Hulton Getty On-line
search and delivery system, is a photolibrary which was originally created by Edward Hulton, the
of Picture Post, who left his collection to the BBC. Many other collections were added to the archive, which was acquired by Brian Deutsch in 1988. Under Hulton Deutsch, the collection doubled in size and now contains over 12 million pictures, housed in warehouses in London. Of these, 100 000 images are already digitised. The company, now called Hulton Getty, is part of Getty Communications.
Beta site trials.
When it is fully developed, the On-Line system will give picture users from different industries throughout the world direct access to over 500 000 digital images , using ISDN . Different users may have different requirements: for example, a designer at an advertising industry may be interested in a crowd scene. Having selected an image, he can output it at medium resolution for use in a layout. Once the picture has been chosen for final use, a high resolution copy can be downloaded on request. Since the photolibrary owns the original source material of the digitised image, it can offer a variety of delivery mechanisms , ranging from a traditional print or a transparency, to a digital format scanned at very high resolution.
Benefits to Users
The users benefit from improved accessibility to the Hulton Getty photolibrary. For international customers in particular, the time taken to receive images is an important factor – professional users need a fast response. In addition, direct access gives customers the ability to search for themselves, rather than their briefs being reinterpreted. The system also encourages ‘inspirational’ browsing, during which customers discover images of subjects they had not previously considered suitable. Finally, because the pictures are delivered in digital format, they cannot be lost (in the post or on the customer’s premises).
Reasons for Development
The size of the picture collection makes accessibility a key issue. Digitisation opens up specific areas for exploration and reduces the need to handle valuable prints.
All departments will support the online system – research , sales , marketing and distribution .
The target market is global. It includes professional picture users in all industries, especially in sectors such as advertising and design agencies. Other obvious targets are printers and publishers (of books, newspapers and magazines), CD-ROM and multimedia publishers, corporate users (e.g. for in-house design) and freelance designers.
It builds on and expands the existing business. In the traditional business, customers will ring up to ask for a picture to suit their particular need and customers may refer to the paper catalogues. Digitisation , initially CD-ROM s, and now the online service , widens the scope for choosing images.
Inadequacy of the Original Approach
Amongst the larger photolibraries, Hulton Getty believes it is at the cutting edge of the business. There is no comparative service, although the Corbis Corporation (founded by Bill Gates, of Microsoft ) is the nearest – however, this does not yet provide a normal online service, is not based on an existing photolibrary and may be more appropriate for consumers. In contrast, Hulton Getty already has sufficient content to provide a valid service for professional users.
The Key Players
System Simulation carried out the system integration, including database facilities.
Black-and-white images are captured at 300 dpi to create a file of approximately 6 Mbit. Colour images create 18 Mbit files (3 x 6). A limited amount of tidying-up is carried out on the digitised images, as some customers prefer to see images in the ‘old’ state. An average JPEG compression level is used to get acceptable quality. Once captured, images are fed directly into the system and indexed live so the database can be updated in real time.
Other Technological Solutions Considered
Hulton Getty sought proposals from several companies. It chose System Simulation on the basis of its previous work with museums and its technological lead in the market.
The Internet is under consideration for future use.
In 1991 the company, then called Hulton Deutsch, started to digitise its collection. Several thematic CD-ROMs were created for PC and Macintosh platforms (for example, a series of Decades discs). Work on the On-Line service started in 1994.
In-house researchers started to use the On-Line system in 1995. The Beta trial, which started in September 1996, provides access to 50 000 images.
Commercial Availability of the Service
The commercial On-Line service will be launched in mid-1997.
The main problem has been the time required to scan and index the pictures, which is longer than originally expected – 2000 images are currently processed per week. Indexing is very important and needs to be done accurately and in a user-friendly way. Some limited indexing methods had been developed for the CD-ROM products, but had to be revamped to cope with the increasing volume of images. The key-wording strategy, which has been specially developed, is currently under evaluation to see how customers use key-words. Key-words need to be understood by users worldwide, and so there are issues such as translation to be ironed out.
The software was originally developed for the PC . It proved to be more difficult to get Apple Macintoshes to work on the network, partly because the application software for the Macintosh was not quite as advanced and partly because of the need to relate to new developments at Apple (e.g. the Power Mac).
Since the company was creating a totally new, ground-breaking product, it had nothing against which to measure progress and no relevant market research was available. At the same time, the technical market is very fast moving and Hulton Getty believes that it needs to keep ahead of the technology in order to be a viable player in the digital online game.
The digitisation of the collection is very expensive and the acquisition of Hulton Deutsch by Getty Communications has given the company financial stability.
Hulton Getty is looking at all possible ways of preventing the illegal duplication of digitised images, including watermarking. It does not consider the risks to be much greater for the online system, which is designed for professional users, than for other means of distribution. The medium and low resolution images used for initial selection are not suitable for quality reproduction. The company will be aware of anyone who downloads high resolution images.
Hulton Getty is a photolibrary rather than a software company, and it already understands the market. Its strength is its expertise in the business of building a photolibrary. It has in-house skills with black-and-white images, owns its own dark room, and carries out scanning in house.
The markets are increasingly in tune with the new technology, although not all at the same pace. The advertising and design sectors , for example, are very techno-friendly. The Internet is playing an important role, with everyone wanting to access it and the Government encouraging all schools to connect to it. As a result, by the time the commercial service is launched, many more people will be aware of online systems.
Evidence of Success
About 10 researchers currently use the system internally, alongside traditional methods. The company already distributes pictures in digital formats on CD-ROM or floppy or over ISDN, as well as print copies. It is currently looking at the number of customers, which is believed to be increasing, using digital formats.
The key factors are speed and accessibility. Customers can receive images in different formats by a variety of delivery methods. Digital images are attractive to many clients who send work to printers in digital formats as they no longer need to scan the images themselves, thus making savings on costs.