September 19, 2016
Everything You Need To Know About Stock Footage
Updated September 3, 2019.
We all know stock photography has been around for a while now, growing into a large industry that supports countless others with quality imagery. These days, however, stock video is the new kid on the block.
As technology has advanced to create better hardware and faster software, stock footage is becoming the next frontier of the stock industry. Smartphone cameras are able to produce high-quality stock video content, opening up the market to more creators, buyers, and sellers. With more people spending their time-consuming content, it’s no wonder that stock video footage is in demand to meet the needs of filmmakers, art directors, marketers, project planners, and beyond.
But what is a stock video, why and how does it get made, and who has a use for it? How do stock footage creators sell their content and how can other people buy it? And how has this segment of the stock industry impacted the world of digital marketing, advertising, and the overall online arena? We’ll answer these questions (and hopefully a few others) as we break down the concept of the “stock video”.
What is Stock Footage?
Stock video footage is everywhere. It has been used in everything from big budget Hollywood films to marketing campaigns to influencer-worthy Instagram stories. It’s in advertisements, educational materials, you name it, video is there.
“Stock video” is therefore defined as film or video footage that has been previously shot (sometimes for an unrelated purpose) and can be used in other films, projects, or productions. Stock video clips tend to be 60 seconds or less and are usually creatively inserted into larger video productions to add context or fill holes.
By purchasing a footage license, customers are able to save time and resources that would otherwise be spent on shooting new material. This is especially useful when footage of cities, landmarks, natural environments, wildlife, historical events, and other difficult-to-reproduce footage is needed.
Clips of stock footage can be bought and sold online through various stock agencies, creator websites, or other platforms that facilitate the transaction between the customer and the video’s creator. Stock videos are usually rights-managed or royalty-free, with licensing fees varying across agencies and platforms.
The Stock Video Clip: A Brief History
Stock footage companies started popping up in the mid-1980s, building on the foundations of an already established stock photography industry. Libraries often consisted of niche topics as one production company focused on extreme sports while another focused on cultural or technological collections of footage. Larger agencies bought these smaller niche companies and began assembling their own comprehensive collections of stock video.
As personal camcorders like the Betacam and VHS became household items, the possibility for more people to create videos increased as well. Shooting stock footage on film used to be the only way to create video productions in the past. These technologies paved the way for today’s modern tools, like the smartphone’s video recorder and various playback and streaming platforms.
Evolving much like stock photography, stock video is now a thriving market for creators and customers. Many stock agencies that offer stock imagery are also offering stock footage. Similarly, content creators have begun to dedicate more time to capturing video clips to sell along with their photos.
How Stock Footage Works
Stock footage works much like stock photography. Footage creators, or rather cinematographers and filmmakers, can submit their work to online platforms that sell the work to consumers using licensing fees. Creators and stock agencies split the licensing fees and consumers save on the time, money, and human resources that they would otherwise dedicate to getting the equipment and people-power needed for filming their own perfect clip.
Stock Video Licensing
Licenses to use stock footage usually fall under one of two categories: royalty-free (RF) and rights-managed (RM). Pricing depends on the type of license and the quality of the video’s resolution. Standard-definition (SD) is usually much more affordable than high-definition (HD) or 4K.
Royalty-free (RF) is a copyright license that allows the purchaser to pay a one-time fee to the licensor to use the work i.e. customers are able to use the stock footage in different projects without having to pay additional licensing fees (restrictions apply in specific use case scenarios). However, this means that these rights are not usually offered on an exclusive basis. Customers that prefer having exclusive access to use a stock video clip can add extended licensing or market freeze options, depending on which stock video agency they are buying from.
Commonly used by stock video agencies, RF-licensing is usually offered on a per-clip basis. Costs typically range from $20 to $200, depending on resolution, with 4K resolution being the current premium tier. Some stock video agencies also operate on a subscription or top-up credit system in which customers receive a discount for buying stock footage in “bulk”.
Rights-managed (RM), in contrast to RF, is a copyright license that provides restricted use of stock video. Customers can purchase the one-time rights to a stock video, sometimes further restricted by the type of copyright license being bought. Additional uses of the stock footage will require the purchase of additional usage rights, offered on a non-exclusive or exclusive basis, depending on which platform is facilitating the transaction.
Also commonly used by stock video agencies, RM-licensing offers much more restricted usage. The licensing fees vary, depending on the terms of each stock video agency and the type of usage the stock footage is being purchased for. The medium (ad, TV show, film), usage (online advertising, theatrical), scale (region of use or type of target audience), and duration of use (year or lifetime of project) all factor into how much the licensing fee costs.
Stock Footage in the Public Domain
A third type of license for stock footage is that of the public domain (PD). Public domain licensing means that the stock video is free to use for either commercial or personal purposes.
Government agencies in the United States are one of the largest producers of PD stock footage. Videos produced by the US military, NASA, and other government bodies are often made available for use in the public domain.
Who Uses Stock Video?
Stock video is used in everything from news segments and television shows to award-winning films. Advertising agencies often use stock footage too, as do many creatives in the field of digital marketing. Personal projects can also make use of stock video for a more professional look and feel.
Stock Footage in Television and Film
Live footage shot at an event can be used in news segments as “file footage”, recapping that event at a later date for an audience that was not present. Historical clips, also known as archival footage of figureheads, important occasions, and natural disasters or other catastrophes, are often used as stock video in news, television, and film to integrate old video footage into the current production.
Many television producers and streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon’s Prime Video, Hulu etc, commonly use stock video in their productions. Setting the scene can easily be done by displaying an overhead shot of a city’s skyline. This is usually enough to tell the viewer where the story is happening, even if the show is not being filmed on location.
Filmmakers working in production studios outside the city can simply use a few seconds of stock footage in their project to fill in detail without needing to travel into town. Case and point: it can save an enormous amount of time and money.
Stock footage is also often used in commercials when the budget doesn’t allow for a full, custom production. These types of commercials are often political or issue-oriented in nature. Multiple stock video clips are composited to create the illusion of having on-camera actors appearing to be on location.
Another popular use for stock video is in documentary filmmaking. Use of stock video footage allows filmmakers to create documentaries that cover subjects from all around the world, without needing to travel to each location with a full crew and gear — a logistical nightmare.
Reusable Footage and Stock Video
Footage recycled from previous episodes in a series or movie franchise also supports imagery and storyline consistency, while keeping production costs low. Although some cinephiles and movie dorks might be critical of this practice, it allows studios to reuse models, backgrounds, and commonly needed shots like explosions again and again without blowing budgets out of the park (do we really need studios to spend another $5million to blow something up?)
Let the record state: stock footage should not be confused with B-roll footage. B-roll in film and television productions refers to alternative or supplemental footage that’s intercut with the main shot, often adding context to the story. This footage usually doesn’t need sound to accompany it as it uses the main footage audio to progress the story while B-roll shots are blended in. B-roll footage can become part of a stock footage library but is not considered stock footage by default as it is typically shot for the purpose of completing the main production.
Using Stock Footage: the Pros and Cons
There are ups and downs to using stock footage in a production. Stock video is usually shot by experienced cinematographers and filmmakers, meaning that it’s of a professional grade and shot in a high enough quality that it can be integrated into larger projects with relative ease.
The most obvious pro is the time, money, and other resources saved by not needing to shoot custom material — purchasing the licensing rights to use stock footage makes it much easier and quicker to get the project done.
The most obvious con, especially for lower budgets, is that high quality and exclusive rights come with a higher price tag, particularly with 4k resolution. A perhaps not-so-obvious con comes in the form of customization. Since stock footage is captured to be widely applicable, it can be difficult to cohesively integrate into a longer video production, especially if color grading has already been applied. If not used or selected properly, a stock footage clip can come across as stilted and awkward.
That being said, when executed well, stock footage is a great tool to have in the kit, particularly when it comes to marketing.
Stock Video as a Marketing Tool
Stock video is heavily used in the business world. Companies and content creators in every industry use stock footage as a powerful storytelling tool for anything from internal presentations to external marketing campaigns.
As the digital revolution continues to evolve, video has quickly become an ideal way to inspire, educate, and persuade consumers. Both as a marketing device and an effective educational component to explain how to use a service or product, videos help brands to communicate better with their audiences. Stock footage is an important part of video creation to fill in gaps, provide the skeleton of a marketing campaign or jumpstart a tutorial video series.
Video is incredibly popular on social media and making use of stock footage helps keep production budgets in check. Social influencers can often use stock videos in their feed or story to enhance their image, goal, or cause. Vertically filmed video is great for Instagram ads, Instagram stories, or Snapchat.
Corporate Stock Footage
The use of green screens for interviews with CEOs, experts, or thought leaders has become a popular use case scenario for stock video. In post-production, the green screen is replaced by stock footage to reinforce the points made throughout the interview. Job done.
Stock Footage Libraries
There are a lot of online stock footage libraries to choose from. Many agencies offer video collections alongside their photo offerings. Some large private corporations, like BBC’s Motion Gallery and CNN’s Collection, make their footage available for use or purchase too. Non-profit organizations, like the Internet Archive, also have collections of stock footage available for use. Other sources of stock footage include works available in the public domain, movies and television programs, and news outlets.
Stock Video as an Influencer
Creators and marketers have a critical role in shaping how a product, service, or cause is portrayed. Since marketing provides a lens through which consumers perceive the world, it’s an important force in business, as well as in society overall. As such, stock video has become a pretty impactful influencer as trends in society shift.
Current trends in Stock Footage
Following the current change in society, contemporary marketing strategies are moving towards more authentic and ethical practices. As the average consumer becomes more knowledgeable and discerning in the types of products they buy, the services they use, and the businesses that they support, the way that marketing engages them is changing too.
As sustainability, eco-friendly practices, diversity, inclusion, and representation come to the forefront of day-to-day life for more people, companies are adapting to these shifts. This is then reflected in the style of content that cinematographers are producing, further contributing to the slow, yet steady journey towards greater equality and more positive social norms.
Content creators and the individuals, organizations, and companies that use their content share some of the responsibility in how it is used. While this responsibility might not seem evident at first, it is an integral part of the way in which ideas, concepts, events, and products are perceived by the average consumer. Displaying authenticity, incorporating ethical practices, and enhancing corporate social responsibility is becoming a more critical part of everyday business as a result of current societal trends. As a result, video is becoming the de facto content material to communicate brand values.
Stocksy: A Different Type of Stock Video Agency
Built on the founding principle of supporting artists, Stocksy began as a stock photography co-op in 2013 with an aim to change how content creators get compensated for their work. Our contributing photographers and cinematographers are also part-owners of the company, helping guide the evolution of the company.
Stocksy Video was launched in 2016 to bring the quality and curation of our stock image collection to the world of video. We collaborate with our filmmaker artists to ensure all the content we add to the collection is built on creative integrity with consideration for client needs.
All of the video content on Stocksy is sold through royalty-free licensing, meaning it can be used on multiple projects, as long as it meets our simple licensing terms. We offer high-quality images, as well as stock video footage in 720p, 1080p, and 4k resolutions. We also offer ungraded footage. And exclusivity.
The Cinematography Behind the Stock Video
Stock video provides a unique revenue stream for cinematographers and other creatives. It gives artists a chance to flex their filmmaking skills and encourages them to try new things when creating short video clips that are innovative, yet appealing to a variety of clients at the same time. By planning, setting up, and shooting stock footage, cinematographers are able to hone their craft, while also making money. It’s a win-win situation.
Since stock videos need to be appealing to numerous creative eyes yet still be applicable across various industries, coming up with unique ideas that are usable in different types of content is an important consideration. Branding and logos should be excluded, as should any accompanying audio. Due to its limited length, a stock video clip needs to be simultaneously eye-catching and contextual, adding meaning or value to the larger production in less than a minute. Every second counts.
The Digital Revolution and Stock Video
Cinematographers and videographers can now capture great content with an array of digital cameras to suit their needs – even smartphones will work in a pinch. With better technology, faster, smaller, more affordable gear, and more advanced post-production software, more people are able to create marketable stock footage. And as video takes up more of the internet’s bandwidth — accounting for an estimated 80% of internet traffic this year — getting on the stock footage bandwagon is more enticing than ever.
Good stock videos, however, need to meet a few requirements in order to become a viable revenue stream for cinematographers, videographers, filmmakers, and newbies with a keen eye for a great shot.
How to Create Quality Stock Footage
When planning a video shoot for stock, there are some things to keep in mind in order to achieve a quality end result that can be submitted to stock video agencies or sold directly to clients. Ideally, a personal style becomes part of the cinematographer’s portfolio throughout the process of shooting stock videos. Staying away from clichéd or overproduced shoots is part of succeeding as a stock footage creator too.
Proper gear and ideal settings are important for capturing great footage. Minimum resolution will vary between agencies and platforms but the standard for most is 1920p x 1080p with 4k resolution and higher running close behind. Clips are generally five seconds to half a minute long, although longer clips are sometimes accepted as well. Post-processing practices will also impact the final look and feel of the footage. Videos will need to be exported according to the stock video agency’s requirements. People that are recognizable in the footage usually need to sign a model release and recognizable locations often need property releases as well.
Color grading is another important factor when creating stock video. Pre-graded stock footage (clips that have had color correcting or treatments applied in post-production) is sometimes preferred over ungraded stock footage. It provides a more “finished” look but limits the flexibility of the footage when incorporating it into the larger project. Ungraded stock footage is unmodified and is either shot as a log video file or a raw video file, offering much more flexibility and dynamic range.
(For a look at Stocksy’s video requirements, check out our submission guidelines or learn more about how to contribute to our curated collections via our contributor application FAQ.)
How to Buy and Use Quality Stock Video
On the hunt for a particular clip to use in a project? There are lots of options when it comes to purchasing stock video. A large number of agencies offer stock footage but it can be time-consuming to search for the right clip for your production with so much available out there.
Some agencies prefer to have larger collections that span everything from low quality to high quality, attracting more contributors from across the talent spectrum. Others curate their collections to only offer high-quality work that fairly compensates the creator. Often times, clients searching for assets need clear pathways to quality clips as creative deadlines get shorter and shorter. As such, curation and a strong vetting processes have proven to be increasingly important in an agency’s offering.
Purchasing licensing rights to a stock video will depend on a project’s needs and intended outcomes. Some projects simply need a few stock videos to bridge the gap between scenes or illustrate a point being made in the production’s audio. Exclusive access to the footage might not be important in those cases, keeping licensing fees low for each stock video. Other projects will require exclusive extended rights, driving up the cost of the stock footage but buyers can rest assured knowing that the stock video they purchased is theirs alone to use in a film, marketing campaign, or presentation.
Here at Stocksy, we curate our stock video collections to offer clients unique styles, different points of view, and innovative imagery for their projects. Our contributors are fairly compensated for their work, enabling us to both build long term relationships with our members and help invigorate them with creative fervor. We know that exposure doesn’t pay the bills so we are always working to support our contributors so they can keep doing what they do best. For more information about our stock video pricing, visit our pricing page.
The Future of Stock Video Footage
With better technology reaching the hands of creators and consumers year after year, stock images and stock videos will continue to play a key role in the way we frame and view the world around us.
Whether it’s through the mediums of film and TV or marketing and social media, storytellers of all types will keep making use of stock footage to complete their stories. As network connections improve around the world, alongside software and hardware, the demand for video will continue to rise as well.
As video continues to grow into the preferred format of consumers, industries and creators will both need to adapt, placing more focus on capturing and curating quality stock footage. Supporting artists in a way that allows them to keep working on their craft will become more critical as well, as more platforms focus on profit over fair compensation in a competitive market and drive the overall quality of stock offerings down. Nonetheless, creators, agencies, and consumers can rest easy knowing that stock video is here to stay.
Stocksy United is an art-forward, royalty-free stock photography + footage agency founded on creative integrity and respect for artists. With our exceptionally high curation standards, discovering unique, beautifully authentic imagery is effortless. Explore Stocksy’s collection?