• 03.08.12

Old Media To New: Don’t Mind If We Do!

Getty licensing pics taken with Instagram? NBC streaming Olympics coverage through YouTube? Here’s why corporate giants are relying on once-and-future startups to compete for our eyeballs.

Old Media To New: Don’t Mind If We Do!

Getty Images has just signed up the snapshots of photographer Nick Laham into its photo archive, ready to license them out for use online, in newspapers, or even on TV. That’s not a shocker seeing as this is what Getty does. But consider this: The photos Laham snapped–portraits of the New York Yankees–were all made within the Instagram app running on an iPhone.


Instagram, of course, is one of the tech world’s startup darlings at the moment, going from zero to meme-defining stratospheric success in mere moments of arrival. Its entire business model rests on two very simple ideas: Capturing some of the retro-feel of old photography using special effects layered on top of square images snapped within the app, and sharing them among users in a very basic social network structure. Users agree that it’s incredibly fun to do, and launching the app to see a status timeline made of images from friends and strangers that you “follow” is a very different experience than Twitter’s text-based stream and Facebook’s melange of complex, layered content.

But what it very definitely isn’t is an app that rests on the traditional quality image capture in a high-spec Canon professional-grade DSLR, with multi thousand-dollar lenses and rock-hard reliability. It isn’t an app that hinges on the “truthfulness” of an image that a photojournalist captures on the scene of a crime or disaster. It’s not even an app that works via subtle (and not-so-subtle) tweaks made to an image in Photoshop. Instagram is all about deliberately squashing the purest qualities of an image with harsh overlayed filters that deliberately smear or degrade the quality of the image in pre-defined ways that the user can’t usually control. It’s a silly art tool, some critics may say, and others say it’s killing photography.

And yet, there are those Laham images on Getty. Which proves at least three things: Getty knows a quality image, no matter where it’s come from; the camera on the iPhone is of a fabulously high quality; and that quirky images spat out of a playful app from a Net startup company can be considered in the same breath as high-resolution photos that’ve gone through traditional, professional hardware and software.

Meanwhile, another piece of news is sort of the streaming analog to Instagram’s still success: NBC has revealed that during this year’s London Olympic Games, it’ll be streaming live content from the events using YouTube tech. Sure YouTube is now owned by Google, it’s massive and sheer breadth of influence on online video is hard to overestimate. And sure, NBC is being careful about this deal–with YouTube’s role restrained to providing the background streaming tech for video that’ll go on NBC’s Olympics website and promotional spots on YouTube itself.

But it’s worth remembering that YouTube is actually still very young, springing from the minds of former PayPal staff in just 2005. It’s a child of the modern, media-centric Internet with social sharing. And while it’s desperately trying to expand its role, consolidate its user experience and act a little like a traditional TV channel (complete with paid content and own-produced footage), it’s still largely the place where you go to watch silly amusing videos of people falling down in painful ways or of cats battering at a keyboard. And yet here it is, providing the huge, complex technical back-end to deliver live TV footage for NBC’s coverage of one of the world’s most premiere sporting events.

We’re not saying Instagram is going to supplant the position of other sources of photography anytime soon, nor that YouTube is going to replace your TV inside the next couple of years. But don’t overlook the process here: Old media giants are openly admitting that the quality of content coming from some very different, new media “startups” is good enough to run right next to the establishment’s content.


[Image: Flickr user Cory Templeton]

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.