Corbis Corporation is a company based in Seattle, Washington that licenses the rights to photographs, footage and other visual media. It has a collection of more than 100 million images and 800,000 video clips.
Corbis has a subsidiary, Corbis Motion, that has a library of more than 800,000 video clips including contemporary collections of people and lifestyle, business, sports, travel destinations, nature, and an archival collection that covers news and events, arts and entertainment and sports. The Corbis Motion web site has advanced search, purchase, and real-time delivery options.
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Corbis is privately owned by Bill Gates, who founded the company in 1989 under the name Interactive Home Systems. One major reason for starting the company was Gates's belief that people would someday decorate their homes with a revolving display of digital artwork using digital frames. The company's name was changed to Continuum Productions in 1994 and to Corbis Corporation a year later. "Corbis" is Latin for "wicker basket", which at the time referred to the company's emerging view of itself as a receptacle or storehouse for visual media.
1990 to 2000
Corbis began with a goal much different from its strategy today. At its formation, Interactive Home Systems presented itself to the corporate world as an art-licensing company. Gates envisioned a system that could deliver the great art works of human history into consumers' homes, and he formed Interactive Home Systems as the company that eventually would beam the paintings of famous artists via technology that had yet to be developed. Interactive television was suggested as a way to deliver the content, but as the development of the ultimate conduit was under way, Corbis focused on digitizing content and acquiring rights to images. Corbis signed agreements with the National Gallery of London, the Library of Congress, the Sakamoto Archive, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Strategic Change in 1994 Leads to Bettmann Archive Acquisition in 1995
In 1994, a new management team was put in place, as the pursuit of developing technology became a secondary concern. Of primary importance was cataloging, indexing, and acquiring further image collections. The change in priorities reflected a shift from the company's roots as an art-licensing concern toward a new corporate objective: assembling the most comprehensive digital photographic archive in the world. Along with the altered business focus came a new name. Interactive Home Systems was changed as the company's corporate banner, replaced by Continuum Productions, which was dropped in favor of Corbis Corporation, adopted in 1995.
In October 1995, the company purchased the huge Bettmann Archive collection which included the pre-1983 photo library of United Press International and its predecessor photo agencies, Acme and INP, the photo arm of the International News Service. Prior to acquiring the Bettmann Archive, Corbis represented roughly 500,000 images, a total that increased exponentially when the Bettmann drawings, artworks, news photographs, and other illustrations were added to the company's portfolio. In all the Bettmann Archive contained 16 million images. The archive is today stored 220 feet underground in a refrigerated cave in the Iron Mountain storage facility, and the company also maintains a similar archive outside of Paris, France, preserving more than 30 million images from the Sygma Collection.
In 1996 the company acquired the exclusive rights to approximately 40,000 images photographed by renowned wilderness photographer Ansel Adams.
In 1997, Corbis named company veterans, Steve Davis and Tony Rojas, co-CEOs. Corbis also hired two industry leaders - David Rheins to run Corbis' Productions, and Leslie Hughes to lead the company's B2B image licensing division, Corbis' Images. These hires marked the company's shift to a more market focused entity.
Corbis Productions published several award winning CD-ROM titles such as A Passion for Art: Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse, and Dr. Barnes, compiled from the Barnes Foundation collection, and Leonardo da Vinci, which showcased the Codex Leicester.
Corbis Images benefited from significant acquisitions completed that underscored the company's commitment to electronic commerce and ignited impressive revenue growth for many years to come.
In 1998, Leslie Hughes was named President of Corbis Images. The company expanded internationally and through product development and further acquisitions. The company acquired Digital Stock Corp., a supplier of royalty-free images to further expand its offering. In 1998, another division was added to Corbis Images when the company acquired Outline Press Syndicate, Inc., a supplier of celebrity portrait photography. Renamed Corbis Outline, the company syndicated studio portraits and candid photographs of actors, musicians, athletes, politicians, business leaders, scientists, and other celebrities and provided the images for sale to a broad range of national magazines.
In June 1999, the company acquired Sygma, the largest news photography agency in the world. Organized as a division of Corbis Images, the France-based company, renamed Corbis Sygma, added an astounding 40 million additional images to the company's collection, expanding Corbis's portfolio beyond 65 million images. The archive is today stored in a preservation and access facility outside Paris.
Corbis business-to-business image licensing business expanded with the growth of the Internet in the early part of the decade. The company also expanded geographically, making multiple acquisitions such as the Stock Market and expanding into the footage licensing market with the acquisition of Sekani.
In 2000, after the company's dramatic growth in the professional licensing business, Corbis named Leslie Hughes President of the newly consolidated Markets and Products Group (CMPG). The new group represented the consolidation of formerly separate business units, professional licensing and business communicator (small office).
In 2001 Corbis built a state-of-the-art preservation facility in western Pennsylvania to house the renowned Bettmann Archive. Corbis committed to preserving the collection for generations to come, and to allow continued access to this extraordinary collection.
In late 2002, Leslie Hughes stepped down as President of Corbis' Markets and Products Group. Steve Davis was named as sole CEO, and Tony Rojas was appointed the company's President.
In 2005, the company expanded further into Europe with the acquisition of zefa, and into Australia in 2006, with the acquisition of Australian Picture Library.
In April 2007, the company announced it was naming new leadership. Steve Davis stepped down as CEO, and Gary Shenk was named as the new CEO as of July 1. Shenk oversaw aggressive cost-cutting efforts to improve the company’s financial performance and address the rise of low-cost competitors. The company experienced several waves of layoffs for the next several years, shed non-profitable lines of business and reduced its number of offices globally.
In November 2007, Corbis announced that it would be purchasing Veer and would continue to operate it as a separate brand.
In early June 2007, Corbis announced that it was creating a microstock website, SnapVillage. The company said it intended to use its microstock site as a farm club to find photographers who could also sell their photographs on the main Corbis Web site. In late June, the company launched SnapVillage, with about 10,000 images initially viewable. SnapVillage was closed due to low sales in early 2009 and rolled into Veer.
Corbis rebranded its Rights Services Division, previously a Division of Corbis Images, as "GreenLight" in 2008.
In May 2009, Corbis opened the Sygma Preservation and Access Facility outside Paris, France, housing tens of millions of photographic elements from the past half century in Europe. The company in 2009 also re-launched its Corbis Motion website with hundreds of thousands of new video clips, after signing a new partnership with Thought Equity Motion.
In 2010, Corbis increased its focus on serving web and mobile customers, with the introduction of low-resolution file sizes images that were more affordable for Web and Mobile use. Corbis also relaunched its Veer.com website with a greater focus on affordable images and fonts to compete more effectively against low cost competitors.
In 2010, Corbis was found to have committed fraud against Infoflows Corporation.
In this decade, Corbis has discussed its financial direction in moving towards profitability multiple times without success.
July 2011 - Five Photographers take Corbis to court for misuse of corporate assets in closing Corbis Sygma.
July 2011 - Corbis acquires Splash Media, a Los Angeles based firm that deals in celebrity photography.
August 2011 - Corbis and the Associated Press announce a distribution deal to try to reach each other's customers for current and archival photographs. Corbis' collection includes the library of onetime AP-rival UPI, acquired in the purchase of Bettmann.
January 2012 - Corbis acquires the product placement agency Norm Marshall Group.
May 2012 - Washington State Appellate Court upholds jury verdict that Corbis committed fraud.
Nov 2012 - Corbis expands global media footprint and acquires breaking news photojournalism newswire, Demotix, following successful investment and global distribution partnership.
Jan 2013 - Washington State Appellate Court Makes ruling on Lodis Vs. Shenk (Corbis Holdings) Appeal - In 2007 after Gary Shenk became CEO, he fired Mr. Lodis the Chief Human Resources Officer. Mr. Lodis filed a discrimination case against Corbis where Mr. Shenk had made ongoing comments " indicating his preference for younger workers. He talked about older workers being "out of touch," "an old-timer," "grandmotherly," or "the old guy on [the] team.". After the appeal, Appellate court, revised some rulings, while concurred on others.