Let's first dispense with the online myths. At this point, the Internet stays pretty still. "Online is not ready for prime time," says Patrick Montgomery, president at Archive Films. Although new media now comprises about 20 percent of Archive's business, less than 1 percent involves material slated for online use. The reason is simple: few people have enough bandwidth to handle the size of the files. Regular telephone lines simply won't do. "Most people are accessing the Internet through a 14.4 bps modem, and that's if they're lucky," he says. One can download QuickTime movies through Compuserve, he explains, but it takes half an hour to download a 30-second clip, and then what you get is a 1 by 1-inch square in which images move at a Chaplinesque speed of 15 frames per second. "It's a curiosity," says Montgomery. Even Archive's home page, which contains 10 sample clips, is very primitive unless one has high-speed access, he adds. Thus is laid to rest one question deep in the minds of those who license electronic image rights, as opposed to electronic text rights; right now, nothing is worth stealing.
Nor are stock footage companies yet making use of electronic delivery systems. As Rob Sherman, VP-new media at Energy Productions, puts it, "It's hard to compete with dropping a tape in a FedEx pack." Yet new media still foster what many say is an exciting, albeit experimental, time in the image business. "It's as if the entire industry woke up one morning to a mass media communication channel we don't know enough about," Sherman says. "I don't think any of us are in the lead, but we're exploring all the time."
Jan Ross, Energy president, says new media constitute a "healthy, growing market" that now represents about 15 to 18 percent of Energy's transactions, but, because fees tend to be lower, only about 10 percent of revenues. Within the next three years, she and Sherman predict, it could level off at about a quarter of Energy's business. In the meantime, the company is involved in several trailblazing endeavors. It is part of the Sprint/Drums network, a high-speed closed network designed to serve the advertising and production business on a trial basis. Energy has supplied some 20,000 film clips to the network; agencies such as J. Walter Thompson, Grey and FCB, as well as production companies like Sandbank Films and Good Pictures, can use the clips for storyboards. Ross predicts working in this way will change the creative community's expectations. "When they get an idea, they'll be able to look at the images themselves, and actually brainstorm online. They can drag and drop just what they're interested in."
The method has worked well for Paramount Pictures, which did its own browsing recently for shots of a dawn scene over New York City, and thus streamlined a process that normally lasts a couple of days. "Our first communication with them was their final order," Sherman says. "What was so exciting to them was the ability to react to different colors, lines and textures of a shot immediately and visually. They got to where they wanted to be in five minutes."
If no high-speed lines-the DS-3, or digital version of a T-3 line, transmits 45 megabytes a second and is optimal-are available, however, it makes no sense to bypass the traditional search service provided by the stock companies, says Steve
Garson, president at Fabulous Footage. "My clients answer unanimously that their producers' time is too valuable," he says. And most don't want to pay the additional high-speed line expense anyway. It is the CD-ROM business that benefits him, and others, most in the new-media area, although he has no illusions that it will steal significant share from the traditional advertising and corporate base. Fabulous Footage has contributed to Microsoft's Encarta encyclopedia, for example, as well as to Peterson's Field Guide to Birds. Energy Productions has created a catalogue of images, on a dozen or more CDs, for Avid Technologies to provide creative people with "a visual vocabulary at their fingertips," says Sherman. Advertising opportunities-lifestyle footage of vacations for a bank's kiosk advertising, for instance- have been more limited. The real potential is among game developers, Garson says. "They do a lot of artistic rendering that could be replaced with footage. A computer designer may do a week's worth of work on a scene, when it would be dramatically cheaper to use footage. But most developers aren't onto this yet." It's a new market for stock companies, he says, and one that is difficult to reach.
And that isn't the only obstacle, says Montgomery, who agrees that any products with dramatic structures-interactive movies, for example-could benefit from footage. "There are a lot of technical problems in the CD-ROM world," he explains. "They have no real standards of video compression and playback, and people trying to access video have a frustrating time. It hasn't found its way to mass market." That should change soon, once the MPEG-1 compression standard is adopted, he predicts. This past holiday season was the first time PCs were shipped with resident MPEG chips; perhaps two years from now they will be standard on all PCs. In the meantime, the market continues to evolve, not always painlessly. "When CD-ROMs became a serious product, everybody opened up CD-ROM companies in their garages," says Montgomery. "But they had no distribution systems, and only a few blockbusters got into the stores. Now we're more cautious."
Rick Wysocki, VP-new media development at Image Bank, calls it a market in the middle of trying to define itself. He is convinced the appetite for motion will be voracious, but at this point, how and where it will be delivered is a huge question. "We don't know," he says. "Whether it exists on a huge server in Bill Gates' cellar or whatever, people will become very dependent on new media for entertainment, information, learning, and dealing with their lives. And it's happening a lot faster than anybody dreamed." Like its competitors, Image Bank is experimenting with new media in various ways. It sees itself as a content provider in the image business, which means that the distinction between still and moving images is blurring. A number of still photographers are now providing film, for example, and pricing that used to be determined by the second or by the foot is now determined by the image. Package deals are common and often include both still and moving images, adds Jennifer Schick, New York film sales manager. The clientele is changing, too. Instead of working with art buyers and television producers, image companies are now working with computer experts and designers, many of whom are still learning the lingo. They sometimes have naive expectations about formats (they figure everything is already digitized), scheduling and turnaround time, and they're just beginning to understand the costs involved. "They want 35mm original quality, they want it now, they want it yesterday," Schick says. "Everyone is going through an education process."
More than ever, image companies see themselves as partners-creative resources rather than suppliers. Schick cites Image Bank's experience with Simon & Schuster/Prentice-Hall; in a recent project involving a CD-ROM teaching aid for grades 6 through 12, Image Bank trained 20 different writing editors to select images and write their lessons around them. They licensed some 200 moving images-a New York City traffic jam, for example-to illustrate rules of grammar and to spur creative writing efforts.
Image Bank also has been instrumental in the Full Service Network, an Orlando television test. It helped Bozell create a 3-D Chrysler storefront that viewers could negotiate via their remote controls, and it provided the movement behind a commemorative stamp for the U.S. Postal Service. Internally, Image Bank is working to digitize its material-a monumental task, says Wysocki. "It may end up being like the computer business, which started out with a mainframe, went to the PC, and now looks like it's goingto the mainframe model again. We're working to create systems that add tools so a customer can use technology to get technology out of the way."
Eventually, Web sites will have moving logos and title screens, much like television does today. But it will take yet more new technology-cable modems, for example-before the bells and whistles will be accessible to most consumers. When that time finally arrives, maybe in three years, or perhaps five, the image companies aim to be ready. For now, they wait. As Archive's Montgomery puts it: "The frustrating part is separating the reality from the hype. We just try to