Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Sundance 2023 and Beyond – Stark Realities, Golden Opportunities, by Peter Broderick

Peter Broderick’s latest Distribution Bulletin sparked lots of soul-searching about the state of the documentary sector.

Peter is a highly regarded, veteran distribution strategist, senior consultant, and friend of this masthead.

He writes that this year’s “Sundance revealed that the Golden Age of major sales and numerous acquisitions is over for documentary filmmakers.”

He explains that during Sundance there was a grand total of a single sale among 24 main competition docs.

There were zero sales of US docs and one major deal among World docs:

  • That was for The Eternal Memory.
  • The rumored sales price was $3 million.
  • The buyer: MTV Documentary Films.

Streamers Out

The streamers sat on their checkbooks:

“Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, and Hulu didn’t buy a single doc in Park City or in the following months. This was a sharp contrast with their acquisitions at recent Sundance festivals, some of which were at breathtaking prices.”

Recognizing the indisputable evidence of a serious decline in the feature documentary ecosystem, Peter sees a silver lining.

Takeaways: The Billion Dollar Correction!

  • If we combine Peter Broderick’s data and my own back-of-envelope calculations, documentary producers spent nearly a billion dollars on films that were either submitted and not accepted by Sundance 2023, or were accepted and did not earn a distribution offer.
  • That’s an unsustainable economy!
  • There are alternative distribution models, as Peter recommends in his newsletter and practice, and that we also advise clients.