Canadian docs in demand, but accessibility still an issue: Report

A new Hot Docs study finds 91% of Canadian doc audiences would watch even more documentaries if they knew where to find them.
October 18, 2018

While it’s now easier than ever to find documentary content, Canadian audiences still have a hard time sourcing local docs, according to Hot Docs’ latest study on Canadian documentary viewing habits.

The new report, titled “2018 Documentary Audience Reach,” builds off of the organization’s 2014 report prepared by Communications MDR, and examines Canadian audiences viewing habits amidst changes in technology, culture and the market.

The report, based on responses from more than 3,600 doc-lovers, found there is a strong demand for Canadian documentaries, with 90% of respondents agreeing it’s important that Canadians have access to Canadian documentaries (62% said they strongly agree). This represents a 30% increase compared to Hot Docs 2014 report.

Despite this increase in demand, Canadian audiences are still having trouble finding homegrown projects. Less than half (47%) of respondents said they can easily find and watch Canadian docs. Moreover, a staggering 91% of Canadian doc-lovers report they would watch even more documentaries, if they were more accessible and knew where to find them.

That said, progress has been made: only 7% of respondents in the 2014 report said they could easily source docs.

So where are viewers watching doc content? Audiences primarily watch docs at home (94%), followed by the cinema (79%), according to the study. The report noted that fewer respondents said they’re watching documentaries in theaters via a film festival (64%) compared to its 2014 study (81%). In its recent report, Hot Docs suggested this difference could be attributed to the 2018 survey being distributed to a larger pool.

When audiences aren’t at the cinema they turn to Netflix (72%), followed by YouTube (54%) and a cable or satellite package (37%). Other platforms used by audiences include (15%), Amazon Prime (12%), CraveTV (9%), Kanopy (8%), Facebook (14%) and iTunes (13%). This closely mirrors Hot Docs’ 2014 study, which saw the U.S. streamer come in as the most popular paid platform (52%).

The key influencers for finding out about documentaries continue to be articles and/or reviews (72%) and recommendations from family and friends (70%), however 76% of respondents listed film trailers as a very important/somewhat important decision making tool.

The Hot Docs 2018 Documentary Audience Reach study was funded by Ontario Creates (formerly the OMDC), Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB).

A total of 3,607 online questionnaires were completed between June 12 and July 30 of this year, and were sent to respondents via email and social media by Hot Docs and outreach partners CIFF, Creative BC, the imagineNATIVE Film Festival, Inside Out, Knowledge Network, TVO, the NSI and more.

From Playback Daily, written by Lauren Malyk

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.