Stock Footage is Changing: The Rise of Authenticity
From 2011 to 2015, stock footage sales increased by a whopping 40%. But as the industry balloons, how does what is being sold change? Early in 2017, industry giant Videoblocks crunched the numbers in their search data for the first time, and what it revealed was very different to the image of stock footage people hold in their heads. Gone are the supremely staged office scenes, and happy families dressed in white, all replaced by searches for diversity, first-person footage, and immersive styles like 360° video and VR. The evidence is clear: stock footage customers are looking for footage that they can relate to or identify with and, in order to meet this demand, stock footage suppliers are turning towards a much more naturalistic style.
These days, whether plaintive or positive, the common cry of “everyone’s a photographer” is absolutely changing the footage we watch and enjoy. The prevalence of self-shot videos on social media, amateur filmmakers working to a tight budget, and vloggers, whose revenue depends on filming on-the-go, have collectively created a consumer base much more accustomed to a moving camera. From Hollywood to Snapchat, audiences associate a camera constantly in motion with dynamic content and authenticity, and its surge in popularity is one of the key ways in which stock footage has veered away from the static, choreographed shots it once was famous for. Searches for Family, LGBT, Diversity and Lifestyle are all reaching an all-time high, while clips pertaining to technologies such as smartphone and VR remain consistently popular. A generic handshake shot that could have taken place in 2007 or 2017 simply won’t cut it any more. Searches are reflecting contemporary cultural influences and preoccupations, and the clips themselves correspond closely with current photographic trends like minimalism, health, nostalgia, and lifestyle, as well as taking cues from unpolished ‘gritty’ shots and offbeat, quirky images that have saturated visual media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. And it isn’t only the product that’s changing; the suppliers are too. As a result of the shift towards authenticity, more companies like Filmsupply (founded in 2014) and Story & Heart (founded in 2013) have flourished, choosing to appeal to traditional filmmakers over corporate agencies. Their focus is on high quality, authentic-looking shots, that can easily be composed into a project that tells a narrative.
In addition to the shift in what people search for, and with which providers, major stock footage companies are also noticing a shift in how consumers search for the clips they’re after. The sheer variety available means technical aspects like resolution have become as important search criteria as any others. Keyword searches are no longer simply limited to the content or theme of a clip. Clipcanvas recommend that their contributors keyword their clips to include information about lighting, camera handling, and framing, and acccording to Videoblocks, their searches for G0Pro footage have increased by 1,253%, while drone footage searches are up by 712%, as people look for footage that they can’t shoot themselves, but still looks like they could have done.
And that’s really what it all boils down to. Stock footage no longer looks like the stereotypical wooden clips that people imagine, because the distributors’ main aim is for their product not to look like stock footage at all: clips sold must be authentic enough that they will deceive viewers into thinking that they are. After all, anyone can shoot footage, but what the demands placed on (and met by) the current stock footage market have taught us is that it must look as if it were shot by someone.