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Bill Gates sells Corbis picture library to Visual China Group

Bill Gates' image licensing company, Corbis, has sold its picture library business to Visual China Group (VCG) in what is the latest US media acquisition by a Chinese buyer.

The acquisition includes the Bettmann Collection of 16 million images and the Sygma Archive, which holds 34 million images of Europe’s historical events.

It will allow Corbis to speed up its transformation into an entertainment advertising business through its Branded Entertainment Network, which helps companies place their brands in films, television and digital content, and Splash, a celebrity news service.

Visual China is already in partnership with Getty Images, and the deal will see Corbis’s images added to Getty’s library of 200 million, creating the largest ever collection of images, videos and historic archival content for creative and editorial use worldwide.

Amy Jun Liang, chief executive of VCG, said the deal marked “a significant milestone on our journey of globalisation”, adding the company wanted to “capture the evolving demand for visual communications around the world”.

Gary Shenk, Corbis chief executive, said the company’s image business was profitable but facing “secular challenges” and so the decision had been taken to shift its focus to its higher growth businesses.

He told the Financial Times that image licensing "is a maturing industry and there are a lot of pricing pressures from lower-cost entrants like Shutterstock”, he said.

Chinese groups have taken part in a what has been described as a "buying spree" of US media assets as of late. Earlier this month Dalian Wanda, the property and media group controlled by Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man, paid $3.5bn for a controlling stake in Hollywood studio Legendary Entertainment, maker of the hit films Godzilla and Pacific Rim.

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