July 26, 2011

Getty Images could sell celebrity photo division WireImage to Reuters for more than $300M

Word of a major business deal in the photojournalism world has celebrity lensmen's tongues flapping faster than their shutters.

A source tells us the stock photo agency Getty Images is in discussions to sell its celebrity and entertainment photography division, WireImage, to Reuters if the price is right.

Photographers for the two companies and some of the social subjects they often document began buzzing about the potential sale about three weeks ago.

One insider tells us that the deal makes sense — on paper, at least — because Reuters has no "entertainment" photography division, which has become a "major part of moneymaking" in photojournalism.

Getty acquired WireImage in 2007 when it purchased its parent company (and Getty's largest competitor), MediaVast Image, for $207 million. WireImage's sister site FilmMagic, which specializes in fashion and red-carpet photography, was also part of the deal.

In July 2008, the once publicly traded Getty Images was acquired by the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman for $2.4 billion. The photo giant has since been taken private.

According to our source, if Getty can sell WireImage for "north of $300 \[million\], it won't matter " that Reuters could become a potential competitor in the entertainment photography market.

Our insider says that if the two sides see eye to eye — or lens to lens? — the sale of WireImage could be announced in the next two weeks.

The source adds that Getty fueled suspicion among photographers who work there when it began asking West Coastbased WireImage photographers for the copyrights to their photos from the past few years — presumably so that if the deal went through, Reuters would be ensured an archive of celebrity shots.

A spokeswoman for Getty Images would only say that the company is "not selling WireImage to Reuters." She refused to answer additional questions for this story.

A Reuters spokeswoman did not respond to our requests for comment by deadline.

WireImage, which bills itself as "the Largest Entertainment Photo & Video Archive" on its website, is typically the house photography agency for the Academy Awards and the Grammys. The rock band U2 also uses the company as its exclusive concert photographer.

The photo agency also scored the last photos of a living, breathing Michael Jackson before his untimely demise in June 2009.

Recently its photographers have snapped Katy Perry, Sofia Vergara and Brooke Shields at the world premiere of "The Smurfs," Paul McCartney in concert and former President Bill Clinton at the Starkey Hearing Foundation gala.

Whether or not WireImage changes hands, celebrities will still be stepping and repeating until kingdom comes.

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