Bill Gates' Corbis Acquires Plaid to Bolster Product Placement in Social Media

Expanding Product Placement Group, Branded Entertainment Network

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A product placement Corbis said it arranged in Netflix's 'House of Cards
A product placement Corbis said it arranged in Netflix's 'House of Cards

Corbis, the stock photo and digital content company owned by Bill Gates, has acquired L.A.-based social influencer shop Plaid Social in its latest move to expand product placement and media buying services to social platforms.

"Content licensing is a tough business, so Corbis over the past seven years has actively pivoted toward the future where content becomes a marketing vehicle," said Corbis CEO Gary Shenk. "We're becoming a native advertising company."

Corbis will integrate the five-year-old shop into Branded Entertainment Network, a service the company started last May for advertisers and media buyers looking to do product placement across film, TV, music and digital content.

Plaid's business model connects brands with social and digital influencers. So this latest acquisition adds digital and social influencer channels like YouTube, Vine and Snapchat to the list of platforms available for product integration through BEN, Corbis said.

"A year ago, we were offering placements into traditional platforms, but we didn't have as robust an offering to place brands with the rising digital influencers," Mr. Shenk said. "We acquired Plaid Social so we could bring that into BEN."

The move comes two years after the company shifted from charging agency fees for unlimited product placement services to "unitizing," or charging for specific placements the same way a media agency might buy inventory for a client.

Corbis, long known as the licenser and manager of photos, videos and other images, was founded in 1989 by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and quickly grew into a viable competitor for Getty Images. "More and more, media consumption is moving online, to digital, and we're really just at the beginning of that," Mr. Gates told Ad Age in 2006. The company at that time had bought a software maker whose product helped clients manage their photo usage online.

Over the past few years, Corbis has gotten aggressive on the acquisition front in a bid to bolster its product integration service. Other purchases include: product placement shop Norm Marshall Associates, celebrity photo and video agency Splash News and U.K.-based sports agency WSM.

Plaid Social Labs, which employs 20 staffers, has shown 100% year-over-year growth in revenue almost every year since launching five years ago, according to Mr. Shenk. He declined to disclose financial terms of the acquisition.

Corbis currently places brands into an average of 13 TV shows every night, plus Netflix and other internet properties, said Mr. Shenk.

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