New Business Models in Photography and Video

This topic comes up a lot these days.  But you could apply “new business models” to just about any business – not just photography and video. Photography and video, in and of themselves are not business models at all, but rather they are mediums that are used commercially, non-commercially and personally. The business end of photography and video comes when you determine how you want to apply them in terms of today’s markets.

Today’s markets are global.  That’s good news and bad news, depending on the type of work you do.  If you are a stock photographer or even if you have expanded that into also shooting stock motion footage – your inventory or your content if you will, must be unique in some way in order to sustain that type of business model in our global economy. You will need to stand out if you pursue this type of market.

If you are a commissioned commercial or editorial photographer, cinematographer, or director, the competition is fierce and once again, if you don’t have a unique style or vision, most likely you will end up playing by others’ rules or signing “their” contracts.  It comes down to supply and demand of talent and work, and you either need to compete by price or offer something that you do better than your competition.

The good news is, if you are willing to do the work, the world is your stage.  The portals for distribution of your “content” are open to all and as “creatives” we are no longer dependent on middlemen.  When I get asked to talk about “new business models”, I always look at it as “where are the new opportunities?” – where I will be carving out my own “new business model”, rather than having to adapt to others ideas of what that is.  There is a big difference in those two approaches.

I am carving out a business model for who I am creatively, and where I see the most opportunities for what I do well.  When I am authentic to who I am and apply this to my work, I am able to get the type of work to market and reach the right audience while maintaining ownership and control over the licensing of my work.  I am able to do that not only because technology has enabled me to do that, but more importantly it has created a demand for the type of content that I create.

Think about it.  What are your strengths? What are your passions?  Now imagine a business model based on your answers. The world is our stage.

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Licensing Video?

There are probably people who would argue with me as far as the practice of licensing video being the norm in the world of video production, other than the licensing of stock motion footage. Perhaps that may be true in some business models and certainly true in older business models, but I can tell you that has not been my experience.

I should clarify that I do not position myself as a “hired gun”– meaning a camera operator who turns over their footage at the end of the day. I choose to assume the role of producer and maintain control over my intellectual property or the finished video product. I cannot do this in the traditional motion picture industry but that business model is changing due to technology and the influx of indie filmmakers who are making their own rules and bringing their films to market themselves. And for the most part – I can’t do this in high-end broadcast spots when working with a middleman – or ad agency where ultimately their end customer maintains all rights.

However, the demand for video has skyrocketed in recent years and with that has created a new client base who are using video in new ways and on new platforms. I am establishing my own set of rules accordingly. One of them is licensing the finished product just as I did my still images. I can only do that with video productions that I have produced and hold the copyright to.

Typically, I will separate the licensing of my still images from the video product as well as the creative fees. I may be shooting both mediums on the same job but I handle the licensing differently. I have found that video has a shorter shelf life so I am not as concerned about the duration of the license (length of time) as I am with still imagery. But I am concerned about it’s “reach” which these days is global – thanks to YouTube.

Another thing I do is I make sure that it is stated in my contract and/or estimate that the license for the entire video production does NOT include permissions and/or licenses to any still images that are made from frame grabs pulled out of the video footage. Putting this up front in the estimate has actually proved beneficial because if a client does anticipate the need for still images – they will hire me to create stills – rather than take them from frame grabs.

We are living at a time where just about everyone’s business models are changing. So, if someone tells you that licensing video isn’t the norm – outside of the stock motion footage business – think again. What is the norm these days? It may be the precedent we are setting now.

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Copyright and Video

As still photographers move and expand into video because of the convergence of their tools, they often ask me about copyright, licensing and usage and how to apply that to video.  Essentially they are trying to apply a licensing business model from their still photography and sometimes that doesn’t work in video production.

The biggest distinction between shooting video and shooting still images is that for the most part a video camera operator is just one of the many creative people involved in a video production.  So unless the camera operator is also the producer and in charge of the entire production, including the hiring of the crew, they will be working in a “work for hire” situation.  One video project can’t have every collaborator on a project maintaining ownership of their part of the whole.

Depending on the job and the market you work in will ultimately determine who will maintain ownership, copyright and control.  Generally speaking the end client or video production company holds the copyright to the finished production.  This is why I made a conscious decision when I got into video many years ago, to position myself as a producer and not “just” a content provider. I wanted to maintain creative control and ownership of my projects.

But even in still photography these days, I see more and more “work for hire” contracts, and in market sectors like editorial where that wasn’t the case just five years ago.  Sometimes I feel that in our efforts to protect copyright laws, we end up fighting for that right for big corporate entities that in turn grab those rights from the creators through lopsided contracts.

Something to think about – maybe with new eyes.  Perhaps we need to start thinking of ourselves as “publishers” rather than just content providers.  It’s never been more possible to be a publisher, because distribution has been democratized by the web, giving all of us a pipeline to a global audience.

It’s time to look at our creative businesses with new eyes and not just on the creative part of the process – but the business part as well.  I’d love to hear others’ thoughts and ideas on this topic.

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The Business of Video

The “business” of video encompasses a lot of things –  your marketing strategy, your cost of doing business, your skill set needed to survive in business, your management of employees or outside contractors and paperwork.  For now I’ll speak to paperwork and how critical it is in communicating with clients.

A paperwork trail starts with an estimate for a job and I don’t take the process of estimating lightly.  I try to get as much information that I can when a client comes to me and asks me to bid on a job – or asks me  to provide an estimate for a job I’ve already been hired to do.  I keep a database of past SOW’s (Statement of Work) to use as references. While every job is different, I use these archived SOW’s as a starting point.

In addition to estimating the costs of crew, equipment, location needs, pre-production and post-production, I  clearly state terms as well as a schedule for post-production – including client response time and completion dates.

Terms – Here is where I state rights and  “usage” of the finished product – where will it be used and for how long.  I also spell out payment terms, cancellation fees as well as provide an accurate description of exactly what I’m going to deliver.  For instance:

  • 10-minute video to be delivered on DVD and compressed files for the web.
  • One day shoot on location at………….includes 2 interviews and b-roll
  • Post production – edit will include x amount of still images – sized and digitally provided by client – logos  provided by client– stock photos and/or footage – narrative (voiceover) track and music.
  • Payment – one third upon signed SOW – one third after shoot – and balance due upon delivery of final product.
  • Cancellation terms and fees
  • Change fees
  • How many edit revisions are included and the additional hourly editing costs if more revisions are needed.

Schedule – This is extremely important in video production – a schedule sign off by the client that stipulates delivery dates for each part of the process. The reason this is critical is that if the client delays things on their end – it’s clearly understood that the rest of the schedule gets extended in terms of deadline dates.  Otherwise if your client needs their boss to approve things  and their boss has an unexpected out of town trip come up – thus delaying the process – you won’t be left with half the time you need to deliver the final product.  Example of post production schedule:

  • Aug. 31 –  Script approved by client
  • Sept. 1  –   Casting reel delivered to client
  • Sept. 7  –   Talent decisions made by client
  • Sept. 20  – Shoot date
  • Sept. 25  – Voiceover recorded
  • Sept. 26  – All logos, graphics and still images provided by client
  • Oct. 5 –     Rough Cut delivered to client for review
  • Oct. 12 –   Any edit changes noted by client and communicated to production house.
  • Oct. 19 –   Final cut delivered.

Lastly here’s a link to AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers) with examples of bid forms and contracts that are helpful in terms of bringing to mind all the things that should be covered in your SOW.

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