Getty Images (NYSE: GYI) is a lot of things. Right now, they are on the chopping block, having just left the auction block, with, as the AP reports (Regulators OK Getty Images' $2.1B Buyout, 3/18/08), "Antitrust regulators have cleared private equity firm Hellman & Friedman LLC's $2.1 billion purchase of Getty Images Inc., a federal agency said Tuesday."
The company that has acquired them, Hellman & Friedman, is known for stripping down the company to increase margins on the profitable divisions, and killing off those that are not, and then dumping it - yes, for a profit. They don't do this for all their aquisitions, of course. But, they are not likely to remain in the photography business as a purveyor of images. So, what's going to go?
1) The Getty wire service is the least profitable division, and I think that, without much of the re-sales that they get, that figure might even be worse. It takes a great deal of staffing and often a shot-in-the-dark mentality when assigning coverage. In DC for example, there are many many events, and it's very had to know just what to cover. I don't envy the editors who have to make that decision. Note though, this challenge is not unique to Getty. AP, Reuters, and AFP all face similar challenges. Bloomberg is, to a small degree, immune from this, only because they are a essentially a niche wire service, covering events from a financial aspect. They are not trying to be all things to all people. Yet, Getty's wire service will likely go first.
2) The Getty editorial department. I've spoken with a few folks smarter than me on this, and there seems to be some agreement here, that this department too will be trimmed to within an inch of it's life, and may just get cut altogether. The reason? The margins are just not where they should be.
What does this leave? Oh, of course, iStockphoto, and their commercial/corporate division. Getty actually does have the potential to generate huge sums from the commercial division with all the advertising sales, exclusivity up-charges, and so forth. In addition, most anytime you can get an assignment out of someone, that's going to be fairly profitable, especially with the unfair percentages they are paying out.
In addition, Getty's sports contracts for the leagues will continue to bring them money, but more as an arm of the leagues as a distribution channel. Same for entertainment clients, more in LA and NYC than anywhere else, where event promoters want a distribution channel there as well that have the eyeballs of the entertainment news media to get pickup from their events. But, wait, isn't that editorial? Nope. When a corporate client pays you $5k to cover and event that has a few celebrities in attendance, and then you put those photos up from the arrivals area with a step-and-repeat backdrop with the clients' logo, or you are the "inside exclusive photographer" getting great photos that will look good for the commercial client, and these happen to appear in editorial coverage, that's commercial/corporate, not editorial!
Did you catch that above, I said "distribution channel" twice, for two distinct divisions? That's right friends, Getty will become a distribution channel for corporate America more so now than ever before. These are, after all, extremely profitable. Sure, they have some great archive materials, from acquired collections, but that, along with good margins elsewhere will make Getty attractive as a private acquisition.
By who? Probably Corbis.
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