Picture source: Moving Docs
Findings of late 2019 survey indicate 35-54-year olds most likely doc viewers, VOD most popular platform, subject matter main attractor and 3/4 of respondents ‘emotionally affected’ by the experience. Recommendations: more docs on topics to interest 16-24-year olds and wider non-urban availability.
Written by by Dr Huw D Jones (University of Southampton, UK) and commissioned by Moving Docs, the ‘Understanding Documentary Film Audiences in Europe’ survey (which was undertaken online in 2019) attracted 1,500 respondents.
Most were women (63%), aged 25-54, graduates, employed, earning over €20,000 per year, urban dwellers, and media professionals or education, social services or healthcare workers. A high proportion lived in Spain, Greece or Iceland.
“Though not representative of the entire European population, this convenience sample provides some key insights into the characteristics and behaviour of documentary film audiences within the Moving Docs network,” the report underlines.
The survey was carried out by Doc Lounge (Sweden), DocsBarcelona (Spain), IceDocs (Iceland Documentary Film Festival), Rise and Shine Cinema (Berlin,) and CineDoc (Greece). Additional partners include the Thessaloniki Film Festival, Europa Cinemas, Panteion University of Greece and the Cultural Department of the Catalan Regional Government.
The key findings are as follows:
Who watches documentary films?
• Three-quarters of respondents said they watched six or more documentaries per year (three times more than the average EU citizen).
• 34-54-year olds were the most likely to regularly watch documentaries, while 16-24-year olds were the least likely.
• Respondents (particularly young people) still watch more fiction films than documentaries.
Where are documentaries viewed?
• Video-on-demand (VOD) is the most popular platform for watching documentary films, followed by TV – about half of respondents often stream or download six documentaries or more per year.
• Just under a third often watch documentaries at film festivals, while a fifth often do so in cinemas.
• Only one in ten often watch documentary films on DVD, the least popular platform.
• Respondents were three times more likely to watch fiction films in cinemas than documentaries – even higher for young people and non-graduates.
Why watch documentaries?
• The film’s subject matter is by far the most important factor likely to influence whether respondents pay to watch documentary films – 95% of respondents selected this option.
• Other key factors – selected by more than a third of respondents – were the film’s director, its relevance to them personally, and the film’s reviews, which were particularly key for young people.
• The least important factors were whether the documentary film had been recommended by friends/family, the cost of watching the film, the places and languages featured in the film, and whether the film is the latest release.
What effect do documentaries have?
• Almost all respondents (97%) had been affected by the experience of watching documentaries in some way – with over three-quarters saying they had seen a documentary that had emotionally affected them.
• Seven out of ten had seen a documentary film that had improved their understanding of a particular issue, while six out of ten had seen one that had changed the way they think about certain issues.
• Over half of all respondents had seen a documentary that had encouraged them to find out about a particular issue, while a slightly smaller proportion had seen one which had encouraged them to talk to others about a particular issue.
• Younger people were the most likely to be affected by the experience of watching documentaries, particularly in terms of encouraging them to change their lifestyle or behaviour or take action.
• Other social demographic factors (e.g. gender, education, income) had little or no influence on how respondents were affected by the experience of watching documentary films.
Which documentaries have had the most impact?
• Three-quarters of respondents could name a documentary that had affected them in some way – most often emotionally
• Respondents named a huge diversity of documentary films (525 titles in total), suggesting that the way people respond to documentaries is very personal and difficult to predict.
• Yet some broad trends could be identified, e.g. most named a documentary produced in another European country in the last 10 years.
• The most frequently mentioned titles often focused on extraordinary individuals (e.g. The Salt of the Earth), the problems of modern societies (e.g. The Swedish Theory of Love), the exploitation of animals (e.g. Earthlings), the legacy of war or genocide (e.g. The Act of Killing), strong women (e.g. In Search…) or artists/musicians (e.g. Searching for Sugarman).
• Though many of the most frequently mentioned titles were major award winners, box office hits or the work of well-known auteurs, some had none of these characteristics but instead benefited from being promoted by Moving Docs or its partners (e.g. Swedish Theory of Love, Push, In Search…).
• Having more documentaries available in local cinemas and more information or publicity about the latest releases were also key factors – particularly for rural dwellers and young people.
• Cheaper cinema tickets were a key concern for unemployed/retired people.
The report concludes that “documentaries are needed now more than ever in order to help us navigate not only the post-Coronavirus world, but also all the other global challenges we face in the twenty-first century, from economic instability to climate change.
“Yet certain groups (e.g. young people, non-graduates and non-urban dwellers) are less likely to watch documentaries, even though they have the most to gain from this viewing experience.
“It is therefore important to ensure [that] there are more documentaries on topics that interest 16-24-year olds and non-graduates; there are more documentaries available in cinemas in suburbs, towns and villages; and young people have more information or publicity about the latest documentary film releases.
“Other strategies like staging more special event screenings are only likely to benefit groups (e.g. media professionals and urban dwellers) who already often watch documentaries in cinemas.”