Every picture tells a story

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Thieves shrouded in balaclavas rob cash from the till at a local shop. A white coat-clad lab worker runs tests on confiscated peanuts. A defiant collector of rare wild birds' eggs raises two fingers in a vulgar salute. Conjure up just about any scenario imaginable and chances are the BBC has captured it live somewhere, sometime. But whatever you do, don't call it stock footage.

The massive compilation of BBC footage offered up by BBC Worldwide's BBC Library Sales grows at an inconceivable rate of 200 hours each week. Today, it clocks in at 600,000+ hours worth of international productions spanning the last 50 years (70 if you count audio alone).

"We are not a stock footage library," stresses Kristy Manning, sales manager west coast for BBC Library Sales. She insists that the BBC's collection of "existing footage" lends itself to telling stories by reliving moments in a way that humdrum stock footage never could. "Advertising, in particular, tends to mimic film and television trends," contends Manning, "and for this reason, the usual corny kind of stock footage that is so very formulaic just isn't enough anymore."

While stock footage is often intended for use merely as a compositional element, BBC footage is story-driven by nature. In fact, many of the library's shots are actually licensed not as staccato images, but fluid sequences. Since the mid-'80s, BBC Library Sales has licensed footage covering the arts, natural history and wildlife, worldwide people and places, current events and celebrities, for use in feature films, television, documentaries, corporate presentations, museum exhibits, and of course, ad creative. The company has also been the sole representative for CBS News footage for the past two years, licensing U.S.-centric material from shows like 60 Minutes as well as news audio archives that go as far back as 1933. In addition, a recent agreement with Index Stock Shots has supplemented the BBC's selection of 35mm contemporary footage shot across the globe. The thing is, says Manning, "Lots of companies are not aware that we have these archives available."

BBC Library Sales hopes its new web site will spur broader awareness of its offerings and greater accessibility for creatives. The company currently allows clients to search its archives online at BBCFootage.com, but textual descriptions of available footage are all that result. In the works for more than a year, the entirely new site will enable potential licensees to access the regularly updated image-based archives directly, and receive footage digitally. BBC Library Sales offers footage in 35mm, HD, video and Super 16mm formats.

The current lack of website bells and whistles certainly hasn't been a barrier to BBC Library Sales business, though. Recent agency clients include BBDO, which licensed whale footage for a Mountain Dew TV spot, and Lowe Lintas, which secured footage of a submarine surfacing for use in a GMC Envoy ad. Footage of pop music icons from BBC TV's Top of the Pops, a U.K. staple since 1965, has been licensed for a Time-Life Infomercial, too. The footage resource has also supplied shots for the upcoming National Geographic production Explorations, sponsored by Duracell- BBC Library Sales is the only content provider for the program. The digital revolution has helped boost the profile of BBC Library Sales in addition to bringing the footage licensing industry as a whole into its own. Besides the fact that footage is now available online, notes Manning, its quality "has improved dramatically over the last five years." Manning believes that the rise in digital editing of motion imagery has made stock footage "as much a part of a creative's toolkit as stock photography, scanning, or images taken by digital cameras." Shrinking budgets, tighter turnaround times and the trend toward longer-form works have also contributed to a "dramatic increase" in usage. Now, as plans are afoot for the Beeb to one day offer up its vast archive for public use-for free-its resources are likely to draw even more attention. The free archive will be low res and not for commercial use, and, says Manning, "it will only help as more people will be aware of what we offer and who we are, especially in the U.S."

Perhaps most appealing, the international flavor of BBC footage lends it a distinctive cultural cachet. "The BBC works with production companies from all over the world," says Manning, adding, "the directors, artists and commentators bring a different perspective. I think that's very attractive to creatives."

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