France, Germany and other European documentary economies offer funding opportunities that feel distant to U.S. producers.
An ambitious deep study by the CNC, France’s media regulator, helps us better understand how French consumers relate to the documentary genre.
The study was commissioned for France’s Year of the Documentary and was presented at Sunny Side of the Doc.
Here are the highlights:
- Documentaries and other factual content can have a significant impact on shaping the emotional and social development and actions of viewers 11-24.
- 50+’s watch more documentaries than other age groups.
- However, as many 50% of 18-24s said they regularly watch docs.
- And while linear channel viewing is still the most popular means of choosing and watching documentaries among French viewers, streaming services such as Netflix and social video platforms like YouTube are the two key sources for younger demos.
- Their choices are heavily influenced by social media, including recommendations by influencers, and they access docs on channel brands like Arte on YouTube.
- But perhaps one of the study’s most striking findings for documentary commissioners and producers is the role documentaries can play in influencing social change.
- Of all the French viewers surveyed, 53% said they had changed their consumption habits or actively engaged in donations or campaigns after watching a documentary.
- That rose to 68% of 19-24s saying they had done so, or gone further by boycotting a product or service. That age group was also more likely to make a donation to an organisation, take part in a demonstration or become more politically involved.
- “You can see how documentaries have an impact and cause people to take action, and in particular younger generations”.
- More positive surprises yielded by the study included the impact of documentaries on the personal and emotional wellbeing on younger audiences, including that documentaries can help them in ways such as becoming more mature and independent-minded, and fostering critical thinking.
- The study also identified the top five intergenerational themes popular across all demos: nature, discovery and world culture, history, crime and current events.
- More specific preferences for younger generations included sports and adventure themes among 15-18s, plus art and education for 19-24s.
- The format and storytelling style also play key roles.
- Younger generations seek out documentary narratives that include emotion, suspense and revelations; are immersive, interactive or offer VR experiences; and hybrid genres, such as docu-fiction.
- These are all features that make documentaries even more appealing to younger generations.
- Younger generations also prefer shorter documentaries (30-50 minutes), rather than the traditional 90-minute format still prevalent in France.
Reality vs Documentary
- Younger viewers had a broader definition of what a documentary was, and on a more cautionary note, 40% of 11-14s and 37% of 15-18s regarded reality TV shows as documentaries.
- However, this includes digital shortform shows such as popularised history or science shows, explaining interesting things or topics like gaming,
- Younger people also had a different perception of documentaries depending on where they watched them, believing them to be reliable and educational on TV, quirky and entertaining on the internet, and innovative and captivating on streaming services.
- This broader definition among younger people was also an opportunity to open the genre up to new narrative forms and formats.
- While success in engaging younger audiences ultimately depends on their personal interests, documentaries can speak to young people “using influencers, fueling conversation on social media and beyond, Social media is about encouraging discussion and sharing and driving involvement.”.
- Documentaries are the main genre subsidized by the CNC, which pays for 41.7% of hours produced and covers 19.2% of budgets.
- Read coverage of French documentary spending trends here.