A MIPDoc panel exploring what millennials want from factual programming pointed to a burgeoning interest in long-form digital content, in addition to increased value placed on pacing, authenticity and novelty.
The session – held on Saturday (April 11) during the Cannes documentary market, and moderated by Clive Whittingham, deputy news editor at UK trade publication C21 – kicked off with a discussion of the term ‘millennial’ and its utilization, while also tracing the trajectory from short-form clips to the rise of long-form documentary content.
“I think the word ‘millennial’ means a lot of different things to lot of different people, so it’s totally useless really,” said Sam Barcroft, CEO of UK indie Barcroft Productions. “There are a new generation of people who are ‘digital natives’ and I’d much rather do that, and say that there are people who were born with the Internet and go to the Internet first…If you can have what you want, when you want, why are you going to listen to what the TV is going to say?”
Jeremy Lee - an executive producer with London- and New York-based prodco NERD TV – said, however, that there were still a number of misconceptions about what the demographic was specifically seeking.
“They are interested in stories with strong narratives and long arcs and they’ll go wherever to find those stories,” Lee told delegates. “So they listen to Serial and watch The Jinx and feature-length docs, and they want good, compelling stories that will engage them. But they also want shared viewing experiences. The Island is generating quite a lot of heat and The Great British Bake-Off, which linear TV can deliver, so I think it’s a very mixed picture.”
In order to draw and maintain young viewers, however, Barcroft said it’s becoming necessary for linear channels to ramp up efforts by re-engaging live events and appointment-to-view as well as discussing these strategies on social networks while people are viewing.
“We tried 50 hours of long-form on our channel last year and – because we can check everything in real-time from digital channels – it turns out that 40% of our long-form viewing is from mobile phones,” said Barcroft. “So it shows people are watching hour-long docs on mobile.”
In response to whether different platforms are necessitating different kinds of content, Greg Diefenbach - founder of XiveTV, an online network for long-form doc programming – said millennials aren’t necessarily divorced from traditional subjects such as history or science, but the difference is that they are seeking an authenticity and voice around the presentation of the material that is unlike what the industry is accustomed to.
“If it feels kind of slick, overly produced, or like they’re being manipulated by a network – or if they see it in an ad and it feels ‘pitchy’ – that’s not resonating very well,” said the exec. “If it feels like it has a point-of-view and is authentic and shareable and they can share with their friends, that’s the distinguishing characteristic and that’s what’s going to do better.”
The exec – who launched XiveTV with partner Thomas Lucas in February – added that while earlier platforms such as YouTube were leading viewers to short-form content, improved technology has made long-form more deliverable online, and is proving to sustain interest.
“What XiveTV has chosen to do is to deliver in-depth explorations of subjects in a way that traditional linear television isn’t willing to do, at least not in the U.S.” said the exec, calling up a sizzle for an 18-hour block of Easter programming on the history of the Bible and the origins of Christianity. “Our authenticity is derived from our willingness to present a really authoritative and in-depth exploration.”