Even if you aren’t aware of Blend Media, it’s highly likely that they’re aware of you.
The London-based company boasts a network of more than 500 immersive content creators and has built a stock library of more than 7,000 360˚ videos since the company was formed in early 2016. They also match creators with clients like Google, NASA, Lonely Planet and Chick-fil-A, among others.
And this summer, Blend closed a second round of funding that’s enabled them to hire an internal production team and boost its sales and product engineering resources.
Now, Blend is gearing up for a very busy December.
On December 4, it launched an online tool, 360 Stories, to easily build and publish interactive immersive content. It also began a camera loaner program, and will soon be publishing a series of 360 production tutorials in partnership with Facebook.
About Blend’s creator network
So, why has Blend probably heard of you?
Although Blend has creators coming to them to join their network, the company also actively pursues top creators in the industry. Blend CMO and Head of Content Rachel Dennis estimates that 70 percent creators are discovered by the company’s own content acquisition team.
“The team that finds new creators are probably the people who’ve watched the most 360 video in the world,” Rachel said. “That’s what they’re doing every day.”
Rachel said Blend’s network is a mix of both freelancers and production houses who often work directly with their own clients, in addition to the projects and stock they shoot for Blend.
Although the custom projects are a critical part of Blend’s business strategy, the stock library also offers a way for freelancers and VR studios to diversify their income, and create an additional revenue stream for their content.
Since the library was launched 18 months ago, Blend has amassed more than 7,000 videos. Although some creators only have one or two pieces in the library, a small handful have as many as 500 videos living in the library, which–if licensed–could add up to a sizable amount of money.
Although many content requests are for custom situations, prices range from $199 per shot for a native social post to $1900 for a VR event app.
Blend splits profits from stock sales 70/30 in favor of the content creator.
“One thing we’re doing more of is thinking about content genre trends,” Rachel said. “ We’re providing our creators with solid feedback and search data from our clients, so we can guide them to shoot content that either doesn’t exist yet or is in high demand and that will ultimately offer them the highest revenue potential.”
“Within the library, customers can search by subject, concept, emotion, geographic region, clip length and resolution. Right now the majority of content purchases are for 4K despite the platform’s support for 8K video.”
“We do encourage 8K, especially for experiences in igloos and spheres and other shared immersive experiences where the content will look really sharp at 8K,” Rachel said.
All content in Blend’s library is licensed to clients on a rights-managed basis, meaning customers pay a one-time fee to use the video “for a particular use in a geographic region, on a specific media, and for a specified period of time,” according to Blend’s website. (Blend also helps protect creators’ copyright, although they haven’t had seen any issues with that for 360˚ content yet. “But we’ll always be monitoring for it,” Rachel said.)
‘Only experienced applicants need apply’
To meet Blend’s stock standards, 360˚ video must be at least 4K, with no visible stitch lines or nadir. The camerawork has to be stable with the lighting and exposure good and balanced (Right now, Blend has no standards for audio, but realizes that spatial audio would be useful). Blend’s creators use a whole range of 360 cameras and custom-built rigs but whatever the camera or rigs used, creators are encouraged (and know) to use the best rig or 360 camera for filming any given particular type or genre of content.
Blend also encourages creators to think commercial when shooting content as of course the 360 stock world is no different to the traditional stock world; content that has been Model or Property Released and is cleared for commercial use can command a much higher price than (unreleased) Editorial content.,
But Blend isn’t the only 360 stock option around.
Back in June, Getty Images partnered with Jaunt to provide 360 stock, and in October RoundMe launched its own 360 stock photo program. What sets Blend apart is its specialization and its ability to fulfil custom content requests.
“We specialize in immersive content and 360 video and we’re used to supporting clients with those needs,” Rachel said. Their in-house production team can also be a big help to both content creators and clients to assist with workflow issues. “We’re also very focused on supporting our creators to help them monetize their content through custom projects.”
Partnering with Facebook to grow the creative community
In April of this year, Blend announced a partnership with Facebook so its members would gain access to training and creator events, as well as early use of Facebook 360 products. Rachel said the goal of the partnership–for both parties–is to grow the 360 creator community through education, access to production equipment, and establishing a community.
As part of the partnership, Blend and Facebook run a series of workshops in various cities around the world and will be launching a video tutorial series later this month featuring Blend’s creators that will be available to anyone.
To assist with access to technology and equipment, some of Blend’s creators gain early access to upcoming technology.
Later this month, Blend will also be launching a camera loaner program with GoPro and Z Cam for personal and commercial projects.
To build a stronger creator community, Blend and Facebook have hosted meetups in a number of cities, including LA, London, New York, Sydney, Melbourne and Amsterdam.
“What we’ve found since we’ve been working in this community is that everyone is very generous in terms of information sharing and collaboration,” Rachel said. “So, we’re trying to bring people together to share that knowledge and nurture the industry, from hobbyists to professionals.”
Although the partnership was only established in April, Blend has a long history and a strong presence on the social platform. The company manages the largest 360 video page on Facebook, 360 Vidz. Currently, the page has more than 750,000 likes and is used to showcase creators’ work and help people discover high quality immersive content.
360 stories: an online tool to build immersive interactive experiences
On December 4, Blend also brought its 360 stories online tool out of closed beta.
Essentially, the tool allows publishers to more easily use 360 stock content (as well as their own content) to create interactive immersive experiences and publish them across a number of platforms.
“When we were having conversations with our clients, we knew that they realized that 360 has much higher engagement but they weren’t sure how to use it,” Rachel said. They’d often ask if they could–and how they could–add a logo, make it interactive, or even simply publish the piece.
As an example of the potential of this new tool, 360 stories was used to create a promotional piece for HelloWorld, a live event for YouTube vloggers.
“We produced a 360 video of the top talent promoting the event and then edited and published it with 360 stories,” Rachel said. The piece promoted ticket sales and ultimately resulted in a 20 percent clickthrough rate of viewers. “That piece proved how much it really does drive great engagement.”
You can try 360 Stories for free, but it will cost $39 a month after 60 days. There’s also a Pro plan for $399 a month, offering more space, more users and analytics, and there are also custom solutions.
“One big question in the industry now is, ‘Does the Trough of Disillusionment apply to 360 video, whether on my laptop or in Cardboard?’” she said. “360 video provides brands with really high engagement rates right now, so there’s no disillusionment there. The challenge is how to customise and distribute it–and that’ what we’re solving with 360 stories.”
As if three big announcements wasn’t enough, Blend will also be staying very busy in 2018 and hopes to put more focus on analyzing the buyer market, metrics around content performance, alongside expanding its training and community resources.
“We’re really listening to our creators so we know what they need and how we can support them,” Rachel said. “We offer more than just money to our creators, providing a community where they can further develop their craft.”