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Shutterstock slides into the paparazzi game

Shutterstock has acquired paparazzi content agency, Splash News, which adds 27 million editorial images to the archive, throwing down the gauntlet to the Getty Images editorial newsroom.

Shutterstock’s is amidst an aggressive corporate strategy to secure growth through acquisitions, having now bought popular video stock agency Pond5, 3D content marketplace TurboSquid, online graphics editor PicMonkey, and others. The three acquisitions total more than US$405 million.

The acquisitions up until now have been to expand the company’s stock content business. But Shutterstock’s greatest rival, Getty Images, has a strong foothold in the editorial photography market. Shutterstock has by comparison lacked in the editorial department, and the Splash acquisition is an attempt to grow this component of the business.

Splash News has been around since 1990, and supposedly has a network of 4000 contributing photographers. Shutterstock’s description of Splash is ‘one of the world’s leading entertainment news networks for newsrooms and media companies. A leading source for image and video content across celebrity, red carpet and live events for over three decades’. A less verbose version could simply be ‘paparazzi agency’.

For Shutterstock the acquisition ‘solidifies Shutterstock Editorial’s Newsroom offering as the premium destination for its global customers for unparalleled access to premium exclusive content. The Newsroom will now host an archive of over 30 million images, with a live feed of 40,000 images uploaded per day from a network of over 4000 photographers. ‘

‘Splash’s vast collection provides a chronicle of some of the most iconic moments from the last three decades – from images of George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin’s 2014 wedding in Venice, to photographs of “Bennifer” from when they dated in 2002.’

Splash News was sold by its founders, Kevin Smith and Gary Morgan, to Bill Gates-owned stock agency, Corbis, in 2011, which then passed Splash to SilverHub Media in 2016.

SilverHub Media, started by former Getty Images senior executives, went bankrupt two years later and Splash News was ‘saved’ by new owners.

And then, in 2021, Splash News reportedly filed for bankruptcy due to the Covid-19 pandemic keeping celebrities in doors, and numerous costly legal battles including a UK privacy lawsuit filed by Meghan Markle.

Here’s an excerpt from Inside Imaging‘s report:

‘Splash News president, Emma Curzon, stated the financial issues leading to a default on a loan worth nearly US$1 million stem from three sources.

‘As a consequence of the global pandemic the availability of celebrity images has declined and budgets within media companies have been cut to reflect wider macro-economic challenges,’ Curzon said. ‘This situation has been exacerbated by two ongoing litigation cases and the costs of defending these cases.’

One of those cases is a UK privacy lawsuit with The Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, over photos captured during ‘a private family outing in a remote rural setting and that there was no public interest in the photographs’. The family were holidaying in British Columbia, Canada, in January 2020, and Markle’s lawyer claims a Splash paparazzo arrived earlier to make ‘a full reconnaissance inspection’ of their private home.

The photographer was ‘walking around it looking to identify entry and exit points and putting his camera over the fence to take photographs’, according to the lawyer. A Splash administrator accepted these claims, and the photo agency previously settled the matter by agreeing to not take any photos of the couple, or their son, should it come out of administration.

‘The case involves free speech related issues under United Kingdom law and, unfortunately, has proven to be too unbearably expensive for Splash to continue its defense,’ said Curzon. ‘Furthermore, if the plaintiffs were to prevail in that case it would likely result in a large attorney fee award against Splash. Notwithstanding the merits of the case the company has sought to settle this matter but has been unable to agree [on] a financial settlement within its resources.’

Terms of the Shutterstock transaction were not disclosed. This seems strange given Shutterstock has proudly shared how much each previous acquisition cost. And this will ultimately be a requirement when the publicly-listed company is required to file financial reports.

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