The Unsung Storyteller: Why is B-Roll Important?

B-Roll is often considered the editor’s best friend, smoothing out transitions and adding visual interest to a story - but its significance extends beyond the editing suite. B-roll also appeals to television producers who are choosing what to air.

why is b-roll important

In the same way you need pictures to tell a newspaper story, you need relevant, engaging video content to support a TV news story. Without a strong visual aid, TV broadcasters may overlook your story altogether – a substantial penalty for something that can seem like a secondary concern.


The value of video content

Resources within many modern newsrooms are being stretched in the face of tight budgets and even tighter deadlines. While mobile phones and social media have made it easier to source video content for breaking news stories, the time pressure means that obtaining original footage has become increasingly difficult.  Yet despite this, the demand for visual assets hasn’t gone away, and is if anything increasing.

This may not come as much of a surprise. After all, we, as an audience, demand visually interesting content more than ever before. From professional-looking social media content to studio quality YouTube videos, the consumption of video content has become ingrained in many people’s daily routines.

In response, everyone is thinking about video. Newsrooms need to provide more compelling and up-to-the-minute coverage, while organisations are increasingly preoccupied with how to get their content seen. Brands are constantly searching for new and innovative ways to stand out from the noise, ensuring that their message, product, story or expertise can compete in the modern media landscape.

This is where B-roll comes in: an effective tool that can open up a range of new opportunities, particularly within the newsroom.


Why is B-roll important?

Production teams often face a daunting task when selecting which stories to air. While the quality of the story is paramount, the quality of the footage is important too. In most cases, not all of this footage will be suitable — some will require extensive editing, some will lack quality, and some will simply fail to captivate.

B-roll helps to address some of these challenges, providing both context and visual interest to a story by supporting the main footage. It might be deployed to demonstrate what the interviewee is describing, to avoid uninteresting footage of just one person talking, or to cover up mistakes and other cuts in the footage.

Without this B-roll, producers may have to use white flashes or punch in and out of shots (close then wide) to cover up mistakes, or even use jump cuts – fine for most YouTubers, but less acceptable for TV.

The point is that quality footage takes time and money to gather. Against a backdrop of being challenged to do more with less, providing B-roll offers newsrooms value – saving them time and money, while giving them options that can create more interesting edits.


When do you need B-roll?

B-roll footage is helpful for a variety of news stories. However, when capturing new footage becomes a logistical hurdle, having a bank of B-roll and archive video allows a newsroom to maintain a consistent flow of compelling visuals.

During my tenure as a video news producer at Reuters, I witnessed the power of B-roll in shaping news stories firsthand. Archive footage proved invaluable in many situations, but particularly during unforeseen events, with none more challenging than the pandemic. From covering the vaccination program to exploring the impact of lockdowns on supply chains, B-roll brought stories to life at a time when original footage was hard to come by.

B-roll’s value becomes even more apparent in extraordinary situations, and for stories in hard-to-reach locations.  When stations lack a presence in a particular location, B-roll can be the factor that allows them to provide comprehensive coverage without compromising on visual quality. Another prime example was the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, when access was limited, yet the demand for variety among the endless coverage was high .

The extent to which you’ll deploy B-roll will also vary between news outlets. The BBC, for example, tends to keep shots simple, clear and slow, while Channel 4 news is more dynamic and stylistic.

A rule of thumb for any story is to provide around 5-10 mins of General Views (GVs), including a variety of both static wide and close shots, with some accompanying slow movement shots like pans and tilts. Making the shots longer and more varied gives producers a greater range of options when editing, with the length and timings of shots often crucial to filling a gap seamlessly.

B-roll may not always take the spotlight, but it isn’t designed to. Acting as both a tool for producers and texture for viewers, it adds depth, context, and visual allure to stories, all of which help to capture people’s attention, and make those stories more memorable. With the pressures of the 24-hour news cycle, great B-roll ensures that broadcasters will give you the time of day.

Written by Polly Rider.