Lobby group wants to make docs a priority for PSBs

At the recent Hot Docs festival, MercuryMedia CEO Tim Sparke announced the launch of the Documentary Distributors' Association, a group that aims to lobby public service broadcasters to air more documentaries. Sparke tells realscreen about the DDA's mission.
May 13, 2010

At the recent Hot Docs festival, MercuryMedia CEO Tim Sparke took the opportunity to announce the launch of the Documentary Distributors’ Association, a group that aims to lobby public service broadcasters to consider airing more documentaries.

Sparke says the idea behind the Documentary Distributor’ Association came from MercuryMedia chairman and former ITV director of television Simon Shaps. ‘He felt it was something that the industry really needed,’ says Sparke. Shaps will be chairman of the DDA, while Sparke’s role right now is to get the word out and get the first 10 distributor members on board.

The main goal is to approach public service broadcasters to get docs back on their schedules. ‘It’s about documentary fighting – and I use that word guardedly – for an enhanced position within television schedules and on other platforms,’ says Sparke. ‘There’s no doubt in my mind that television is still the preeminent place for telling people about what’s going on in the world and documentary is the single most important tool [for] telling people that.’

‘Increasingly public service broadcasters have shied away from the documentary genre because factual and factual entertainment can provide bigger ratings, and it’s easier to schedule than traditional documentary fare,’ Sparke continues. ‘Because we have no association to lobby on behalf of the documentary genre, public service broadcasters can get away with redefining the terms of public service broadcasting and push documentary to the margins.’

The duo decided that Hot Docs was the place to announce the association. ‘I think that Hot Docs is a good place to float new ideas to a documentary audience,’ says Sparke. He reports that the producers he spoke to were very enthusiastic about the idea, although Sparke points out that the DDA is not a producers’ organization.

So far the DDA has had an initial meeting with Sir Michael Lyons, the chairman of the BBC Trust, who Sparke says was very enthusiastic about granting documentary a key place within British broadcasting schedules. More meetings with the BBC Trust and other public service broadcasters will occur once the DDA has become a fully formed organization. Sparke says they will also be inviting documentary distributors to meet them at Sunny Side of the Doc, where the first official meeting will take place. ‘We want to have our first meeting at Sunny Side and decide as an association what we want to achieve in the early days of coming into the world.’

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