Getty Images Buys Offline Competitor

Getty Images, Inc. (Nasdaq: GETY), one of the world’s largest digital image providers, announced today that it will buy offline competitor Visual Communications Group (VCG) from United News and Media, Inc. for $220 million (US$).

The Seattle, Washington-based Getty Images is battling for supremacy in the online image marketplace with Corbis, the image archive owned by Microsoft titan Bill Gates. Corbis claims to have more than 1.6 million commercial images available for downloading.

Old Money Battles New

Getty Images was founded by Mark Getty, a scion of the famous American oil family, which adds the angle of old money battling new money to the digital images marketplace.

With the VCG acquisition, Getty Images appears to be more than holding its own. This past September, the comapany purchased the Image Bank from Eastman Kodak for $183 million.

Getty Images went public in November, raising over $230 million to finance that acquisition.

Getty reported fourth quarter revenues of $79.9 million, while full year sales increased 34 percent to $247 million. The company said that its e-commerce revenues account for 34 percent of total sales, and it expects that figure to rise as its different units accelerate their online efforts.

The company, which has over 2,000 employees, has some 60 million archive images and over 30,000 hours of film. It offers these images to advertising and design agencies, magazines and newspapers, broadcast production companies and Web development companies.

Valuable E-Commerce Component

Getty Images said that VCG will be folded into Gettyone.com, the company’s site for commercial digital imagery. Getty’s consumer site is Art.com.

VCG is presently an almost entirely analog company, Getty Images said. It added that it plans to transform VCG into a valuable e-commerce component. It says that VCG has the second-largest stock photography business in the world, with units in the UK, Germany, France and the United States.

Getty added that VCG contains several specialty image collections, including those dedicated to fine art, natural history, space imagery and celebrity.

“The Web is all about access and the ability to customize products and services to suit the needs of different markets,” Mark Getty said. “Making VCG’s strong and established brands available alongside our global brands on Gettyone.com greatly enhances our offerings.”

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