The archive industry is adapting to meet an ever growing demand for video content, both in the UK and around the world. Pippa Considine reports on the very modern business of selling archive

Archive might be all about historical footage, but the business of selling footage is firmly in the moment. Libraries are now fully searchable online, while their footage is being remastered for 4K delivery and reworked to reach new audiences. The business is also embracing crowd-sourcing, shout-outs and random uploads.

Archive managers in the UK report increased international business, catalysed by online access. There’s continued demand for archive from theatrical documentary releases and a knock on effect from the new digital platforms such as Netflix and Amazon investing in high quality docs. Plus there’s renewed interest in archive from big factual channels, like History and National Geographic, which are moving back towards their roots.

Archive giants
As well as all these changes, there has been a spate of consolidation in the industry. Getty Images, the world’s largest video library, last year announced a deal to distribute the library of its chief rival Corbis, as well as a similar multi-year partnership with ITN. Getty has already been licencing BBC footage for the last three years.

There is, of course, compelling logic in creating big, searchable one-stop-shop collections. Getty is not alone; there are other players, notably US based giants that have added stock footage to their tech businesses, such as Pond 5 and Wazee Digital.

But the recent consolidation in the UK has caused concern among producers and archivists. “It’s a bad thing because you lose the specialists who know and love the archive,” says one documentary producer. One archivist questions how Getty decides which archive to sell to a client where two or more of the collections they represent have similar footage.

Getty is committed to keeping high levels of service. “We are certainly known to be a trusted partner and one of our main goals is to make everything go as smoothly and successfully as possible,” says Lee Shoulders, the director of video content development. She pinpoints strategies to achieve this, which include fostering people with institutional memory.

The joy of independents
There are plenty of independent archives remaining. The same reasons that might be driving consolidation seem to be also driving independence: “I believe the new technology makes it very easy for people to view everything online and they’re an email click away from head office,” says Alastair White, the general manager at British Pathe. He doesn’t need a rep in the States if customers can search and email directly and has seen significant growth in transatlantic trade since ending a US agency relationship last year. “What researchers want is to speak to people who really know the content,” he adds.

“We’re fiercely independent,” says Amanda Huntley, director of the Huntley Film Archives. “We know that our customers value the fact that we have this independence – it allows us to be flexible, move quickly and get really involved in their project on a granular level.” The archive, which focuses on social history both in the UK and around the world, has benefitted from the trend for theatrical docs; its footage appears in the new release from directors Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbuhl, Letters from Bagdhad. And it has seen increased international demand, particularly from countries with little in the way of their own archive, such as Brazil, Indonesia and the Middle East.

At Getty, Lee Shoulders describes the archive as “pretty immense” and always acquiring new footage, including a recent acquisition of Beatles footage shot in 1964 and new films shot in VR. “We do constantly have to be aware and track the trends,” says Shoulders. The bigger trend, she notes, is the democratisation of content, with more publishers and brands everywhere wanting moving footage. “Everyone is looking to engage their audience with video”.

Chair of archive trade body, Focal, Sue Malden takes up Shoulders’ point, but adds a warning note. “The implication of this is that it’s a growing market, but the problem is that if people coming into that market are not necessarily producing for traditional broadcasters, then more content isn’t getting cleared or showed at the best possible quality.”

While there are strict standards for shows such as Wall to Wall’s Further Back in Time for Dinner, which used Bridgeman Images footage, the use of archive isn’t always well policed. “The industry is changing and young people coming through now need to be trained to understand that that you can’t just take something off YouTube and put it in a programme,” says Bridgeman account manager Beatrice Okoro.

Many archives now make their stock available low res and watermarked, which productions can use in an offline edit. While this is a help, it can be frustrating when productions come to the online edit and libraries can’t find original footage or their minimum charges makes it prohibitively expensive. True Vision’s recent film Hunting the KGB Killers lined up various pieces of archive, only to find that while much of it could be licensed within budget, some footage was out of reach. There were clips where owners refused permission for political reasons. Other fleeting shots could be replaced by creating original footage, using archive stills and True Vision’s own archive.

Producer libraries
Producers are aware that while mining their past footage for current commissions, they could also be selling it on. “It’s one of the things in a production company you know you should do – we have amazing footage. It’s all about time, resource and energy,” says Woodcut Media ceo Kate Beal.

Lola Clips is one archive keen to talk to indies about taking on their content. (see box, overleaf).  The archive, which launched in the US and the UK in 2015, is one of a new wave of libraries that have started up in recent years. Alongside big new platforms, it’s one of the niftier players, looking to take a different approach.

Big players like Wazee Digital and Pond 5 have grown from a technology base, using the platforms that they built to establish highly searchable archives.  Pond 5 boasts over 1m 4K clips in its vast database and draws customers in with its royalty free footage, while Wazee represents a raft of famous archives, including ABC, CBS News and Sony Pictures. 

In the UK, Newsflare, which launched in 2013, specialises in UGC clips. It has an active following of amateur contributors and sells to over 40 territories. Woodcut Media made use of Newsflare for its clip show Animal Antics for C5. The platform advertises to its community of contributors for specific subjects and gathers in the clips. “Clip shows are evergreen and the user generated element has given them extra buoyancy in recent years,” says Beal.

UGC is at the heart of indie 7 Wonder’s shows for the BBC, The People’s History of Pop and The People’s History of LGBTQ. The production team went one step further and created their own archive, as well as using footage from various collections. Both productions worked with crowdsourcing partner Historypin to create a website where people could upload stills, footage and general memorabilia.

Anniversary demand

All archives, big and small, are subject to the variations in demand for subjects according to anniversaries and world events. For example, there’s been big demand for First World War footage.

The team at NBC News Archives in New York has seen renewed interest in political docs with the election of President Trump. “For us, it’s a great fit as NBC News and MSNBC cover politics extensively and the archive goes back for 70 years,” says Clara Fon-Sing, Vice President for Archives Sales & Strategy. There’s also been a run of big archive series in the US, following on from Nutopia’s archive-based shows, including The 80s: The Decade that Made Us for National Geographic. CNN is currently airing eight parter, Sound Tracks, using archives to tell the stories of songs that defined history.

The impact of VOD and OTT services has also been positive for archives in the US. “OTT is like what cable TV was to our business in the 90s,” remarks Fon-Sing. “Streaming video providers are investing in original productions and true crime has been at the top of their lists. We have extensive content, enough for producers to supply several episodes on the same murder case, with local and national coverage and interviews with different sources,” she adds.

Naturally, there’s also demand around anniversaries. This year there’s the 25th anniversary of the LA Riots, the 20th of Princess Diana’s death, plus a number of upcoming 50th anniversaries in the US in 2018 such as civil rights, MLK’s assassination and the Vietnam War. Ken Burns has been working with NBC News Archives for six years on his highly anticipated 10-episode, 18-hour PBS series, The Vietnam War. “I’ve seen a lot of our Vietnam footage many times,” mentions Fon-Sing, “but watching it reused, digitally remastered and with enhanced sound, is a true immersive experience. It’s almost as if you were there on the battleground. New generations of viewers will see this war in a whole new way.”

Restoring and enhancing archive to conform to the high resolution now demanded by broadcasters is changing the game and forcing producers and archives to go back to original footage to remaster. “We are seeing content that we have previously telecined to SD then again to HD coming around again as people now want 2K or 4K scans,” says Matt Wills, the commercial director at restoration specialist R3:Store.

Arrow Films’ America in Color for Smithsonian is a big budget, five-part series which is entirely archive; each frame has been colorised to give a new look to the original footage from the 1920s through to the 1960s. “We wanted to turn old black and white archive into something fresh and different,” says Nick Metcalfe, exec producer for Arrow. “There is real resistance to seeing something in black and white and people often want their stories told in the present tense. Our colourising is an attempt to turn archive into something that is more present tense.”

Even if it’s not 100 per cent archive with bells on, the demand for binge-watchable series is one of the several drivers in the renewed demand for archive. Across genres, archive can have a place; Alastair White at British Pathe points to the use of the archive’s footage in Netflix drama The Crown. The increase in international business and archive for shows that want worldwide rights is also healthy for archives. British Pathe saw growth up 25% this time last year and White reports that business is still growing: “Basically speaking there are more customers buying more stuff and clearing more rights.”

How indies exploit their archive
The opportunity for indies to sell clips as secondary rights has been around since the change in Terms of Trade in 2004. But for many it seems like a lot of hard work for little reward.

There are now several archive platforms keen to take on footage from indies and to help them through the process of editing and logging material with the promise of decent ROI.

Screenocean doesn’t just represent big collections from Reuters, C4 and C5; its collection of almost 1m clips includes footage from indies such as Twenty Twenty, Wall to Wall and Yalli. It works with producers to manage, deliver and monetise their footage.

Lola Clips, co-founded by Sandra Coelho and Dominic Dare, is another that’s interested in representing footage from indies.

“Indies just don’t have the time, but they all know that it’s something they should be doing,” says Coelho. “So we can come in and take it off their hands.” For example, Lola worked with SDMC Productions, going through their catalogue to identify saleable footage. Once selected, the material was broken down into three-minute segments, identified by key words for tagging and Lola then curated it before it was uploaded onto its online platform.

Pippa Considine

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