RedShark talks to Joel Holland, CEO of VideoBlocks - one of the most innovative suppliers of stock footage. He talks about 4K and the future for stock video
RedShark: Let's start by establishing the reasons why stock footage exists. Most video professionals are creative people. Can you explain why they might want to use someone else's material (ie stock footage)?
Joel: Our mission at video blocks is to help people everywhere unlock more of their creative potential. For hobbyists, we want to help them get over the hump to go out and shoot, edit and share their first piece of footage. For professionals, our hope is that our library enables them to get out of the tedium and focus on the bigger creative concepts. The reality is none of us have enough time in our days, so reaching your creative potential is all about how you spend your time. You could design every element from scratch, but we think if you allow Video Blocks to handle the basic elements for you it will free you up to focus on the “bigger” elements associated with a project. Maybe you try incorporating a more time consuming editing technique, or you spend that extra half day capturing some more truly unique footage. We believe the net effect will be a positive for both you and your clients.
How did VideoBlocks start? It must be hard to start a library service at first, when you only have a small amount of material.
You know it is funny - in some ways it has always been pretty clear what we needed to add to the library because from the very beginning we have sourced our material based on the needs of our customers.
Early on I was shooting most of the footage, and I would basically shoot a city, sell the footage, and use the proceeds to shoot the next city. To figure out which city to shoot next I would actually post three different sets of “clips” on eBay - say Las Vegas, Orlando and San Francisco. Whichever one sold first, I would go shoot. I would always refund the buyers money and give them the footage for free, so they were always happy. And I had great market research that led to stronger sales.
That same philosophy exists today where, for example, we mine our search data to see what types of clips people want but are not finding in our library. That’s one of the main ways we determine what content to add each month.
What stages did VideoBlocks have to go through to get to the size it is now?
We have definitely been through a few! As I mentioned, it started off with me running the business on my own, shooting one city at a time. I took a few years off after that while I went to college, and decided to pursue the business full time after. So we ran it with a small team for several years before deciding to raise money in 2012. Last year was a really transformative year in that we doubled the team and the business, and launched our second product - GraphicStock.com. We have even bigger plans ahead for this year, with a couple new projects in the pipeline.
Can you describe a typical contributor?
Sure. They really tend to cut across a pretty wide profile. We have some contributors who send us large, focused collections - say around reenactments or roller coasters - that they have shot over time. Others contribute 10-20 new clips on an ongoing basis each month. Our team also still shoots a lot of footage. We have some amazing equipment in house, and right now we’re in the process of amassing the largest 4K library of cityscapes that is available. People fly out on the weekends and do whirlwind shoots of different cities around the world, which we then roll into our ongoing library.
We are also spending more time and effort commissioning flagship shoots - sort of like what Netflix has done with House of Cards and their other original series. We recently worked with a videographer on a 4K aerial shoot of San Diego that produced some of the most outstanding footage in our entire library.
What are your quality criteria for submitted material?
We try to have higher standards than a lot of the material you would find in a marketplace. Our goal is not to have the biggest library on earth, rather we want to help sort out a lot of the noise that you find on marketplaces and focus on the 20% of the content that drives 80% of the downloads. As a result we tend to only source material that has a professional quality to it.
What about 4K and beyond?
Right now we have the most downloaded 4K library on the web, and we have every intention on building on our market leading position in 2014. We think that 4K TVs and other hardware is going to break out this holiday season as costs come down, and we plan on planting our flag firmly as the definitive place to go for 4K and Ultra HD stock footage.
How can contributors earn money from stock footage via VideoBlocks?
We are a little different in that we pay our creators up front in a single lump sum. A lot of our contributors love that this provides some balance to the drip of commissions that can come in from marketplaces, where they only receive payment when their footage sells. We always negotiate non-exclusive licenses with our contributors so that they can still go out and use all of their existing channels.
What's your business model as far as customers are concerned?
We offer unlimited downloads from our library of over 115,000 clips, motion backgrounds, After Effects templates and more on monthly, semi-annual and annual plans. Going back to how we think about our library - we want to have the 20% of the content that drives 80% of the downloads, and then offer it at a no-brainer price so that we become a part of every single hobbyist’s and professional’s toolkit. We think this approach gives us unparalleled value within the industry, especially when you look at it on a cost-per-download basis. Most of our customer effectively pay less than a dollar per download, whereas a single clip can go for hundreds or thousands of dollars on marketplaces.
You don't just deal in stock footage, do you?
We don’t. We have a growing library of After Effects templates - which are regularly one of our most popular categories - motion backgrounds, super slow motion, production music and more. We actually just had one of our slo mo clips featured on Parks & Recreation, a popular TV show here in the States.
Do you have any plans to move into other areas like 3D CG models and textures?
We are really open to pursuing any type of content that our customers really valued.
Where is VideoBlocks going to be in five years time?
We think that with smartphones, all of which come equipped with an HD video camera, reaching ubiquity - 1 billion will be sold worldwide this year - and video editing suites like Creative Cloud getting easier to use and less expensive, that we are at the beginning of time when individual creativity explodes. The internet has given us access to communities that can teach us new skills, and outlets where we can solicit feedback and share our creations. When I look into the future, I see VideoBlocks right in the middle of all those really exciting trends. If we’ve been successful, it won’t just be video professionals, but everyday people and amateur enthusiasts all over the world who love our products.