In the five years since iStockphoto launched its first collection of royalty-free stock video, a lot has changed in video post-production. Broadcast video has moved from SD to HD and online streamed video has followed suit – and you can now watch HD video on your iPhone. Stereoscopic 3D has risen from nothing, though it’s still in its infancy – confined largely to animation, vacuous holiday blockbusters and fewer TV channels than you have fingers on one hand.

We sat down with Jim Goertz, director of video content development at iStockphoto, to discuss the trends in what the company’s content producers have been able to produce and in what you’ve been buying from them.

“There’s been a huge rise in the quantity of stock video over the years,” says Jim, “with the accessibility of affordable camera and editing technology driving this. But the biggest change has been to our collection methodology – it’s now about quality over quantity.”

Jim admits that in the early days they would approve pretty much anything that was submitted to help build a library of video content. However, as the level of submissions rose over the year iStockphoto could be more and more choosy about the quality of content they accepted. The size of the library reached 400,000 clips recently, split almost equally between footage and motion graphics.


A still from the first video clip ever sold on iStock in 2006, which is currently available for free

Part of the reason why the quality of video has increased with time has been the wide availability of camcorders – and digital SLRs – capable of recording high-grade video at HD and 2K.

“When we started, HDV had just started. HDCAM was the standard,” notes Jim. “Now we have people recording using Red and [slow-motion capturing] Phantom cameras.”

One of the biggest changes for those creating video to be sold by iStockphoto has been that recording in HD or 2K requires much higher production values overall – which can add substantially to the costs of creating the videos as more time is spent on lighting set-ups and post-production, and more expensive, higher-skilled production staff are required. However, iStock hasn’t increased its royalties in line with these costs. Jim says that the rewards of investing in production are worth the effort though, as he claims that producers have sold more from offering these higher production values.

“The investments come back to them,” he says, noting that the company pays around $1.9million (around £1.2 million) in royalties every week.


A still from the best-selling clip in iStock's library

One way producers can make increase royalties from each clip is to be invited into iStockphoto’s Vetta collections, which includes both photos and – since May this year – video that the company thinks are of a much higher grade than the majority of images and clips it has for sale. With Vetta, we wondered how much iStockphoto was treading on the toes of the parts of its parent company Getty that sell rights-managed images at a much higher cost than iStock images.

“It does become harder to delineate between royalty-free and rights-managed as quality of royalty-free increases,” says Jim. He says that where you will see differences is in content itself, with rights-managed content including footage of copyrighted brands, for example.

In terms of what type of footage iStockphoto is particularly looking for, Jim says that there is a demand from customers for what he calls “authenticity”. Video clips that include stories – though conceptual narratives, such as the 'Criminal Transaction' (above), not detailed plots – and representation of character archetypes are likely to get more notice from customers, and from iStock themselves.

Looking to the future of iStockphoto’s video offerings, Jim says he can see a wider choice of file sizes and codecs not too far away, but "stereo 3D footage probably won’t be part of the next iteration of the site."