Social media has popularized videography and photography to an extent where 2 to 4 billion images are pushed out every day. Amidst the latest upheavals in the Middle East that began in 2011, Jordanian-American Christina Hawatmeh noticed valuable content, from events like protests or war, getting lost in a social media black hole.
“I noticed that social searching was limiting and really messy, and permissions were needed to use people’s content on social media, which is why the press couldn’t keep up or find what they were looking for,” said Hawatmeh.
To help capitalize on the large amount of content, Hawatmeh launched Scopio in 2015 as a photo curation service based in Manhattan, New York. Her cofounders are Manoj Pooleery, Columbia University’s former director of technology and entrepreneurship at the Center for Computational Learning Systems, and Nour Chamoun, a Lebanese graphic designer.
The startup was initially a university project boosted by Columbia Startup Lab, with the aim to create an automated system to find, organize and license social media images and videos. Together, the three founders pivoted to broaden their target market.
Today, Scopio’s goal is to offer companies a better way to search, and get the license to publish powerful images and videos found on social media. According to Zabisco Digital, visuals attract 40 times more engagement online, so user-generated content became an important part of storytelling. Scopio’s automated system finds, organizes and stores these photos and videos.
“Our advantage compared to other companies is that our technology includes proprietary indexing algorithm and simultaneous use of global languages, and we have the ability to curate and procure standardized media license in under one minute,” said Hawatmeh.
So far, both photographers and clients are reacting positively to their business.
“We want to be able to engage more with our readers and give them an opportunity to interact with us more,” said Janelle Dam, digital content producer at The Colorado Gazette, a Pulitzer-winning newspaper using Scopio to build sunset photo galleries.
Scopio has taken part in prestigious showcases, such as the Thomson Reuters Roadshow, NYC Media Lab, Maritz Innovation by Design, Digital Media Licensing Association’s annual talk and Visual Connections, an image buyers’ main conference.
“The idea is to empower social media contributors to get paid for their trending photos and videos, and for brands to publish more customized and timely visual content,” said Hawatmeh. Scopio already has 40 million visuals in its library, and has categorized 60,000 of those images as original content.
“We hope to be the next Getty images of social media,” said Hawatmeh.
Arab women entrepreneurs, especially in the field of technology, are a minority in New York and elsewhere. According to Chamoun, this space is saturated with men, while women are deemed experts in what fits gender stereotypes, like beauty products or wedding planning.
"No matter how much you believe in your product and how good you are at it, getting validation as an expert in your field poses as more of a challenge when you’re a woman,” said Chamoun.
Their MENA clients are largely travel and tourism companies, but the region in general is a gold mine for the company. The focus in the MENA is less about the license, and more on the ability to build curated libraries and easy access to assets from this region.
“We searched and licensed images from the iPhone 7 release and the best content we found on Twitter was in Arabic,” Hawatmeh said.
The MENA region offers the most in-demand social media images, especially from protests and conflicts that cannot easily be covered by foreign correspondents on the ground, such as Syria and Yemen. Most first-hand reporting is done through activists and citizen journalists on social media.
But Scopio’s founders chose to be headquartered in New York. “I wanted to be in the most global, connected, media rich, place in the world. They say if you want to do something big, go to New York, the media center of the world. Go where your customers are,” Hawatmeh says.
However, according to Chamoun, although being based in New York has its access advantages, the market is very saturated. “For aspiring media entrepreneurs I would say take advantage of the emerging markets in the MENA. There is a lot of potential for innovation in the MENA and countless problems that require creative solutions. That in itself offers great material for startups to work with.”
Feature image is an example of a user generated picture curated by Scopio. It is of You Stink protests in Beirut, Lebanon. (Image via @mouzawakpatrick on Twitter)