Getty gets Corbis, via VCG

By Andrew Hudson Published: January 22, 2016 Updated: January 9, 2017

After 20 years of rivalry, Getty Images — the world’s #1 stock photo agency — gets to distribute the assets of Corbis Images (world’s #2). VCG (Visual China Group, world’s #4) is buying Corbis Images and licensing the images outside of China to Getty Images.

“The Decade-Long Image Licensing War Is Suddenly Over”
Time magazine, Jan 22, 2016

“Almost 21 years but got it. Lovely to get the milk, the cream, cheese, yogurt and the meat without buying the cow.”
Getty CEO Jonathan Klein, Twitter, January 2016

World’s Top 4 Stock Photo Agencies
1Getty Images200 M
2Corbis100 M
3Shutterstock73 M
4VCG70 M
Jan 2016, using data from sources as linked.

The sale was announced on January 22, 2016, for an undisclosed amount. VCG is China’s largest image licensing company with 70 million images, and Getty is the world’s largest image licensing company, with nearly 200 million images and annual revenue of $800 million (source). They both get to share the spoils of Corbis’ 100 million images, which includes the Bettmann Archive and Veer. Unfortunately, many of Corbis’ 650 employees may get laid off.

“[VCG, through subsidiary] Unity Glory will own and manage the images and motion archives, names and trademarks associated with the Corbis Images, Corbis Motion and Veer licensing brands.”
— VCG press release, Jan 22, 2016

“Getty Images will exclusively offer Corbis creative stills, Corbis Motion content and Corbis archival and documentary content to its global customer base outside of China.”
Getty Images press release, Jan 22, 2016

“For the last decade, Getty Images and Bill Gates’ Corbis Images were competing for the top spot in the image licensing business. That fight is now over.”
Time magazine, Jan 22, 2016


Corbis home page, 1998 and 2016

Founded and owned by Bill Gates iin 1989 as Interactive Home Systems to distribute artwork for digital art frames in homes, Corbis Corporation grew by acquisitions including the Bettman Archive. Corbis is selling its image licensing business, Corbis Images, but keeping its rights clearance and personality rights management services, Corbis Entertainment, which will be rebranded under another name.

“[Corbis will become] an entertainment content and advertising business, with three market-leading divisions: the Branded Entertainment Network, which is leading product integration platform; Splash, the well-known celebrity content business; and, Greenlight, its rights representation and clearances business.”
Corbis, Jan 2016

Corbis timeline

  • 1989: Founded by Bill Gates as Interactive Home Systems
  • 1992: Changed name to Continuum Productions
  • 1995: Changed name to Corbis, Latin for ‘woven basket’
  • 2016: Corbis Images sold to VCG

Cobis: Notable acquisitions

  • 1994: Codex Leicester, $30M, one of Leonardo da Vinci’s illustrated notebooks
  • 1995: Bettmann Archive (16 million images), $6M or $25M
  • 1995: Roger Ressmeyer portfolio, $1M, also Galen Rowell
  • 1996: Ansel Adams (2,500 or 40,000 images), 20-year licensing
  • 1998: Digital Stock
  • 1998: Westlight (3 million images)
  • 1999: Sygma (34 million images)
  • 2000: Stock Market
  • 2005: ZEFA stock
  • 2006: Australian Picture Library
  • 2007: Veer
  • 2011: Splash Media (celebrity photography)
  • 2012: Demotix (photojournalism, 1 million images)


VCG home page, Jan 2016

VCG is China’s largest image licensing company. Established in 2000, Visual China Group Co., Ltd. is publicly-traded in China. VCG is buying Corbis Images through its affiliate Unity Glory. VCG will, in turn, license the images to Getty Images outside of China.

“VCG owns and manages China’s largest premium digital visual content platform ... assets include 40 million editorial images, 30 million creative images...”
— Visual China Group, Jan 2016

Visual China Group timeline

  • 2000: Established in Shenzhen, China as the first internet image company in China.
  • 2005: Distribution of Getty Images in China
  • 2012: Acquired TungStar, the biggest entertainment content provider in China
  • 2015: Invests in 500px
  • 2016: Buys Corbis Images (world’s second-largest stock-photography company) through subsidiary Unity Glory International

Getty Images

Getty Images home page, Jan 2016

Founded in 1993 by Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein, Getty Images grew by acquisition as a rival to Corbis, and even relocated in 1999 from London to Seattle, near Corbis.

Once publicly-traded, the company is privately held by investment company Carlyle Group.

Getty Images timeline

  • 1993: Getty Investments founded by Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein
  • 1997: Goes public on NASDAQ as Getty Communications
  • 1997: Changes name to Getty Images
  • 1999: Moves to Seattle
  • 2005: Licenses exclusive China distribution to VCG
  • 2008: Acquired by private equity firm Hellman & Friedman
  • 2010: Launches ThinkStock
  • 2012: Bought by Carlyle Group for $3.3 billion

Getty Images: Notable acquisitions

  • 1995: Tony Stone Images (one million images)
  • 1996: Hulton Press Library (15 million images)
  • 1997: Liaison Agency (photojournalism)
  • 1998: PhotoDisc (60,000 images), merger $160 M
  • 1999: The Image Bank, $183 M
  • 1999:, $135 M
  • 2000: Archive Photos of New York (a division of The Image Bank) $183 M
  • 2000: Visual Communications Group, based in UK, second largest provider of images $220 M
  • 2004:, $20 M
  • 2004: Digital Vision (world’s third-largest stock-photography company), $165 M
  • 2005: Retrofile (RobertStock), one of the first major stock photography agencies
  • 2006: iStockphoto $50 M
  • 2006: Pixel Images, $235 M
  • 2007: Scoopt (citizen photojournalism)
  • 2007: MediaVast (world’s second-largest stock-photography company), $207 M
  • 2007: PunchStock
  • 2009: JupiterImages (world’s third-largest stock-photography company), $96 M. Includes
  • 2016: Distribution of VCG Corbis (world’s second-largest stock-photography company)

The world today

With Corbis gone, these are the largest stock photo agencies that I know of:

World’s Top 10 Stock Photo Agencies
1Getty Images300 M
2VCG170 M
3Shutterstock73 M
4Alamy67 M
5123RF51 M
6AGE Fotostock50 M
7Twenty2046 M
8Adobe Stock (Fotolia)45 M
9Dreamstime40 M
10Depositphotos40 M
Jan 2016, using data from sources as linked.
Getty’s 300 M=Getty’s 200 M+Corbis’ 100 M
VCG’s 170 M=VCG’s 70 M+Corbis’ 100 M

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