-town shopping malls that have sprung up around the world, the entrepreneurs might have got it wrong. The purchasing jury's definitely still out....