2017 was an exciting, eventful year in the footage industry. A large number of high-profile archive-based documentaries were released throughout the year, and archival docs did very well at all the major award ceremonies. While increased demand for footage benefited many suppliers, two major footage houses, ITN Source and Framepool, either ceased operations or changed hands, and their transitions sent shockwaves throughout the industry. Change was afoot among various footage industry trade groups as well, with new management at FOCAL and a for-sale announcement at Visual Connections. Overall, a few things became clear in 2017: the audience for archive-based programming is strong; competition among footage suppliers is intensifying; and industry stakeholders are adapting to a shifting business landscape.
A prominent slate of high-profile archive-based docs premiered in 2017 across all major cable networks, PBS, Amazon and Netflix, as well as in theaters. These films, some years in the making, others produced on the fly, showed the depth and versatility of the archival form, tapping both commercial and newly uncovered sources.
“There’s been a renaissance of big, premium archive projects, driven in large part by OTT,” said Matt White, executive director of industry group ACSIL and a co-producer of The Beatles: Eight Days a Week. “Audiences love archives. It really resonates with them and that is why you are seeing the likes of Netflix and Amazon competing for these prestige projects.”
Standout archive-based docs from 2017 include The Vietnam War (PBS); Long Strange Trip (Amazon); Five Who Came Back (Netflix); Jane, released in theaters on October 20, 2017; LA 92 (National Geographic Channel); Oklahoma City (PBS); Trumped: Inside the Greatest Political Upset of All Time (Showtime); and The Great War (PBS).
Support for archive-based programming has grown over the last few years, as broadcasters and subscription video on demand services like Netflix and Amazon have recognized the value of original premium non-fiction programming with marquee subject matter and built-in audiences.
“A few years ago, I was at a conference where several non-fiction producers said, ‘archive docs are dead’,” said veteran documentary filmmaker Tom Jennings. “That really made me mad because I felt like, I haven’t finished watching all the archive I want to see yet! I think what happened during the past year is people realized that archive is as close as you can get to the truth of a story. Today, everyone wants to see video or hear audio of an event to prove that it actually happened. If there’s no video, it’s almost as if something isn’t real. In a very weird, oblique way, we can probably thank our smart phones for the resurgence of archive shows. If an event has images attached to it, people will believe it. Extrapolate that out to moments in history. I think audiences want to see what the real people involved in a story were like, what life was like for them, how people behaved, dressed and talked. If you can show the real thing, and do it in a way that’s entertaining, people will watch and say, ‘wow’.”
Big Award Wins for Archive Docs
Archive docs had a huge presence at all the big awards ceremonies this year. OJ: Made in America, an archival opus, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Of the other four nominees, two were archive-rich films: I Am Not Your Negro and 13th.
At the Emmys, LA 92 won for Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking; OJ: Made in America won for Outstanding Directing for a Nonfiction Program; and 13th won one Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special, and another for Outstanding Writing For a Nonfiction Program. The Challenger Disaster: Lost Tapes, won for Best Research.
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week The Touring Years won the Grammy for Best Music Film, as well as two FOCAL Awards - one for Best Use of Footage in a Music Production, and another for Best Use of Footage in a Cinema Release.
LA 92 won the ABC News VideoSource Award at the 2017 IDA Documentary Awards.
News from the Suppliers
Many footage providers reported positive results throughout 2017.
"2017 has been a very encouraging year for the footage licensing industry - both in witnessing the continued, meteoric rise in consumption of footage and in the rejuvenation and recognition of the importance of archival content,” said Ed Whitley, president, North & South America America, at Bridgeman Images, and president of trade group ACSIL.
That said, not every footage company had a great year. Two high-profile footage suppliers, ITN Source and Framepool, either ceased independent operations or changed hands.
ITN Source, one of the world’s leading footage suppliers, closed its doors in June and entered an exclusive multi-year distribution partnership with Getty Images, shifting “over one million clips spanning more than 60 years of iconic news footage” to Getty’s global distribution platform.
Framepool, the German-based international footage agency established in 2001 by Stephen Bleek, was sold through bankruptcy proceedings in Germany to RightSmith Group, a Los Angeles-based footage agency with foreign subsidiaries in Japan, Australia, and the UK. The newly established German subsidiary, “Framepool RS GmbH” assumed Framepool’s business operations with all employees and over 95% of the footage portfolio with retrospective effect as of June 1st, 2017.
Both ITN Source and Framepool were significant players in the footage business, and the news of their altered circumstances was a source of concern throughout the global footage community, highlighting the increased competitive pressure brought about in large part by the rise of online marketplaces such as Shutterstock, Pond 5, VideoBlocks and, most recently, Adobe Stock, which has caused many footage companies to lower license fees and rethink their distribution strategies.
And while more industry consolidation is possible if not likely as traditional footage suppliers reckon with these new competitive realities, the realignments of 2017 also created new distribution opportunities for independent footage suppliers, a parallel trend that may continue to play out over the next few years.
The changeover at ITN, for example, freed up two very important archives, ITV and Reuters, both of which made representation deals with smaller independent footage suppliers. ITV struck representation deals with both LOLA Clips and Reelin’ in the Years Productions, and Reuters partnered with Screenocean. These developments are arguably positive for the footage business as a whole, as they empower independent footage houses and enhance the overall diversity of suppliers in the market.
“There’s no doubt that Screenocean has benefitted from ITN’s closing, but we have to work hard to maintain profitability and, at the same time, deliver a quality global service,” said Tony Blake, Screenocean chairman. “Scale is the challenge for the footage industry, we’ve seen a few large aggregators come and go in recent years, demonstrating it’s not just about adding more and more collections. Screenocean has the advantage of being partnered with Imagen, the best media platform developer in the business, add that to our unique offering of independently branded representations, and we offer an unambiguous choice for all our customers.”
Over the summer, ITV struck two representation deals in North America, making LOLA Clips its exclusive footage distributor for the overall ITV Collection in North America, and granting Reelin’ in the Years Productions exclusive representation in North America of ITV’s musical footage holdings.
“ITN Source’s relatively abrupt departure left a lot of opportunity for LOLA and many other independent archives,” said Dominic Dare. “Our existing knowledge of the ITV catalogue, as well our longstanding relationships with the personnel left behind by ITN, were critical factors in landing the ITV representation deal. Our goal now is to ensure that the ITV collection is appreciated for what it is – an outstanding gem.”
"We are honored to be able to exclusively represent ITV's vast music archive here in North America,” said David Peck. “The ITV music footage archive houses thousands of performances spanning six decades including iconic moments, from The Beatles at The Cavern Club in 1962 to the Sex Pistols debut on TV in 1976. Now with ITV's music footage, along with our 20,000 hours of music footage spanning 90 years and 7,000 hours of in-depth interviews with the 20th century’s icons of film and television, politics, comedy, literature, art, science, fashion and sports, Reelin’ In The Years is one of the industry's leading sources for footage of musical artists, entertainers and history makers."
The acquisition of Framepool was a huge step forward for RightSmith, a relative newcomer to the footage industry, which also represents The Amazing Race collection and the NBC Universal collection.
“We’re excited to be growing, expanding accessibility and offering unique collections like Framepool,” said Jackie Mountain, RightSmith president. “We think it is good for the industry and for buyers to have more options as opposed to seeing premium content available from just a few providers.”
Trade Groups and Expos
Change was in progress at the main footage trade organizations throughout 2017, including FOCAL, ACSIL and the stock media expo company Visual Connections, as each group sought to respond to the shifts in the footage industry.
FOCAL Under New Management
2017 was a year of transition at FOCAL with Madeline Bates and Mary Egan joining the company as co-General Managers, bringing their charismatic leadership and wide-ranging experience within the media sector, covering education, production and commercial activities, to ensure FOCAL celebrates and champions the use of archival footage across all forms of creative platforms. Over the last twelve months they have introduced new networking opportunities such as ‘Breakfast with the Archives’, which allows members to showcase their collections and connect with archive researchers, producers and other content-creators. FOCAL also continued to hold the researchers’ educational workshops, the Jane Mercer Memorial Lecture as well as the prestigious FOCAL Awards. Both Madeline and Mary attended various media conference in the UK, North America and Europe to promote the work of FOCAL members, ensured engagement and the support the wider media industry.
2018 will be an exciting year with the FOCAL Awards moving to a new location, The Troxy, a Grad II-listed Art Deco venue in London, together with the launch of the Awards entry database system and online jury portal, which streamlines the submission process. Plans are also afoot to identify better ways to help support new people looking to join the industry as well as how FOCAL can support the professional development of those already working in it. FOCAL is continuing to protect the creative industry through their advocacy work with the UK government in addition to working closely with other global organisation to share ideas and objectives to better support our community.
ACSIL, which held it’s Footage Expo in 2015 and 2016, pushed pause on the event in 2017 and focused on partnerships and panel presentations. “We focused 2017 on a year of partnerships, engaging with other associations to create and moderate panels to discuss the footage industry,” said Ed Whitley, ACSIL president. “2017 was a defining year for ACSIL as it saw the launch of both our new branding and our new website www.acsil.org which has given the association a fresh and contemporary look."
Visual Connections Discontinues
Visual Connections, which has held annual stock media expos for the last decade, announced that “the current owners will not be organizing expos after New York 2017,” and are “seeking a buyer that will want to continue the expo program. They are keen to facilitate a prompt sale to ensure that at least a New York expo takes place in 2018.”
Sadly, 2017 saw the passing of long time archivist and footage savant Stephen Parr of San Francisco-based Oddball Films and the San Francisco Media Archive. A longtime member of the San Francisco avant-garde arts scene, Stephen died on October 24, 2017 at the age of 63. His family and Oddball staff are working together to ensure “a productive future” for both Oddball and the San Francisco Media Archive, and, as of this writing, Oddball continues to operate and fill footage orders. A video of his memorial, held before a standing-room only crowd at San Francisco's Roxie Theater, can be seen here.