Splash News & Picture Agency
makes Splash thanks to Warne and Hurley - 30th May
hook-ups, affairs, divorces, secret liaisons and parked-car
kisses. It's all in a day's work for paparazzi king
Kevin Smith. And a very lucrative day's work, too.
true, when we make money is when there's divorces
and that kind of thing," the former Londoner
says cheerfully down the phone from Los Angeles, home-base
of his Splash News and Picture Agency. "Our motto
is, 'Their misfortune is our fortune'. We were going
to get that translated into Latin.
wife's a nurse and when she goes out to work in the
morning I say, 'Good luck saving lives!' and she says,
'Good luck ruining them!' . . . but we're only reporting
the truth. And it's what the people want."
on London's "red-top" tabloids, Smith moved
to LA about 20 years ago and founded Splash with fellow
Fleet Streeter Gary Morgan. Today it claims to be
the world's No 1 paparazzi agency with 110 staff,
about 3000 regular contributors and offices in LA,
New York, Miami, London, Rome, Milan and Berlin.
next month, add Sydney to that list. The agency is
expanding its global operation into Australia, with
its Sydney bureau set to officially open on June 12.
Reporter Grant Hodgson, for two years Splash's sole
local representative, is being joined by a team including
British imports Rob Henderson and Tom McShane and
staff photographers Mike Emory, Guillaume Gros and
gives us a true 24-hour presence and it's also a staging
post for Asia," Smith says. "Australia is
an absolutely huge market for us, the fourth-biggest
territory in terms of dollars. We sell thousands of
pictures down there and we're talking millions of
there really was a need for an agency that does import
and export: not just selling Hollywood into Australia
but getting the Australian stories out to the rest
of the world."
of the agency's hit list are visiting overseas stars,
currently including British celebrities Mel B and
Ronan Keating, locally based boldface names such as
Brian McFadden, Cate Blanchett and Russell Crowe,
and purely domestic personalities, such as anyone
appearing on Dancing with the Stars.
then there's ex-cricketer and paparazzi favourite
Shane Warne, whose off-field exploits helped Smith
and Morgan finally decide to invest in an Australian
branch. When Warne locked lips with actress Elizabeth
Hurley in LA in January it was a Splash photographer
who snapped the magic moment through a car window.
The shot became one of the agency's biggest sellers.
Warne (story) was a classic. The intelligence on that
started in Australia and if we hadn't had reporters
and photographers there we never would have got it,"
would have come in, had their little tryst and no
one would have known. And he would have gone back
to his missus and she wouldn't have known, either."
Warne-Hurley clinch was just the latest in a long
line of scoops for the agency, which made its name
in 1993 when it broke the story of the child abuse
allegations against Michael Jackson. (According to
company legend, Smith and Morgan coined the "Wacko
was also the first to get photos of Hugh Grant after
his 2007 encounter with prostitute Divine Brown and
the first to track down "Canoe Man" John
Darwin, who in 2002 faked a fatal canoe accident for
an insurance payout and hid out in Panama, not even
telling his sons it was a stunt.
it isn't only celebrities looking nervously over their
shoulders: Splash's imminent arrival in what is already
a fiercely competitive market is also causing consternation
among the existing local agencies.
its size, Australia supports a large paparazzi pack,
including Snapper Media (which previously handled
Splash's local picture syndications), OMG News, Scope
Features, Big Pictures, Picture Media, Austral International
and Melbourne-based Barcroft Pacific.
News's Jamie Fawcett, perhaps Australia's best-known
paparazzo, says the agencies have reacted to the Splash
launch with "fear and loathing".
multinational company coming down under in a market
that is struggling with falling circulations and difficult
economic conditions -- (it's) the last thing you want,"
he says. "Personally, I enjoy competition. But
I think a few agencies will fall by the wayside because
of it. I don't think they're ready for the fight for
agency heads, although reluctant to speak publicly,
also predicted the cutthroat competition for juicy
exclusives was about to get even more aggressive.
(Although, as one commented: "how low can they
Picture Media managing director Jo Terry doesn't believe
there will be a shake-up. "Splash's content has
been in this market for over 10 years so it will not
really be much different," she says. "It
is really a sign of the strength of the Australian
market over the past few years that overseas photographers
are setting up shop here."
move is definitely good news for women's magazine
publishers, having to tighten their belts as a tough
retail environment squeezes discretionary consumer
spending. "Budgets have dropped and magazines,
newspapers and other media are not willing to offer
what they did in the past (for pictures)," says
Robyn Foyster, a publisher at Nine Entertainment Co's
ACP Magazines. "Competition is a great thing.
When there's more competition people have to be more
innovative and they need to look at their prices."
agencies supply still photos, video and stories to
local and international magazines, TV networks and
newspapers, with online sites a burgeoning and increasingly
important market. But the local business is still
underpinned by the string of women's weeklies published
by ACP (which has Woman's Day, NW, OK! and Grazia)
and Seven Media Group's Pacific Magazines (New Idea,
Who and Famous).
readership of mostly 20-something women has a powerful
appetite for celebrity news and gossip: in the three
months to March the seven weeklies had a combined
average circulation per issue of 1.18 million copies
and a readership of more than five million people.
while still enormous, the audience has been steadily
shrinking: combined average sales were down 8 per
cent on the 2009 March quarter while readership was
down almost 6.6 per cent year on year.
Hodgson says the photo-sales market remains strong,
with prices starting at a few hundred dollars for
a red-carpet shot and climbing well into six figures
for an exclusive "set" of an international
star. "When you compare it to London, which has
suffered greatly since the GFC in 2008, Oz hasn't
been as affected," he says. "(The celebrity
weekly category) is still a big market, there's a
lot of competition and a lot of money being spent."
is confident Australia will yield plenty of material.
"There's a lot of stories going on there that
people aren't even aware of," he says. "We've
built a fantastic team that have proved themselves
elsewhere in the empire, they've honed their skills,
and they're going to be looking for more stories like
Shane and Liz.
going down there to shake things up a bit."
celebrities, the message is clear: more than ever,
they need to think twice before doing something (or
someone) they shouldn't.