How to build a video pitch reel with licensed content

By Claribel Torres

Our director of digital media and entertainment explains how video producers can save time and money preparing pitches to programming executives. She also provides examples of some common pitfalls to avoid.

What makes content compelling?

It’s the question I think about all the time as I work with clients in the digital media and entertainment industries. We discuss how to capture the attention of audiences and elicit those elusive “Did you see that?!” reactions. We strategize on how to produce stories that resonate long after viewers see them.

No matter the channel — NBC, HBO or Twitter — we see time and again how audiences will pause what they’re doing and watch a compelling documentary, interview, or particular news or sporting event.

It’s why I was drawn to news when I first started out — it’s exciting, unpredictable and I wanted to find out what happened next. Like capturing lightning in a volcano, unscripted moments are difficult to recreate. And that’s what adds to their appeal.

Cameras and lenses are on display at collector Dimitris Pistiolas’ museum in central Athens, Greece. Pistiolas owns the world’s largest private collection of movie cameras — 937 vintage models and projectors. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

While there is no magic formula for storytelling that will work every time, it helps to keep in mind who the target audience is and what you hope its reaction will be. (For more tips on developing ideas, the Producers Guild of America has an excellent explainer series on sizzle reels.)

High-resolution images and videos

Once you’ve brainstormed your idea and determined it’s worthwhile to produce, you’ll need premium media assets to make it come to life. The reason is pretty straightforward – high-resolution video and imagery gives the sizzle reel a high-quality look. But producing these types of photos and videos, assuming you can even get access to film, can be both time- and financially consuming.

One way producers circumvent this process is by pulling clips from YouTube to build their reels. In addition to the difficulty in maintaining a consistency in quality, an overlooked issue with doing this is the lack of clarity regarding the copyright holder. Including these videos without permission opens the door for legal issues and civil liabilities. In short, do not do this!

Usage rights

In order to avoid surprises, make sure you obtain the rights for use before the executives you pitch to can fall in love. Doing so also means avoiding the possibility of paying an inflated rate to replace certain clips and to match the tone and context of the rest of the reel.

Tracking down copyright holders and obtaining permission to use their content for your idea can also be challenging, as you might expect. That’s why AP provides our clients with text, audio, photos and videos that are already rights-cleared.

Putting it all together

The breadth of AP’s content also provides peace of mind for producers no matter what story they want to tell. Our archives span 169 years of history, including everything from wars and elections to championship games and royal weddings. There is quite literally something for everyone.

We aim to be your one-stop shop with content and rights clearances, saving you both time and money. Feel free to start by poking around our photo and video archives.

Good luck!


Claribel Torres

Claribel is the director of digital media and entertainment at The Associated Press, managing business relationships with clients in the entertainment industry and developing co-production initiatives.

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video, archive, multimedia, insights, images