Storyblocks CEO T.J. Leonard’s Mission Is to Rid the World of Horrible Stock Videos

·6-min read

How many times have you watched YouTube videos or docuseries only to come across terrible stock images or poor-quality footage? That’s what Storyblocks is trying to eliminate — both for the audience and the content creators producing those videos.

“Through the evolution of our business, our relationship to the creator economy changed,” Storyblocks CEO T.J. Leonard told TheWrap for this week’s Office With a View. Leonard comes from a marketing and mobile background and took over running the video creation platform in 2016.

“Ten to 15 years ago, the problem was finding the right piece of content ready to fit your needs,” he said. “Now there’s so much content, it’s no longer about finding the exact right thing. It’s about creating high-quality video at scale.”

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Storyblocks sells monthly subscriptions ranging from $15 to $30 for its video and editing platform that supplies templates, music, footage and other media assets to creators and organizations. The library includes more than 1 million royalty-free assets, helping it get more downloads in one month than rival Shutterstock sees in one year, according to the company.

Leonard believes his service can speed up creators’ workflow and cut down on costs for creators and organizations that may not have access to drones or helicopters for their video needs. And with the huge demand for content on both social media and streaming platforms, Leonard said the data points to a public appetite for more authentic and representative content over traditional stock media.

“We were very early to recognize this sort of big migration away from traditional stock to stock that was more authentic, more representative, more like what you would see in your own personal feed than something you would see in a traditional stock setting produced,” he said.

In its next phase, Storyblocks aims to expand its original programming by creating its own content based on trends. It will be a mix of bespoke content based on customer demand, as well as media they will own exclusively. The company is also focusing on adding more integrations and tools that will serve more enterprise customers in the video creation process.

Read on as Leonard describes the ever-evolving digital media ecosystem, creators’ most popular media assets and how the metaverse might change the content business.

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How did you break into the marketing industry?
My first job out of college was working at a startup in the digital travel space in 2001. In the wake of 9/11, that’s when Priceline and Expedia and all these discounters really came to prominence. Our company was about reclaiming the direct sales channel for hotels and resorts. I did what today we call performance marketing. I loved the idea of quick iteration and testing and again, this really measurable new discipline or element of marketing. From that point forward, it’s been mobile, which was a ton of fun learning about different monetization strategies, learning about user engagement, getting into subscription e-commerce, or learning about unit economics and really early-stage stuff with the company named BabbaCo.

Where does Storyblocks sit in the vast digital media space?
In the beginning, our value proposition was all about good-looking content that you could find on another website at a more attractive price rate. We were the first to do the combination of fixed subscription and unlimited downloads. It was novel, and it gave cost certainty. I always think about Netflix in the early days, where you have your blockbuster subscription: Well, if I rent more than two movies a month, I’m in the black.

What we learned along the way was maybe people come for the differentiated model and the affordability, but the real magic is that it actually changes the way that you behave by sort of removing the licensing decision. More people get involved in the creative process early, right? You already know it’s safe. You already know it’s legal. … We see ourselves as the only platform that exists to help companies generate high-quality digital video at scale so that they can drive those key outcomes for their business.

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Are the majority of your customers individual creators or organizations, both?
About half of our business is self-serve. That tends to be individual creators and professionals. Some are freelancers, influencers, sort of an individual creator that’s part of a nonprofit or an organization, and that makes up about half of our business. The other half are your more traditional studios and agencies, broadcast rate, kind of your traditional professional content creators. It runs the gamut from a relatively unsophisticated individual all the way up to major Fortune 500 brands who stream a lot of content to your set top boxes.

What types of assets or tools tend to be most popular on the platform?
The way I always explain it is, imagine the things that would be really hard for you to do. Those are going to be your most popular categories. So things like aerials, difficult things like time lapse rate, really difficult templates. … We’re giving you a ton of production value, things like green screens and motion backgrounds, which allow you to create kind of broadcast-quality effects in a simple software suite like Adobe. And of course, people, lifestyle and increasingly diverse lifestyle footage is a really popular category as well.

Are you thinking about the metaverse at all and how that will change your business?
Yes and no. The way I want to position the metaverse is as it relates to the creator economy: There are awesome innovations happening around the economics and … how the artist doesn’t just earn from the initial sale — but they earn from secondary, tertiary and all those downstream actions. Not only is it a more complex medium to create 10 times or 100 times the amount of content that is out there, but the platforms today that are the big Web2 winners are the ones that harnessed the power of user-generated content. The exact same thing is happening to Web3 transformation, except now you are dealing with the two-dimensional world of a mobile phone. We are dealing with quite literally a limitless, expansive virtual world, and I think it will be really fascinating to see how businesses and how protocols incentivize and harness the power of community members in order to fuel these limitless worlds with high-quality creator content.

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