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October 5, 2022

‘The demand for content has never been greater’: How Shutterstock teamed up with celebs to compete with social media

By Charlotte Tobitt

Demand for content from publishers “has never been greater and continues to grow” according to the VP of editorial at photo agency Shutterstock.

Candice Murray said this was why photo and video agencies like hers have been able to keep going despite the rise in social media that has killed some in the industry – for example UK-based celebrity news agency World Entertainment News Network earlier this year.

Asked if demand was still high despite the fact publishers are now able to take photos directly from social media or other sources more easily, Murray told Press Gazette: “Without a doubt. Absolutely. It’s an interesting thing, because newsrooms themselves are not getting any bigger. In some cases, they’re actually getting smaller. But man, the demand for content has never been greater and continues to grow.”

Using herself as an example, Murray said she checks social media several times a day and goes to Mail Online, the New York Times, The Guardian and The Telegraph – expecting “something new every time as a person I go”.

“So think about that now and put that into perspective as it relates to a business like ours,” she added. “The demand for content has never been greater. And we are 1,000% committed to just continuing to create more and more of it yet providing that wide edit, as well as curated sets, to be what we like to call an extension of our customers’ newsroom. Use us – you’re the brilliant storytellers, write your story, let us supplement that with amazing content.”

In May, Shutterstock bought celebrity and entertainment photo and video agency Splash News. It has since rebranded The Newsroom, its breaking and trending news division with content from thousands of photographers, to Splash to make use of the legacy, industry-respected name.

Splash is now Shutterstock’s home for what it calls its candid celebrity content – Murray said paparazzi is an “icky word” and they instead take an “elevated approach to capturing celebrities, for the most part out and about but not at their homes and not on private property. Not hiding in the bushes. That’s not who I want us to be and that’s not the approach that we’re taking.”

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Partners, not opposition, to celebrities

Shutterstock has rolled out new content standards and code of conduct for its Splash photographers to ensure they are “aligned with how we operate at Shutterstock while also keeping that brand alive which truly is a legacy brand in this space”.  Murray said there had not been an issue around the behaviour of any photographers, but they wanted to make sure the old and new parts of the business were “mindful of the right to privacy for celebrities and talent out and about” in the same way.

It comes as agencies such as Splash work closely with celebrities in an increasing number of ways – for example, photographer Miles Diggs aka Diggzy, who signed an exclusive deal with Shutterstock last year, staged paparazzi-style photos with the singer Rihanna to show her pregnancy bump for the first time. The pair are said to have a close relationship. Shutterstock also has an exclusive partnership with Paris Hilton.

Murray said: “We support our photographers in any way in that space, mainly because it shows, once again, we’re going to elevate this brand. We’re going to do this in the right way and more importantly when there’s a relationship with talent, we allow them to control the narrative… We do go so far as even allowing approvals on some of the photos we take before we just send them out there.

“I think it’s important that this business becomes more of a partner with celebrities as opposed to – enemy is a little dramatic, but as opposed to, you know, the opposition.”

This can help the agency tackle the problem of competition from social media, for example by asking the celebrity not to post any photos, or post only one of a set, in the first 24 hours after they go live.

Murray said: “It doesn’t always happen that way, a lot of celebrities like to post and that’s fine, I don’t think that’s ever going to change. It also sometimes depends on the story – if it’s a story that they want far and wide they’ll tend to partner with us whereas if it’s, you know, ‘on a hot date with my spouse or partner’, if they want to post that’s fine.

“We’ll never get celebrities off social. I am 100% sure of that, which is fine.”

But, she said, they tend to like the opportunity to shape the narrative rather than just letting their pictures be taken from their social media pages without the full context. “When we work with them and we have shots of them, we’ll also convey the message, the narrative that they would like to be told around a set of photos.”

‘Keep the Queen stuff coming’

Meanwhile the core Shutterstock editorial division, a live feed of content including red carpet events, sports events and hard news plus millions of archive images and videos, had a big role to play following the death of the Queen – which Murray said was a good example of how it partners with customers around the world.

Speaking on the Monday after the monarch’s death, Murray said: “Publishers have said ‘don’t send us anything that’s not Queen related, but keep the Queen stuff coming’.”

Shutterstock Queen homepage

Shutterstock homepage dedicated to the Queen following her death

Murray cited Getty, Reuters, PA, AFP and AP as their main competitors for attention both ordinarily and during the royal story. What helped Shutterstock stand out, she said, was “sending very thoughtful curations on a regular basis to our customers inboxes from individuals – not from Shutterstock but from the actual people that they can reply to”.

She added: “I’d like to believe, and actually we know from our clients, that this high touch level of service, this white glove service that we provide on a breaking story – it’s super easy to just hit ‘go’ on your FTP feed but it does take time and actual humans to provide the level of service we believe a story like this warrants.”

Shutterstock, which has bases in London, New York and LA, is expecting revenue of between $835m to $850m in 2022, which would mean year-on-year growth of 8% to 10%. Adjusted earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation are expected to be between $210m and $217m.

Subscriber revenue grew by 10% year-on-year in the six months to 30 June, reaching $170.1m. This excludes subscriber revenue from Splash and other new acquisitions image editor PicMonkey and stock media site Pond5.

Picture: Shutterstock

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