Video Licensing: The Business of Permission

Almost anyone can make a video and put it online, but there are relatively few good models for earning a living from online videos. We've been experimenting over a couple of years and believe more than ever that video licensing is a model that has huge potential.

The Current Options

Of course there's the advertising model.  A video is made, it attracts eyeballs, eyeballs are distracted by ads. A tiny percentage of people click the ads and the video host and video owner make a bit of money.  It can certainly work and we've experimented with it, but it can be a long, hard slog.

For video producers, it's certainly possible to make a living by creating custom videos. This market is alive, well and growing. More and more businesses are looking for ways to introduce their product or service with a short online video. Some companies are doing very well with it, but it isn't easily scalable for a small company like ours.

Licensing at Common Craft

At Common Craft, we've been working on a model that's used across the media industry, but hasn't caught on in the online video world - yet. I'm talking about licensing, the business of permission.

Here's an example. Think about a video game that needs awesome songs for an upcoming release. There are bands (or labels) that own awesome songs. The video game company is happy to pay to use the songs in the game. This is a licensing relationship. The owners of the songs give the game company permission to use the songs in exchange for licensing fees. It's a tried and true business relationship.

The same is true for stock photos. You can view them for free (with a watermark), but to use them professionally or commercially, you usually have to pay a licensing fee.

Now, let's apply this model to Common Craft. Like songs on the radio, our videos are available on our website. You can watch them for free and they help us build awareness and brand recognition. We don't earn money from permission to watch the video. Instead, we've tailored our licenses for organizations and individuals who want to use our videos to accomplish their professional goals, like adding a catchy song in a video game.  These organizations are happy to purchase licensed versions because they're high quality and come with explicit permission for use.

Some examples:

1.  A large company needs videos for teaching social media across the organization. Our "Site License" fits the bill.
2.  An individual needs videos for workshops and presentations. We have an "Individual License" for them.
3.  A company needs useful and compelling content to educate visitors to their website.  We have a Commercial "Web License" for these sites.

But it's not always that simple. Thanks to YouTube, which has been helpful in spreading the word about our videos, the assumption for most is that online videos are always free. In offering licenses for our videos, our challenge is education - helping people understand the difference between watching a free video and licensing a higher-quality version for professional use.

It will take time, but the last couple of years have shown us that it's possible to make a living by licensing videos.

Creative Commons

This post would be incomplete without a mention of Creative Commons licenses.  Like any license, Creative Commons is about permission, but these licenses are often used to encourage free use. By using a Creative Commons license, the owner is encouraging others to share, remix, reuse the work as long as a few requirements are met. The requirements are up to the owner and focus on attribution, commercial use, alterations, etc.

While we've decided that Creative Commons is not a good fit for our business, it can be a great resource for video producers who are hoping to get their work in front of more people and be discovered.

Get the Ball Rolling

If you're a video producer, it's time to think about the business of permission! Here are a few things to consider:

  • Do you own video content? If so, it can probably be licensed.
  • Have you ever been contacted for permission to use your videos? If so, that's a licensing opportunity.
  • If you haven't been contacted, identify the potential uses for your videos and look for opportunities.
  • Look for ways to create a premium version of your videos for licensing.

From our perspective, the licensing side of online video has huge potential.  It's great to see companies like Vidvend experimenting with a similar model. Services like e-junkie make digital downloads easy to manage. The tools are there - now it'll just take time for more talented producers to experiment and find how licensing can fit into their future.