MARK GETTY, founder of Getty images at the companies Conway St office
Mark Getty, who founded Getty Images with Jonathan Klein in 1995

The Getty family is buying back Getty Images from the Carlyle Group at a significant discount to the price paid by the private equity group when it acquired the picture library in 2012.

The family is acquiring all of Carlyle’s 51 per cent equity stake for about $250m and rolling over about $2.35bn of outstanding debt, according to people with knowledge of the terms.

The deal gives Getty Images an enterprise value of under $3bn, compared with about $3.3bn six years ago when Carlyle acquired a majority stake in Getty and wrote an equity cheque of about $500m. Carlyle will retain an “ongoing financial interest” in Getty Images, the companies said.

Dawn Airey will step down as chief executive as part of the deal, with Getty family scion Mark Getty becoming chairman. Craig Peters, the company’s chief operating officer, becomes chief executive.

Ms Airey, former head of European operations at Yahoo, became chief executive three years ago. She will remain at Getty as a non-executive director and will relocate from New York to London.

Mr Getty, who co-founded the company 23 years ago, declined to comment on the value of the deal but told the Financial Times that the company would immediately seek to refinance its debt. “The debt has been a significant issue for Getty Images over the last few years,” he said. “Being able to refinance it is going to be transformative for us.”

“I’ve always been a significant equity holder [in Getty Images],” he added. “What drew me back is I’ve always loved this company and I’m extremely excited by its market position.”

Getty generates most of its revenues from licensing its images to publishers, advertisers and corporate customers. It has more than 300m “assets”, which include photographs, videos and music.

The explosion of mobile and social media communication has increased demand for Getty’s services but it has also sparked a rise in the number of competitors. Corbis, a rival agency, is one. Shutterstock, founded in 2003 and a significant player in the stock photographer space, is another.

Getty Images was founded by Mr Getty and Jonathan Klein in 1995 in Camden Town, London, and was taken public a year later. The group has grown from a relatively small photo library into a digital image archive used by publishers and other consumers all over the world.

The cash thrown off by its licensing business made it attractive to private equity firms and in 2008 it was acquired by Hellman & Friedman, which bought it for $2.4bn, with Carlyle buying it four years later.

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