The history of Getty Images

The history of Getty Images, market leader in visual content

When you watch a TV commercial, read a newspaper article, take a look at a billboard or receive a greeting card, it is very likely that your eye falls on an image provided by Getty Images. The sizeable image bank has grown into the world’s largest provider of visual content – mainly through a series of acquisitions since 1995. You can find tens of millions of royalty-free, exclusive, historical and editorial images, videos and audio tracks in the highly focused online Getty Images. How could this image bank collect so much material and grow into a market leader in a rapidly changing market within five years?

The foundation of Getty Images

In 1993, the British Jonathan Klein and Mark Getty – a descendant of the wealthy industrial Jean Paul Getty – founded the investment company Getty Investments. The duo has a clear goal from the first moment: they should grow into the leading provider of visual content in a short time. And through a precise strategy of acquisitions and company takeovers. After an initial period of two years, an important step in that direction was taken in March 1995 by the acquisition of Tony Stone Images, an image bank belonging to the world’s largest suppliers of stock photography. The collection of Tony Stone Images would become the foundation of the company, Getty Images, which was formed in 1998.

Acquisition of Hulton Deutch and Fabulous Footage

The market of visual content was fragmented in the 1990s; image banks generally had their own specialty and they were located all over the world. In order to fulfill their objectives, Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein decided to appoint intermediaries on all continents. They had to make it easier to assess acquisition opportunities. The search for attractive wallets included a variety of topics and file types. In the second half of the 1990s, many millions of images were added to the Getty portfolio through acquisition. For example, in April 1996, 15 million historical photographs of British Hulton Deutch, the world’s largest private archive, went into Getty Investments. A month later, the leading North American stock photo image bank Fabulous Footage was acquired.

From catalogs to digital revolution

Thanks to the various acquisitions in the mid-1990s, Getty Investments not only had an extensive collection with visual content, it also delivered many customers from the acquired image banks. The clientele included magazines, book publishers, news sections, advertising and design agencies, travel organizations and manufacturers of posters and calendars. The Getty companies were initially accessible in the traditional way, through international sales offices that issued catalogs. Getty, however, was the first provider in the market to switch to the massive digitization of the catalogs; for each large collection an internal department was set up and from 1997 it became possible to view and order images via the internet via ‘Hulton Getty On-Line’.

Getty goes public

After the acquisitions of Hulton Deutch and Fabulous Footage, Getty Investments already had a significant influence in the market, which gave the founders sufficient confidence to go to the stock exchange with their company, in order to acquire extra capital. From July 1996, the investing public bought shares of the successful company en masse and the new capital was used later that year to take over the influential World View in Europe. This provider was based in Amsterdam and was an exclusive distributor of Tony Stone Images. As a result of the takeover, a large part of the European market was then dominated by Getty. At the end of 1996, the first full year of Getty, the group’s turnover was already $ 85 million.

The world’s largest news photography agency

The financial results of the image provider would only increase from then on, if the collection was further expanded. At the end of 1997, Getty Investments took an important new step through the acquisition of Liaison Agency, the world’s largest news agency. Through the acquisition, Getty acquired a collection with millions of images of important news events and events since 1966. In addition, a worldwide network of about 750 photojournalists was acquired and the customer base was enriched with mainly publishers of magazines, books and multimedia in more than 50 countries. Liaison Agency also delivered, among other things, a recurring flow of orders from regular clients for images in annual reports, corporate journals and brochures.

New strategy: leading provider on the internet

Thanks to the integration with Liaison Agency, Getty Investments became a serious candidate for market leadership in the industry. In 1997 Getty started a very extensive operation of digitization, in which in collaboration with IBM some thousands of images are provided with visual identification and are then placed online. At the end of 1998, the company has already placed 500,000 archival images online. The beginning of the digital age is an important mark in the history of the group, since from then on a new objective is added; becoming the leading provider of visual content via the internet. The new target has brought Getty a lot of growth. Moreover, it led to rapid image improvement of the – until then – aggressively acquiring party.

PhotoDisc goes into Getty Images

Getty remains on the takeover tour; in July 1997 the leading news photo agency Slim Aarons is taken over. A week later, the Energy Film Archive, with 3,500 hours of moving images, is taken over. In 1998 Getty merged with PhotoDisc, a company at that time the largest provider of stock photography on the internet. The merger leads to drastic changes. For example, the company name will become Getty Images from that moment on, the head office will be moved outside of London, and the CEO of PhotoDisc, Mark Torrance, will be co-chair of the newly formed company alongside Market Getty. Mark Klein is appointed as general manager.

Getty Images becomes the largest provider of visual content

Already during the conclusion of the merger agreement with PhotoDisc, Getty Images announces the takeover of the sports photo agency Allsport. Some time later, the four million acquired images are distributed through the worldwide network of sales offices and the material is being prepared for digital distribution. Due to developments in 1998, Getty Images is ranked for the first time as the world’s largest provider of visual content at the end of that year. This position will be strengthened further in 1999 with the acquisition of the image bank Eastman Kodak, which has 70 sales offices in 40 countries. Getty Images closes the decade with a stock of 60 million images and 30,000 hours of video material.

Moving to Seattle

In 1999, Getty Images decides to move its head office from London to the United States, where most of the revenue is generated at the time. The management chooses Seattle as its location and the head office is located in the vicinity of that of the nearest rival Corbis Corporation, of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The move to Seattle should offer many technical advantages, because Getty Images foresees a strong trend towards further digitization and distribution via the internet. The knowledge in this area is mainly in the United States, according to Getty Images in a press release.

Red-carpet photography

After the move to Seattle, Getty Images focuses on further digitization of the millions of images. In addition, several niche markets are entered through the acquisition of a dizzying number of niche players and major competitors. For example, the extensive image bank ‘Archive Photos of New York’ was taken over in 2000. In 2004 the image bank was bought and the microstock image bank iStockphoto was taken over in 2006. In 2007, one of the largest competitors at that time, MediaVast, was taken over. Getty Images has access to stock audio and video collections with the acquisition of EyeWire and Energy Film Library and the group enters the market of ‘red-carpet photography’ through the acquisition of FilmMagic.

Getty Images anno 2018

What started with a grand plan for the founders of Getty Images ended in an almost unmatchable performance. The success of Getty Images is of course partly due to the financial injection in the early years. But it is the geographical scope and breadth and depth of the collection with images that have determined the success of today. In addition to the solid acquisition strategy, Getty Images has always strived to meet customer needs by creating a one-stop destination, something that did not exist in the industry until the new image bank came. Anyone who is interested in any form of visual content can turn to Getty Images in 2018, where the world’s best visual material is particularly user-friendly thanks to technological advances.


Digital economist and experienced user of stock photography for many purposes like blogs, advertising, websites and news media. Researcher of the market of stock photography. Loves to write about chances with visual content.

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