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Illustrative footage inserted into a broadcast news piece or interview. It is chosen to illustrate what is being said, and as a way to cover editing and continuity errors in production.

Commonly repeated B-Roll clips, by program subject matter
Piece Title Clip Content
"Obesity On The Rise in X" Anonymous chubby mid-sections (in slow-mo)
"Lead Paint Found in Schools" Children at play in the schoolyard
"Drug Use On the Rise" Any old rave. And by old, we mean The '90s...
"Internet Company On the Rise" Very dated Stock Footage of the company's site on a CRT monitor; some older tech companies have videos of their site in Netscape Navigator from 1997.
"Oil Prices Hit All Time High" Barrels of oil and shots of refineries, or shots of service stations, gas pumps, and people fueling their cars/trucks
"Airline Fares Expected to Increase" Landing Gear Shots, people milling around in an airport
"US Automaker Sells Subsidiary" Cars being assembled, new cars in showroom. Again, dated Stock Footage tends to leap out at the viewer.
"Flu Vaccine in Short Supply" Vials being produced in a factory, people getting injections
"Mammograms Now Recommended for Younger Women" Women getting mammograms, doctors pointing to x-ray images
"FDA Approves Phlebotinil for Public Consumption" Pills whizzing by on a conveyor belt, pharmacists counting pills
"Tension Between Countries Grows" Flags on poles, stock footage of bombastic military events and agitated and/or grim-faced faces at political assemblies
You get the idea.

The name is the actual term used by news people. It refers to the fact that this footage is usually spooled out from the second ("B") deck on a Linear Edit system. The "A roll" footage is the interview itself, the presenter's questions, and any directly documentary footage. B-Roll is usually generic, and can in fact often be Stock Footage. News about financial stories tend to use the B-roll because the new labor figures aren't something you can really film, unlike people standing in a unemployment line or working in a factory. Faces are almost never shown in b-roll when the story deals with sensitive issues like child welfare, adultery, obese/fat people or any kind of sexual topic- like condoms or teen sex.

Sometimes the B-Roll footage is used as a backdrop for graphs, a screenshot of a document with the salient quote highlighted or some other visual aid, either full-screen with just a voiceover or on the big screen in the studio that's used for weather reports with a reporter standing off to one side.


See also B-Roll Rebus, where several of these shots are used in rapid succession.