Spotlight: Lobster

Olga Egorsheva

Over the past couple of years, social influencers have become a thing. Not just the ones with millions of followers or those who have done their time on Love Island, but less famous ones too, thanks to the efforts of agencies who can aggregate a bunch of influencers with, say, 30,000 followers each, and put them to work to collectively promote a brand or product.

But beyond these social butterflies actively looking to make money from the stuff they post, there are millions of other ordinary people, just like me and you, posting millions of photos and videos to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and myriad other social networks every day. What if there was a way for them/us to monetise this content?

That’s what Lobster is aiming to deliver with its AI-powered platform that enables brands, agencies and media outlets to license visual content directly from social media users and cloud archives.

The company launched in December 2014 and has been steadily building its inventory since. Currently, it has 7m pieces of content at its disposal. 20 per cent of this is video, the rest are photographs, all highly searchable, thanks to the AI tech that tags each piece of content.

“We index all the metadata for the content, including location, gender, ethnicity, emotions, colour palette, filters, all the stuff that the average social media user would not bother to tag but that’s needed if brands and agencies are going to find the content they want,” says Lobster CEO and co-founder, Olga Egorsheva.

The 7m pieces of content from the 20,000 people who have actively signed up as contributors to the Lobster platform are not the whole story, however. Any piece of publicly-available content on social media is searchable via the Lobster platform, which brings the total content count, Egorsheva estimates, to between 30 and 40bn. If an agency requests an image or a video from someone not already registered as a contributor, Lobster makes contact with the creator to tell them that someone would like permission to use their photo or video, along with how much money they will make for giving that permission.

Vertical video
From a mobile perspective, given that a lot of the video content has been shot on mobile, Egorsheva says the platform is a great source of vertical video, something which is in great demand, but short supply.

And while it’s currently all about imagery, Egorsheva says that Lobster’s vision is to become the go-to destination for any creative content, including stuff created by humans, and, in the case of music, computers too.

There are just two licensing bands. One for a piece of content that will get less than 1m views, for which the fee to the brand or agency is between £1 and £40, depending on the quality of the content; and one for a piece of content that will get more than 1m views, for which the fee is between £101 and £140. Of this, the user gets 75 per cent, and Lobster 25 per cent.

The platform also puts AI to work to determine the quality of the content, which is then reflected in the fee charged to the company using it. “The way we do this is to teach the neural network what a good photo or video looks like by giving it a sample of content that we know has been successful, so that it knows what good, successful content looks like,” says Egorsheva.

Social platforms
From a social platform perspective, Lobster currently ingests content from nine sources – Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, VK, Google Photos, Dropbox and Verizon. Egorsheva says the company is also in discussions with Snapchat and GoPro.

On the user side, Lobster currently has “a few hundred” users, including some of the IPG agencies, who are on trial contracts to see if the platform works for them. “We are trying to get people used to licensing this stuff regularly so we have launched a subscription model for the big creative agencies,” says Egorsheva.

Given the current vogue for using social influencers, and user-generated content, Lobster looks like a neat way for brands to start integrating more of this type of content into their campaigns.

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