From library to contextual media; Thought Equity Motion

This company has embarked on a path to re-invent itself and move from being a library to, what they call, the ‘holy grail’ of contextual Media; delivering contextual content around live events in a fully automated fashion.

Thought Equity Motion describes itself as the world’s largest supplier of online motion content, delivering video in a wide range of ways, and leading the next stage development of the Contextual Media space. I spoke to Dan Weiner, VP of marketing and products. He paints a picture of a company that is continuing to innovate and works hard to drive new ways for video to be viewed and monetized online.

But first things first, I called him as a result of the company’s new relationship with BBC Motion Gallery. With this strategic relationship Thought Equity Motion will sell BBC Motion Gallery content in North America, Asia and Australasia, while the BBC Motion Gallery will sell certain Thought Equity Motion content in the UK, Europe, Middle East and Africa. It also means that the BBC Motion Gallery will start using Thought Equity Motion’s advanced technology platform. As this platform was called “World class” in the press release I asked Dan what’s special about this solution?

Thought Equity Motion brings together the aggregation of great content libraries and an advanced technology platform which was built as a customized, end-to-end solution for managing video, from ingestion through to storage, access and delivery.

The system can ingest virtually any analog or digital format. Once digitized, there’s the core storage and asset management, which is a multi-petabyte database with enterprise class infrastructure and redundancy that supports security and preservation. We store the content in long form formats and master quality, not just the clips, in order to enable many uses.

This supports the power of the next stage, which is the ability to access the video with powerful search and filtering tools, including keyword and related topic searches. Having the metadata around the content is key and includes sources like transcripts from a broadcast to tagging done by our own keyworders to phonetic engines and speech-to-text.

 The final part is a powerful delivery engine. When producers search our site and find their clisp, they can download a comp immediately.  The site is also e-commerce ready so when they are ready to buy they can do so directly and have their content delivered directly online in virtually any transcode or format.

 The platform also enables us to deliver the content in automated, high volume ways to partners and websites through APIs. For an article that around a certain topic, our platform can respond to those keywords and deliver related video automatically. We see this “Contextual Media” model as a key capability in the industry going forward.

 When the company started, what came first; the technology or the idea of aggregating and selling content?

Strategically they were paired in the beginning. The foundation was the technology because it allowed us to work with partners like National Geographic, Paramount, Sony and the NCAA  and add value for them. We help them by both preserving their content and helping them monetize it..

How many other companies are powering their content through your technology like the BBC is doing now?

 There are a few others, including Corbis, National Geographic, and HBO Archives.

With the content and the technology element in place what would you say are some of the next opportunities for Thought Equity Motion now?

Virtually any publisher is now a digital publisher and dealing with video, given the need for an online presence and the reality of screens everywhere including health clubs, the back of taxis, on billboards, on store kiosks, etc. While some companies leverage us for digitization, asset management and archiving our core mission is really around monetization and rights development. This means taking motion content and enabling it for a range of applications.

It’s also about building on footage as cost displacement (“I don’t have to shoot it myself”) to value creation. To scale this and do this in an automated way our platform is a key differentiator. For the Contextual Media side , having keywords, filters and a curated content structure enables us to quickly deliver relevant content against topics.    

Our tools and content support clients such as advertising agencies, documentary filmmakers and TV production companies and now the explosion of video across every medium has created new monetization opportunities. In the advertising space engagement is critical to sponsorships and video-based ads are the ones that, even in tough markets, still sell out and get premium CPMs.

Before we dive into your future plans let’s cover some of the basics of your current business. How does your licensing model work exactly. Is it similar to stock photography?

Yes, the models are similar. The licensing is based on the type of rights, the quality, and how the content is being used. A key differentiator for Thought Equity Motion is quality. We’ve got different levels, from HD to mid-level resolutions to the microstock world where folks are just using it on a blog, website or in a corporate presentation. Everything from tens of thousands of dollars for exclusive clips of a famous sporting event all the way down to the $49 RF clip at a low resolution for download.

One of the strengths of our platform is its ability to manage all these complex pricing models and deliver content against them.

Getty Images has recently reduced their price for low res images to $5- in a move to serve the growing amount of blogs. Do you see a downward pressure on price as well?

Different types of content are experiencing different pricing effects. For licensing exclusive content from major sporting events there are increasing price levels while some more generic and low resolution content is feeling downward pressure.

Do you think it’s going to go lower than $49,-?

It’s hard to say. As you noted, there are lower price points emerging for some generic content. The differentiation starts to be in the concept of the “content around the content” and the delivery mechanism. We think to deliver this in an automated way and contextually, with the right metadata is where some of the value will be created.

Let’s combine two things here. First of all there is an explosion of video being watched online on sites like YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu etc. Secondly, with that comes a lot of piracy. Let’s start with the last piece. How do you deal with unlicensed content online?

The unlicensed content is an interesting question and it’s something that all rights holders have to deal with  Trying to take down every unlicensed piece of content is difficult because it will simply be reuploaded by someone else. There may be new models where a smaller website or blog who doesn’t have a huge licensing budget can be offered an alternative to grabbing a clip illegally from YouTube through a lower resolution or embedded video license. This could create an intermediate level between the large publishers and smaller sites using video online. Syndication and embed codes from our platform can support this kind of model.

Another opportunity is to use sites like YouTube to develop new marketing and cross-selling opportunities. We can look at what people are looking for to inform our products and upsell consumers to higher resolution versions when they need them.

Is there anything like Picscout or ImageRights where you can track the web for unlicensed usages?

Yes, there are audio and video fingerprinting technologies that we use when we ingest the content and there are companies that can then find this on the web. YouTube itself has a program called content ID, which let’s owners identify their own video. and monetize it, even when uploaded by others.

It looks like in the future there will be a double edged sword where on the one hand you try to make it easier for clients to license video while chasing infringement as and when it occurs?

Yes, it’s necessary to chase some infringers, but not take too narrow an approach and declare that there is just one licensing model and pretend everything else does not exist. We can try to be flexible to work with some of the behaviours that are out there while focusing on the context and the packaging.

I was in the music industry in the period when Napster hit and I saw the painful process that took place in the last 8-10 years. Right now there is a technical and a generational shift. The traditional stock footage buyer in a video production house is being joined by the 26 year old designer at a web/interactive group who starts by searching on YouTube and might grab a clip from here and there. It’s important to be able to work in that new media world.

What about taking stills from video’s do you have any plans to do this now that the latest technology allows this?

 Our core focus is motion content so we’re not spending a lot of time looking at the stills side. But yes, from a technical perspective we see people are starting to use stills out of video

You also do rights clearances and mention you do this for photography as well. Is this a standalone service like Green light at Corbis for example?

Thought Equity Motion does have expertise in rights and clearances and we manage this as a part of our core business today. There are situations where footage requires additional clearances, for example, with athletes in sports videos or talent in news, and we are able to provide our clients with an integrated solution by taking care of video and clearances.

Is your client base shifting from ‘traditional’ to online?

We see some of our “traditional” clients doing more with digital and we also see strong growth in new uses of video online. With people very conscious of production budgets, they are increasing their use of footage to save shooting costs. With our scale and having aggregated the world’s largest content library, we have theability to get a greater share of the activity and be a one-stop shop.

All media companies are becoming online publishers and all online publishers are building out video as a key content type. This includes traditional website publishers, sports leagues, TV networks, educational companies, and corporations. While video commands the highest CPMs and advertising demand, further scale and efficiency is required to make the economics of video work and enable the business to scale.

On the sourcing side, are you seeing anything resembling user generated content playing a role in your offering?

User generated content is certainly a developing area, with both quantity and quality increasing. Some players are using communities to source this content and it’s an interesting area for certain generic footage. For us, however, it’s not a core part of our business given how we are using video to support high quality production and create value for publishers. We do work with a wide range of independent filmmakers and producers and the quality of what even a small scale filmmaker can create is increasing all the time.

What about this concept of value creation? You mentioned it a number of times; creating stories around stories. Getty Images acquiring Daylife is an example of this change. Do you see Thought Equity Motion changing in this direction as well? It certainly seems front of mind for you.

Yes, we see the use of video to support value creation as a natural evolution of the content collection we’ve developed and the technology platform we’ve built. The term we’re using to describe this offering is Contextual Media and there are several interesting ways in which this model can work. One is event driven. For example, every Spring is “March Madness,” the US Men’s College Basketball tournament. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on sponsorships and billions on the TV rights for an event that lasts two weeks.

Additional value can be delivered against this investment by using the NCAA’s video archive  to extend the event experience. Interest builds up before the event and reaches its peak right before it starts. Developing what we call a “build up” package can engage with this fan experience for the months before the event with fans researching their favourite teams and preparing for their office pools. In the past there might have been just a few video highlight clips on sports sites, but now there’s a much more involved experience where you can search for your team, players, and access clips and highlights tied to stats, key moments, or even social commenting. This can be done in an an automated way or through providing editors with a a more robust toolkit for finding and publishing video.

Instead of trying to have people watch an entire two hour game, we create many hooks and jump-in points that are more aligned with typical web behaviour. An example is to see the game timeline and being able to hop in-and out of it, or send a link to a particular moment to a friend..

Another side of this Contextual Media is being able to build video around a story and provide context. What companies like Inform and Daylife are doing is using text to provide related links. There is virtually no one who can do this today with video given the greater complexities involved. Some video search engines provide related video results, but they are links to other videos on the web that take the consumer off the original site. Thought Equity Motion has both the critical mass of content to serve contextually relevant video and the automated ability to deliver syndicated content and embed codes at scale. This creates multiple value creation opportunities (longer page views, higher CPMs, ad revenue, etc.). For example, if a news site has a story about yesterday’s Hurricane, we can serve up video about the last time a hurricane hit 10 years ago, the planning that went into building the levees, an interview with a government official about disaster planning.

 How much would Thought Equity have to do to the technology and the business model to enable the Conceptual Media concept?

We feel our investment in technology and content over the last few years has prepared us to be able to deliver these kinds Contextual Media offerings. Of course there is some additional development and content preparation work to be done for certain models, but the platform is ready. We’re seeing an interest in the marketplace from publishers for these kinds of services and we look forward to rolling them out.

The battle over breaking news on the web is resolved for the most part, with the top sites and wire services delivering breaking video in around seven minutes. We see the next frontier as the “speed to context” in which we move from taking 1-2 days to develop context and background around a store to a matter of hours. This will drive great experiences for consumers, extend the lifetime of a story, and lead to new value creation opportunities for publishers.

The “Holy Grail” for this, which is still a few years off, is the notion of an “instant documentary” that is dynamically published alongside an event virtually in real time. For example, when watching a golfer putting on the 16th hole of a major tournament, viewers could see his performance on that hole the previous year and clips of how four other great players played it.

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses