What is the future of MicroStock Footage?

Who knows what the future will be… might as well ask what tomorrow’s lottery numbers will be.  I guess the better question is “What SHOULD the future of Stock Footage be?”

Most stock footage sites are all about making it easier on them to distribute your footage.  Which means they impose a lot of restrictions and rules in order to get footage accepted.  In some cases, they even make “judgements” on what footage may or may not sell which results in rejections based solely on the reviewers opinion.  In the end it hurts the buyer who not only has less to choose from, but is also limited by the need for sites catering to the ‘average’ consumer.

Let me give you an example…  Most sites require sellers to encode video in MotionJPEG, PhotoJPEG, Animation or PNG quicktime codecs.  That’s because “some” buyers won’t be able to handle your HDV, AVCHD, DVCPRO or H.264 encoded footage.  The end result is that you could shoot an absolutely beautiful and colorful sunset with your 5D Mark II (or Red) but you lose most of that color data and vibrance when you re-encode it to PhotoJPEG.  PhotoJPEG simply does not support that big of a color palette.

My Canon Canon VIXIA HF11 records HD video at the max 24 mbit data rate.  Which means when I view my AVCHD files on my computer or on my TV through my PlayStation 3, I see wonderfully rich video.  But the moment I re-encode it to PhotoJPEG at the required 75% to 90% quality as required by most stock footage sites, that richness is dulled down.  Sure, I can minimize that to an extent through color correction, noise reduction, etc… but you can only do so much to make a flower look pretty when you’ve trimmed off many of its petals.

What the industry needs is for one or more of the major stock footage players to step up to the plate and let sellers submit footage in either the native camera format, or re-encode to H.264 at the full 24 mbit data rate to preserve as much color information as possible.  Of course, the problem us that some buyers won’t be able to handle many native camera formats or H.264 at the full data rate.  Their computers either don’t have the proper codecs installed, or they aren’t powerful enough to decode in real-time.   For many sites, this means dealing with buyer complaints when they don’t pay attention to what they are downloading and have issues trying to use the footage.   The solution is a fairly simple one…  Re-encode the video on the server to match what the buyer needs.

Can you imagine it?!?  Uploading your footage in its native camera format (for many of us, a 10 second clip encoded in our native camera format is 50% smaller than the same 10 seconds encoded in PhotoJPEG and it still has more data per pixel in it) and the buyer simply selecting PhotoJPEG, H.264, MP4, AVI, WMV, and even FLV as the target format and dowloading the clip ready to go.  Maybe you have a 30 second clip and the buyer only needs 5 seconds of it…  Why download the whole 30 seconds when you can just download what you need (some countries still charge for bandwidth, remember)?

For artists it also opens up a new world of possibility…  High Dynamic Range (HDR) footage.  As I mentioned previously, PhotoJPEG does not have a huge color palette.  Which means that you can’t reliably encode video captured in HDR and keep the color data without the color blowing out or getting washed out.  But AVCHD and high-bitrate H.264 were designed to support HDR video.  So those of you with a Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EOS 7D or a Red can capture video in HDR and retain that data for your buyers.  A whole new untapped market.

Both AVCHD and H.264 support “stereo footage” which is the format used for 3D Televisions.  The market for 3D footage is small right now, but expect it to grow as the first 3D TV’s hit the market later this year and the plethora of new 3D movies hit the theaters as the year progresses.  I’ve already seen chatter in some advertising forums inquiring about acquiring 3D footage for those commercials you see before a movie starts.  But none of the current MicroStock sites will accept 3D stereo footage.

Right now I know of two sites which are working on the ability to re-encode footage to whatever the buyer requires.  When one or both of these sites finally roll this feature out, I think it’s going to be a big deal for both buyers and sellers. For buyers it’s the freedom to get what they want in the format they need.  And for sellers its the opportunity to provide even richer footage or animations that have enough color data to be used in 2k films or HDR footage that is good enough to be shown on an IMAX screen.  And, in my opinion, which ever site rolls it out first is going to set the standard for the rest of the MicroStock Footage industry.

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