Hot Docs: Doc-makers are under-serving audiences

Documentary makers are under-serving audiences who have trouble accessing their films, according to research presented by Hot Docs' Elizabeth Radshaw (pictured) during the TIFF Doc Conference.
September 11, 2014

Documentary makers are under-serving audiences who have trouble accessing their films, according to research published this week by the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

During the Toronto International Film Festival’s Doc Conference on Wednesday (September 11), the head of Hot Docs’ industry programming¬†Elizabeth Radshaw (pictured) presented the findings from an audience research report that studied the viewing habits of Canadian documentary audiences.

Conducted between April and June of this year, Learning from Documentary Audiences: A Market Research Study is based on 3,271 to audience surveys as well as focus groups conducted in partnership with film organizations in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax and Winnipeg.

Radshaw identified three segments of doc lovers: the young, tech-savvy “connected super users” (43%), the middle aged “discerning documentary lovers” (43%) and older “traditionals” (14%). Some of the study’s key findings were:

  • 68% of respondents said they watch more docs today than they did three years ago
  • 95% watch documentaries at home
  • 43% said they would watch more docs if they could access them on subscription VOD platforms
  • 60% of respondents said access to Canadian docs is important but only 7% can easily find them
  • 62% watch online because they cannot find docs any other way
  • 36% said they would pay for convenient access to docs
  • YouTube is the most popular free platform (61%), followed by the NFB (39%) and Vimeo (32%)
  • Netflix is by far the most popular paid platform (52%), followed by iTunes (14%) and Apple TV (11%)

“It confirms all the assumptions we had with some hard data,” said Radshaw, adding she hopes docmakers will be able to use the data when seeking financing from government bodies and private sources.

However, she added that producers told by Canadian broadcasters that audiences are uninterested in docs may still have an uphill battle since VOD platforms were more popular than traditional cable and broadcast channels with respondents.

When an audience member asked Radshaw why the study was limited to the affluent, educated doc lover demo, she replied that a more general survey was needed in the future but for now doc-makers need to focus on better serving their core audiences.

“We took a biased consumer segment: people in the market for documentaries,” she said. “The audience is under-served. They can’t find docs and they’re willing to pay for them.”

Read the full research report here.

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