Indie Archives Going Strong!

The rise of large, online footage platforms has disrupted the stock footage industry, offering footage users immediate online access to huge troves of low-cost clips and putting pressure on smaller, independent footage archives to keep pace. So how are the independent providers faring in this new licensing ecosystem? To find out, we spoke with a group of independent footage industry leaders, who very generously shared their insights and experience. The upshot is that while they are feeling competitive pressure from the larger platform sites, especially on pricing and digital delivery, they have rallied by investing in technology and focusing on their core strengths, which include deep experience in the footage business, a commitment to customer service and the cultivation of specialized footage collections that are often difficult for the larger companies to duplicate. And their hard work, tenacity and operational upgrades are paying off, enabling them to capitalize on the current uptick in demand for footage from both traditional and online channels. 

State of the Footage Market

How would you describe the state of the current footage market? Is this a good moment for independent footage archives? Has the market become more challenging?

Layne murphy, president, budget films

Layne murphy, president, budget films

Layne Murphy, president of Budget Films: “It’s the best of times, as ratcheted up production has generated a much greater need for archival footage. It is the worst of times, as the big corporate companies undercut smaller libraries and have the capacity to fully license materials without any human interaction whatsoever. It’s not just our industry but the entire economy has shifted. But despite the proliferation of cut-rate behemoths like Walmart, some folks prefer the quality and personal service of a ‘mom and pop’ concern.”

Edward Whitley, North American president of Bridgeman Images: “Broadly speaking, the current market in archive for documentary is strong. Archive-driven docs are very much in vogue, as producers turn to historic footage and away from reenactments and recreations.”

mark trost, president, film archives

mark trost, president, film archives

Mark Trost, president, FILM Archives: “The state of the current market has improved over the past two to three years due to the influx of pay streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc) adding to the number of programs with good budgets and need for footage (both vintage and current). So, it is a good moment for us. I can't speak for other independent firms, but I do hear there has been improvement all around. The biggest challenge has been the rise of royalty free collections driving down pricing. Price always drives the market since so many libraries have similar material. So, it is a challenge to maintain a decent price on footage.”

StormStock's Martin Lisius filming Hurricane Katrina

StormStock's Martin Lisius filming Hurricane Katrina

Martin Lisius, president, StormStock/Prairie Pictures:  “The stock footage market is the most competitive it has ever been in terms of numbers. When I created StormStock in 1993, there were only a handful of stock footage brands. They tended to be small and focused on quality product and quality customer service.  Now, there are many, with some being huge image distribution factories, while others remain small and focused. That said, it has not become more challenging for me. I work as hard as I ever have to turn out an excellent product and provide human-based customer service. Nothing has changed for me in that way.”

dominic dare, co-founder, lola clips

dominic dare, co-founder, lola clips

Dominic Dare, LOLA Clips: “It’s not a good time in terms of the last 20 years of video and archive. I’ve witnessed several smaller companies either sell out or go bust and that’s the tough reality for smaller independents. However, there is opportunity outside of traditional revenue streams finally. Tech apps and online opportunities do finally have the ability to pay for content. The market has definitely changed. I left the footage world for a number of years after 2008 and it’s a different world. The driving shift without doubt is technology. It has enabled non-traditional companies to create video platforms that are fully automated and require a server and some management but their sales are completely online. This along with cheaper cameras and microstock, as well as increased competition, have absolutely changed the paradigm.”

Joe Lauro, President, Historic Films

Joe Lauro, President, Historic Films

Joe Lauro, president, Historic Films: “We are a specialty archive focusing on pop culture and music performance footage and do not really compete with the general run of stock footage archives. Our business is determined by the number of projects out there that need the type of footage we specialize in.  As most of the larger companies offer what we have, and we do not attempt to sell royalty free type material we typically have a good year if there are a healthy amount of music and history based projects in production – it changes from year to year – this year has been good as was last year. The primary challenge used to be on the technical end. The expense of digitizing and offering our own platform for making footage available. Now that we have achieved that, it is a matter of keeping up with the technology shifts and adapting our platform to fit into the current trends.”

jeff goodman, president, producers library

jeff goodman, president, producers library

Jeff Goodman, president, Producers Library: For Producers Library I’d say this is a good period in time for us and many other independents. The current market is a mixed bag.  On the one hand increased production from all genres means more demand for both current location shots and high-end feature / TV out-takes as well as archival material.  On the other hand, there are new archives popping up every year to compete with and they often discount heavily.  Ubiquitous inexpensive cameras shooting HD & up have made this happen.  The new production standards for HD, 2K and 4K mean you can only provide older standard definition video footage if the content is highly valued, even though up-conversion is sometimes an option. However, besides having the desired content, those with film-backed archives are now in the catbird’s seat in that 16mm and 35mm can be scanned to 2K and 4K DPX files.”

Ben Jones, Science Photo Library

Ben Jones, Science Photo Library

Ben Jones, Head of Motion, Science Photo Library: "It’s hard to speak for other companies but we are still seeing good growth in revenue from our footage product. I would say that the increased use of video across the media has provided a new market to access, for instance book publishers now producing online or electronic products featuring video. Increased mobile bandwidth has also driven huge growth in online and especially social media use of video, which helps drive demand for unique viewing experiences. These new clients can be tricky to reach as the web is so vast, but there are opportunities there. There are many companies exploiting these new markets who have a great hunger for unique footage. The more traditional TV and film markets are still important also.

"The constant pace of change of technology certainly keeps us on our toes. One minute it’s 4K and the next it’s HDR, H264 gives way to H265, suddenly petabyte is not a dirty word… keeping up while not buying everything requires understanding of the issues and careful spending. Web-based marketing (eg AdWords) is expensive for small companies, and it is hard to compete with the search engine presence of the big generalist archives. Maintaining distinctiveness in the face of a sudden explosion of video production, both professional and amateur, is also a challenge. 

"The rise in technology-based stock video platforms presents both an opportunity and a threat to Science Photo Library. Such platforms are reaching new customers and introducing them to licensing stock video, but average fees are under extreme pressure, especially in the royalty free space. Thus, part of the battle for a small specialist library is trying to maintain a healthy price without the technological solutions and economies of scale available to the larger players." 

michael goldberg, president, Celebrity footage

michael goldberg, president, Celebrity footage

Michael Goldberg, president of Celebrity Footage: “In the traditional TV market, people are looking to squeeze minimums and pay lower fees. So the challenge is convince them that the quality of our footage is worth paying a somewhat higher price. Monetization of video online is growing, and digital outlets are willing to spend more to get better quality footage, at least on some pieces, to produce a better overall product.”

Responding to Market Shifts What unique factors about your business have enabled you to overcome these market shifts and challenges? 

Ed Whitley, President, North America, Bridgeman Images

Ed Whitley, President, North America, Bridgeman Images

Ed Whitley: “While the market leaders certainly still dominate, independents like Bridgeman Images can offer a point of difference to the giant libraries. We offer a collection of tightly curated content that is fresh and relevant and, in recent years, major calendar anniversaries have afforded opportunities for researchers to turn to footage libraries for inspiration and information to make content. The market is currently big enough for major libraries and independents to coexist together, complementing each other by offering a diverse service to filmmakers and researchers on all types of budget and project requirements.” 

Michael Goldberg: It never stops. I have to act as assignment editor, videographer, rights & clearance supervisor and company president. And the events don’t stop so there is always more to cover. Because of the launch of new website, where clients can download high-res files, we’ve been able to add new subscriptions clients, mainly web based news outlets, who pay a monthly fee and can use what they want. When the news broke of Brad and Angelina’s divorce, subscription clients reached out to us, and the footage was immediately available.  Typically, these clients care about the quality of the footage, so it is worth it to them to use us. Our shooting style is different, we have a great position on the red carpet, and will typically take longer shots. When a story breaks, we send out an e-blast alert letting our clients know what we have on the subject. When quality is an issue, we get more orders. 

Mark Trost: “We have stressed to our clients, particularly on the pay streaming, cable and network side, the fact that most royalty free services give them no formal copyright or any other type of indemnity. This leaves them liable to third party copyright claims, legit or otherwise. We make it a point to note to the client that we do indemnify on copyright and will give full rights to clips if desired.”

Dominic Dare: “We’ve taken a very careful look at the entire industry and decided that we need to have a curated repository of content that is shot on great quality and/or hasn’t been seen as clips. We don’t need or want to compete at $200 a clip. There’s no value there. We also have developed new ways of working with stock and shoot bespoke stock footage with our aerial drone partners. We take a qualified risk when doing this to provide our clients exactly what they want but at stock prices. Additionally we think getting the content out in other ways is key and we have an archive-based production company as well as several online channels.”

Layne: “We have experienced, professional researchers and provide individualized service.  We ask the right questions and insure that our materials fit with the client’s vision and budget. The area of licensing and rights has grown much more complicated and it is very important to us to stay on top of legal trends and create licenses that meet distribution requirements. Furthermore, we've evolved from providing masters on 3/4” tape to creating 2K or 4K digital files from our enormous collection of physical prints.”

Jeff Goodman: “Since Producers Library has a wide and varied set of collections of different subject matter we can cater to a broad customer base.  And, as I mentioned above, having quality 16mm & 35mm film shot in previous decades is a boon for us. So many TV shows and features are set in the past that the obvious response was to start scanning.  We jumped into the fray a little late but started sub-contracting to have select footage scanned over three years ago and a year and a half ago purchased a LaserGraphics scanner. As they say, we haven’t looked back.

Joe Lauro: We’re investing in technology and broadening the scope of our library.  We are also continuing to offer the services of an extremely knowledgeable sales team and researchers to all of our clients. We still answer the phones here and try to encourage people to ask questions. It is a service industry and we are fighting to keep it that way by offering the assistance of knowledgeable human beings to all of our clients.

Ben Jones: Science Photo Library (SPL) is a paradoxical company: our greatest strength also presents a challenge.  We specialize in difficult-to-source, challenging-to-shoot content in science, medicine and technology subject areas. Whilst this gives SPL a unique niche in which to operate, having a specialized niche is limiting in breadth.  However, we love what we do and we have tried to focus on our strengths rather than get caught trying to chase the next big thing, or spreading ourselves thinly with content that’s available elsewhere. This means a focus on searching for and creating unique and relevant material, working with experts and people with a unique vision, and listening to our clients when they ask for things we don’t have. We have a lot of specialist knowledge in-house and we leverage this expertise to give us an advantage when clients are looking for media in our area.

Unique Footage Collections How important to your success is your collection itself? Would you say that your collection is unique? Does this make it hard for larger companies to duplicate? How important is it to develop your collection to fill a specific market niche?

Ed Whitley: “Bridgeman Footage has not necessarily carved itself a niche collection; rather it has built on the mantra of ‘Art, Culture, History’ that has made Bridgeman one of the foremost independent image libraries in the world. Using these tenets, the Bridgeman Footage collection has evolved to reflect and supplement the image collection so that filmmakers and producers can use the Bridgeman name for stills and footage.  As a traditionally stills-based archive, the biggest hurdle has been making the market aware of all the incredible footage we now offer. That perception is changing, thankfully, as we continue to add more collections whilst archive researchers and filmmakers realize we can offer a different, cross-platform, bespoke service to suit their project’s needs.” 

Martin Lisius: “StormStock is a very niche product. We specialize in weather footage, and have been doing it for nearly 25 years. There’s an old saying that goes, "Jack of all trades, master of none.” I think to become really good at something, you have to focus. But when I established my company in 1993, I didn’t do it to create a stock footage collection. I filmed lots of severe weather footage for documentaries I produced. Other producers came to me to license my work. I created StormStock as a means to serve that need. It was the egg before the chicken, so to speak. I think that’s the best way to start any business. Keep in mind that StormStock is not a company. It’s a collection and brand of Prairie Pictures, a film production company. We are production people. We actually understand the three phases of making movies and know how cameras work down to the physics of optics.”

Mark Trost: “The collection is the cornerstone of our success. Our niche is vintage footage of all genres 1890s-1990s and news video (1986 to present). That is what we are known for. We have many vintage titles that are virtually impossible to find elsewhere. We also have a large library of 1980s era footage. This appears to be the lost footage era, as local TV stations, networks and film producers simply threw out their prints as they switched to tape and then threw that away when they went to digital. So, there is a lot of 80s era material that is hard to find. We have made an effort to find industrial films, news footage, home movie lifestyle material, and other genres to fill this gap. We also represent the local New York cable news service NEWS 12 LONG ISLAND whose footage goes back to 1986. So, that attracts a lot of documentary filmmakers and series to our library.” 

Dominic Dare: “Yes and No. Filling a specific market niche is hugely important and as a young company we’ve been lucky enough to find that out organically. We do find ourselves being known for our drone and viral video, but interestingly that’s a much smaller element of our content and we do compete on content that is not ultimately unique, especially with the Studios here in LA. We now have 16 media partners and a lot of material from news to sports, as well as a wonderful new home movie collections from the 1920’s to the 80’s.  Our viral video collections are by nature unique, but even then there are other options if you want a clip of someone doing something stupid at Christmas, for example. I think if you have the rare opportunity to own a one-off music performance or exclusive access to a news event, then you can legitimately claim a higher price and the collection becomes valuable. But nowadays there’s pressure on budgets and there’s always an alternative through stills or simply a different creative approach, which means the collection is part of the equation but by no means all. The vast majority of our revenue is based around proactive sales, relationships and ultimately whether the client wants the footage or not. Ultimately Sandra [Coelho] and myself are the unique element for LOLA. As someone who has always loved this industry, I find intrinsic interest in archive footage but from a commercial standpoint it’s actually more about our clients and finding them what they want.”

Layne Murphy: “Our collection has been, and continues to be, amassed with an eye towards servicing documentaries and providing materials for on-the-set playback.  That said, we also represent a number of filmmakers and have a good collection of HD materials, strong particularly on the subjects of food, cooking and dining. We have the sophistication and historical knowledge to have mastered our collection, which is primarily archival. Most of our library is backed up with film.”

Jeff Goodman: We are located in Hollywood and gravitate towards Hollywood and entertainment history and the archival footage it portrays has led us to collect some very unique footage.  Hollywood history has been our forte for years.  While viewer interest in classic movie history has waned somewhat in the States, it is still going strong in France, the U.K. and Germany. Having tons of 1950’s through the 1990’s 35mm moving point of view process plates along with location shots has served us well. Right now, Seventies and Eighties footage is quite popular.

Ben Jones: I would say it’s critical to our success. While some of our clips are general stock, many of them are unique, and have either been commissioned or created by us, or sourced from hard-to-access archives. These are generally quite specific topics, and require a level of expertise to conceive and create, and hard work to locate. Even the clips that we haven’t created, we have actively pursued the creators and brought them into our collection based in a large part on our expertise. Our experience with our market niche in stills, and the knowledge that these clients were moving into using clips, certainly helped guide the development of our collection. As an independent archive, I am assuming that you and your team have a very deep knowledge and understanding of your collection. How important is this to your success?

Ed Whitely: “Because Bridgeman Footage is still growing and is relatively modest in volume (still some 20,000 clips), as requests flood in, it is a joy to search through our archival collections and find content that connects with the project; from early 20th Century home movies to WWII footage, arts documentaries and experimental animation, the Bridgeman Footage collection is a resource to fit many of the most fascinating projects. From the independent perspective, we can delve that bit further on research requests than some of the major libraries, going into extra detail and connecting with partner institutions and private collectors who may have that unique slice of archival gold that fits the brief.” 

Martin Lisius: “We know our collection intimately. It’s one of the things that separate the pros from the amateurs. I was at the Dallas Cowboys store at Wal-Mart across from AT&T Stadium last week and asked a nice employee if they had any Ezekiel Elliott jerseys (currently the #1 best selling NFL jersey). She said she had never heard of him. At a sporting goods store they could tell you yes or no immediately, and tell you when the next order will be in if they were out of stock. That’s a good comparison.”

Mark Trost: “Yes, it has been vital to our success. Any team member can answer an email inquiry or phone call with total knowledge of our library and how clients use it. There are no salespeople who have no idea what they are selling or how the client will be using the footage. Our clients do compliment us on our ability to ‘get’ what they are looking for.” 

Dominic Dare: “It’s massive. The issue for us is that we don’t necessarily even have time ourselves and that’s why metadata and online search is so important. As a small company, we outsource our post-production, keywording and metadata generation – I wish it wasn’t that way. I think if I had the luxury of viewing everything I would. One of the saddest things that has happened with footage over the last ten to fifteen years is the loss of our brain trust. We value it highly and research for us is more than a cursory glance on Google.” 

Layne Murphy: “This is enormously important.  The most junior member of our research staff has been with our firm for twenty years.”

Joe Lauro: “Extremely – we deal in history and if our researchers were not familiar with our constantly growing archive and the historical significance of the footage we would not be very effective in licensing our brand of material.”

Ben Jones: We have a dedicated, knowledgeable and passionate sales, marketing and production teams. All content is rigorously edited and checked for accuracy, relevance and authenticity. We have an in-house team of science caption writers who ensure that each clip and image is what it says it is. Even though all our media are available online, many clients still prefer to use our in-house research service, and the people involved in that do have a deep knowledge beyond that which a search engine can offer. These clients are very happy with the service.” I am also assuming that you have a passion for your collection that may be missing in some of the larger, less personal companies. Would you agree with this assumption? Is it important?

Ed Whitley: “Definitely, most of us stem from history or art history degrees and utilize this specialized knowledge every day. As searching has become more and more about the metrics, it’s the intangibles that now get better recognized from the crowd. Where once personalized research by staff members was the norm, now it’s the exception. At Bridgeman we still hold this to be a crucial part of our service, fortunately that’s part of our passion too.”

Martin Lisius: “That’s totally true. I have had a passion for storms since I was a kid and shot my first lightning image when I was just 12 years old. If you have a passion for your subject, you will know it better than most. Companies that have billions of images can’t possibly know them as well as they should.”

Mark Trost: “Yes, this is a passion. I started out as a 16mm Film collector in the 1970s and the business grew from my love of film collecting (nothing arty mind you, mostly cartoons, serials, b-movies, campy educational and industrial films). So, enthusiasm and knowledge is appreciated by the client. We recently supplied footage to a documentary on the man (Bill Finger) who co-created and ghost wrote all the early Batman comic book stories. As both a fan and collector I was able to guide them to photographic and film sources to the point that the researcher said that we should have come on board as historical consultants! A great compliment.”

Dominic Dare: “I’ve been lucky enough to work in London, New York and Los Angeles and worked with some of the biggest collections and more recently with LOLA to find and unearth newer material. So I’ve worked in archives where you will never ever have a deep knowledge of everything and also smaller collections where there are only a few real nuggets that you have to find in order to make money. Personally I have a deep passion for news and current affairs and it’s role in our various societies, but for some reason I know more about dwarf tossing or the latest prank video on YouTube! Ultimately I love moving image and that’s why I do this as I get to see how it simply the single most engaging form of media for immediacy of interaction. 

Layne Murphy: “The library began in 1963 as a non-theatrical film distributor and repurposed as a footage library when videotape boded to make non-theatrical film rental obsolete.  The company has been in Hollywood for over fifty years and is a woman owned business, operated now by the founder’s daughter.”

Joe Lauro: We are historians and music fanatics here. That makes going to work fun.

Ben Jones: I feel that we do, although whether it’s missing from larger companies I couldn’t say. We do provide free access to our specialist researchers to help clients with their requests, which is a popular service and an increasingly rare one in these days of web search and automatic purchasing. As we host images and clips of arcane and complicated material, this helps to give our customers the confidence that they are selecting the correct image for their project. 

Serving Customers Are you able to provide more personalized service? Is that important? For your clients, does having access to you personally or to other long-standing members of your team make a difference? Does this add value for your clients?

Martin Lisius: “Yes, we are able to provide more personal service than the large image superstores. I have quite a few clients I know well. They know they can depend on us to help them succeed. The giant collections could hire more people to interact with the client, but people are more expensive than computer servers and it would cut into their profit margin.”

Mark Trost: “The clients do appreciate that there is always someone available to speak to or email with who actually knows the library and how what we have that could help them. Consequently, we do get a lot of researchers and producers returning to us as new projects come up.”

Dominic Dare: “Along with knowing where to find the right content, either from within our exclusive agreements or through our industry relationships the lifeblood of LOLA Clips is our clients. We are more knowledgeable and have decades of experience in providing productions with content. It’s the single most important asset for LOLA. We know how to negotiate on a complex license agreement, we know how to find the actual original specs for a piece of footage and what it was shot on, we know how clients will come back again if you know where to get their material and then give that info to help simply because you can. I cannot tell you how much knowing contacts at an obscure Italian TV network or being able to find someone a contact at the NFL helps your business. That is simply our biggest asset.”

Layne Murphy: “We do an enormous amount of repeat business and our service emphasizes the personal.  Our license is vetted by all of the major production entities.”

Joe Lauro: We like to think it does. Many of our clients look to us for suggestions on footage and do take advantage of our expertise and suggestions.

Ben: I think this goes back to the research service mentioned above. When clients ask us for media we really do try to help them, contacting potential contributors and even commissioning work on occasion. They certainly appreciate this level of care and have mentioned it several times. As a veteran in this business, I am assuming that you have developed some very close relationships with buyers over the years. Is that important to your success? Further to that point, I am assuming that you have developed a deep knowledge of the footage business and buyers. How much does that matter?

Ed Whitley: “Of course, relationships are everything, in this sector possibly more than most. As individuals move between productions and production companies, it’s their personal experiences of working with an individual that’s most likely to bring them back for their next project.”

Martin Lisius: “Yes, it is. Trust is pretty important.”

Mark Trost: “Yes, the fact that the researcher community knows we are a knowledgeable resource has allowed us to build a substantial client base who will come back to us project after project. A client can sense when you really don't know what you are talking about and, conversely, when they know you can lead them in the right direction and not waste their time, they are more inclined to review your material and ultimately utilize it in their productions.” 

Dominic Dare: “Yes, as I mentioned above, for me and Sandra, my business partner in London, this is the currency that is most valuable. At LOLA, we focus our footage sales divisions on Film and TV, therefore relationships are important because London is close knit community as is LA. Sneeze something about one archive or buyer and it’ll give the whole of the industry a cold. It’s a small community but one that we love.”

Layne Murphy: “We have many clients who have done business with us for thirty years or more.  Our relationships are enormously important and we strive to continue insuring customer confidence and satisfaction. “

Joe Lauro: Of course, we work with all of the independent researchers and most of the companies producing steady slates of documentaries. They know what to expect when working with us and our long-term relationships allow us to make it easier for them. It is important to understand the business you are in. Know who your competitors are, what they offer and do not offer, which allows you an edge when acquiring new material so you can estimate if the costs might turn into profits. If you pay $100,000 for a collection of material that everyone is offering it could be a mistake. If you listen to your clients and are able to focus in on material they often ask for and have difficulty finding, well then it might be a good investment. So, yes, you need to pay attention to what your competitors offer and do not offer.

Jeff Goodman: Knowing your content well means faster response time in presenting clip-bins or links and that means happier editors who are pressured to find the just right shot or shots.  

Ben Jones: I’d say yes, and they have come to expect a level of service from us, as well as help on specifics when required. We are always looking to build new relationships as well. We’ve certainly learnt that it is a very different business from licencing photos, although there are increasingly overlaps between the two. I think that understanding the needs of footage buyers is important, in the information they need about the clips themselves, the language and terminology they use when discussing rights and metadata, the need for per second billing as well as the more photo-relevant per clip, the need for access to clips for comping purposes and more. 

Investments, Infrastructure & Technology Developing and maintaining an archive is expensive. Without going into too much proprietary detail, where have you focused your investments?

Martin Lisius: “Everything has become more technology driven. But, for our company, it comes down to quality of product and customer service. We’ve focused our time on production and creating more content. That’s what matters most. Digitization is a term used by stock footage marketers and accountants. What is there to digitize? Clients rarely want standard-def anymore which leaves just a few years of HD on tape. We converted that to digital files years ago and what we acquire now is already digitized.”

Mark Trost: “All spare time is devoted to getting more material digitized and on line as that is the way the material is now seen. So the more they can see, they more of a chance you have to license. We have totally redone our website earlier this year so every clip is viewable on virtually every platform, including desktop, mobile, etc.”

Dominic Dare: “Yes absolutely, we are like all smaller companies working out the way forward but as a company that’s not even two years into trading we have been lucky enough to build a cloud-based online only portal and infrastructure that hopefully is nimble enough to work for us for the next 10 years. At the moment we are focused on development of an app and newer forms of video. Lots to be announced…”

Layne Murphy: “We do the best we can but we know we'll never keep up with the platform sites so we have to emphasize our many other strengths towards serving our clientele. This is our order of priorities-- family friendly wages and benefits; basic operations/media preservation; technology; advertising and promotion; and film acquisition.

Joe Lauro: Over the years Historic Films has paid close attention to how, when and from where people are accessing our content. We have responded by giving users the right tools to do their jobs efficiently.  We have re-designed our website to be 100% responsive across all desktop and mobile platforms.  In doing so, we have simplified and streamlined the research process, giving our users quick access to the footage they need 24 hours a day.  In addition, we have made a concerted effort over the last five years, in large part due to hardware affordability, to bring vast amounts of archival content online.

Ben Jones: It was evident from the outset that handling video would require much more storage and processing power than stills, so hardware was one of the first large investments. We also hired experienced video editors and systems builders to integrate editing systems with our own databases. We tried to avoid non-digital video initially as we were aware of the cost of digitization, and although we have digitized tape and film over the years, the majority of our archive remains born digital. We have to keep abreast of new developments on the technical side, including new codecs, color spaces, cameras, displays and standards. Our contributors and clients ask us about these aspects all the time so it is important to be aware of them. On many of the “platform sites” you can transact a complete order online and download production-ready clips without speaking to a human. Do you feel pressure to provide that level of online service, or does the human-based model work for you and your clients?

Ed Whitley: “In this age of often faceless communications and automated customer service, I think we are slowly seeing a reaction from the independent sector. People now appreciate personal communications more than ever before as a means to answering research queries or any specialist tech-requirements they may have for their footage. As an independent, we can offer services which major libraries cannot so easily; like transcoding clips into bespoke formats, collating time-coded edits into curated playlists, or returning to analogue masters for perfect HD transfers. However, while Bridgeman tries to give the client real human interaction, we understand that today’s archive researcher wants clips quickly and efficiently. Independents can do this by giving immediate download, high-res production ready clips at the click of a few buttons; delivered not through vast (often slow), server-intensive FTPs, but agile online download portals like the one we employ at Bridgeman.”

Martin Lisius: “I feel no pressure from the image superstores. They are quite different from us. We do have an on-line storefront. I made it for clients that have a tight deadline and need something immediately, any time of day. It accounts for about 5% of our sales. The rest come to us directly and we interact with them. Yes, we even talk to them! Phone, e-mail, and sometimes text.”

Mark Trost: “As much as the turnkey do it yourself approach does work, we find the types of projects we get involved in, like cable TV documentaries, commercials, scripted TV and features, requires a lot of back and forth with the client to get them what they need. There are also constant variations in rights needed all which affect price. So, the menu-driven on line version might work for a lot of projects, but far from all.”

Dominic Dare: “I think it’s crazy if you don’t where possible. We buy so much online and if you think otherwise personally I think you are wrong. We don’t as we have complex rights management issues but we will be rolling that out and whilst I know of very large archives who don’t see more than a handful of sales this way per month you have to think globally and how you are realistically going to sell in Korea or Australia or Slovakia without it.”

Layne Murphy: “The platform model is fine for certain projects but others have more complicated licensing requirements, need more esoteric materials and/or need to work from film elements.  We feel that if we continue to emphasize our many strengths, little companies like Budget, will be able to co-exist with the big guns.” 

Jeff Goodman: Producers Library has always steered clear of Royalty Free and e-commerce models.  We enjoy speaking to customers as you gain more knowledge of their needs.  Even the experienced researchers often have questions and we’re here to answer them.

Joe Lauro: Historic Films, being a long form stock footage archive, cannot solely be one or the other.  We must service both, and we do.  Every project and every client is unique. Our clients make it very clear to us every day that they need efficiency and speed but they also need our knowledge and our expertise to find them what they are looking for.  Stock Footage is very different than Stock Shots.  Not all projects are coming to us with a keen vision of the ‘perfect’ shot.  More and more researchers are coming to us with ‘concepts’ and they rely on our people in house, who have deep knowledge of our archive, to get the right material in front of them.

Ben Jones: We did feel this pressure and we launched a fully automated e-commerce function on our site four years ago. Revenue from e-commerce sales has practically doubled each year over the last three years. That said, the majority of our sales are still made through our sales team, with researchers coming to us for advice and shot selections. Has technology become more affordable, allowing you to shift toward a more digital workflow?

Martin Lisius: “Yes, technology is more affordable, as it is in any industry. We are all digital. However, it’s the quality of our team that matters most. That hasn’t changed.”

Mark Trost: “Yes, the major expense is now in time rather than equipment.”  

Dominic Dare: “Yes. Storage for us is simply how much do we want? It’s not a big cost. We can integrate our CRM system into our digital platform with a small amount of development, but we built our business to not have to work with all the legacy issues we’ve seen first hand from working at other companies who just are dealing with insurmountable issues. I feel very lucky. The issue for us is value vs. potential revenue. We can keyword inexpensively but delivery of masters does cost for us and that’s something that we tend to keep paying.” 

Layne Murphy: “Our workflow is entirely digital.”

Jeff Goodman: Only when the price of scanners became affordable did we really shift the workflow, balancing between as-need customer sales and choosing promising footage.

Joe Lauro: Absolutely! We couldn’t have made near the progress we have made in the last seven or eight years without technology becoming more and more affordable.  Every year it becomes more affordable and every year that has enabled us to expand or better secure what we have.

Ben Jones: To some extent, and especially with storage, but the processing and delivery aspects are still quite expensive, and bandwidth has not really kept pace with file sizes. I think it would have been significantly more expensive to set up a non-digital archive though. Has technology made operating an independent archive more cost-effective and manageable? If so, how?

Martin Lisius: “I would say generally yes, like a word processor versus a typewriter. It’s a more efficient tool.”

Mark Trost: “Yes, since we have 10,000 or more clip reels available for instant on line viewing, we can send clients screeners to review in minutes of receiving a request. Just a few years ago, you had to put together a tape or DVD. So, it does cut down on time and staff needed.”

Layne Murphy: “More manageable—absolutely.  Cost-effect is still a question mark.  We need less manpower than we did twenty years ago but the demands of keeping up technologically largely offset this.”  

Joe Lauro: In some ways.  Not in all.  Technology has streamlined our workflow and allowed us to do a lot more in a lot less time.  We subsequently require fewer people to match the same output we may have had 5+ years ago.  That said, technology needs constant maintenance, constant upgrades and support. What we have lost in perhaps marketing we have gained in IT.  We believe, however, that in the big picture over-all, a small independent archive like ours with manageable overhead and fiscal control over what we do and when we do it, that the answer is yes, with the right people in the right jobs it has made our business more cost effective and manageable.  Another important point to note, however, is that what technology has also done is to keep us viable in a shrinking market.  So although embracing the technology has been very good for us, it was also essential.  

Ben Jones: Yes, and for the reasons above – although there are many digital formats they can (usually) be read by any digital edit system. To set up a non-digital archive would have meant buying or hiring separate decks for Betacam, SP, VHS, 16mm, 35mm… The only other thing I can think of is the difficulty of distributing such large quantities of data around the world. Although digital files are portable, they quickly get to a size where internet-based distribution is not feasible, so transferring master files to agents and clients can be a headache. It is still easier than doing the same with tape and film though!

Marketing How do you keep your company in front of customers? Is it primarily about having a long-standing reputation? Word-of-mouth? Online marketing?

Ed Whitley: “All of the above, and more! One of the key things Bridgeman focuses on is having close relationships with our clients, where we are able to combine their needs and feedback with the data from each marketing channel we use in order to continuously communicate and deliver relevant content and information about our growing archive. As Bridgeman has long-standing relationships and a reputation for high quality and exclusive content, our role with marketing is to ensure a consistent delivery across many channels for our clients to understand what is in our archive, both new and existing. This combines a close relationship internally with our collections, cataloguing and IT departments to provide accurate and relevant information as well as tools to provide our clients with a seamless experience in accessing the best content for their projects. Bridgeman's marketing covers a variety of channels that include tradeshows, client events, emails, advertising, social media and a heavy focus on content creation for our website that provides the clients with a wealth of ideas, case studies, tips, tools and anniversaries that they may be focusing on now or in the future. As Bridgeman supplies stills and footage to a variety of industries the content created by the marketing department gives clients the ability to plan and react to whatever needs they may have on any project.”

Martin Lisius: “Most of our business is word of mouth. We have visibility through and social media. But, a lot of our clients know me personally and spread the word to others. Some people still like working with humans rather than machines, and they prefer working with experts more than anything.”

Mark Trost: “We are part of and FOCAL and garner projects from those affiliations. We also do on line marketing. We send out tweets and post a clip of the day on our Facebook and Twitter accounts every day. Also, we find when researchers and production people move from project to project, they do remember us and tell others in their new posts about us.”

Layne Murphy: “We use social media with some degree of success.  Most of our business comes from professional researchers we've dealt with for years and referrals from these loyal customers.” 

Jeff Goodman: Word of mouth, having been around since 1957, a solid reputation and of course the stock footage portal

Joe Lauro: All of the above.

Ben Jones: We have a reputation on which we have built with stills clients moving into video (for instance in publishing). We try to keep our website easily findable online with SEO techniques too. We attend industry events (such as Footage Marketplace and FotoFringe) as well as events related our speciality (such as the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers, and the SMASH16 Awards). We are active members of trade bodies including FOCAL International and BAPLA, who have access to researcher organizations, production companies and publishers. We use social media and direct marketing to maintain brand awareness amongst our registered users, and to try to reach out across the wider world.