Pickup another move into U.S. celebrity market

Getty Images has scooped up Hollywood’s favorite photo agency for hire, Berliner Studios, in a deal that could make showbiz a little less clubby. Without a doubt it will make already mighty Getty Images even more powerful in the celebrity photography realm.

Berliner, founded by Alan Berliner in 1973 and owned by Rex Features since October 2008, once dominated Hollywood event photography. But its stranglehold on events lessened in recent years as rival agencies stepped up the competition and news orgs demanded alternatives to studio-approved imagery shot by Berliner.

U.K.-based Getty has been aggressively chasing after the U.S. celebrity market since at least 2003, when it bought ImageDirect; it added WireImage and FilmMagic to the fold four years later. With the purchase of U.K. based Rex Features and its Berliner brands, Getty has gained access to even more celeb fodder.

Getty co-founder and CEO Jona- than Klein said the acquisition helps the company “meet and exceed the demand for nearly instantaneous material” in this growing segment. Not too surprisingly, he also touted the increased reach Getty would give Rex, a photo agency with an archive of more than 15 million images.

It’s not clear, however, how the arrangement ultimately might affect showbiz event coverage. U.K. regulatory agencies must approve the deal, and until that happens both companies are loathe to talk publicly about how the combined entity might run. Rex bought all the Berliner brands 18 months ago, including the company’s archives, so they are included in the proposed deal.

Alan Berliner and his son Alex have been familiar presences on the red carpet over the decades. Studios have trusted them to protect their interests, and avoid releasing embarrassing photos.

Clients still ask for Alex by name, pointed out Leonard Morpurgo, VP at Weissman/Markovitz Communications, a veteran praiser who remembers the early days of the company. “He’s one of the top go-to guys on the red carpet.”

In the days before digital distribution, noted another veteran praiser Henri Bollinger, the company helped disseminate photos to a wider audience.

They provided publicists with a tremendous service,” said Bollinger. “They were very much a part of strategy a publicist would develop for any campaign.”

The advent of digital photography and the Internet led rivals to realized how much money there was to be had from celebrity photos, and the competition heated up, as wire services vied with photo agencies and paparazzi for celebrity access.

Variety has had its own deals with Getty since it bought ImageDirect. Its current arrangement is with its WireImage division.

“It’s not going to mean less people on red carpet, that’s for sure,” said publicist Margot Gerber.

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