Who wants to see a documentary?

Moving Docs is excited to share news about positive trends concerning documentary audiences in Europe. Moving Docs enables a selection of European documentaries to cross borders and reach new audiences all over Europe. It is the very first initiative of its kind, powered by over 20 local and national partners across Europe, managed by the European Documentary Network, and supported by Creative Europe

Moving Docs data reveals that viewers across Europe are showing growing interest in watching documentaries on a diversity of platforms.  While the traditional theatrical release of documentaries remains financially viable in territories such as Germany, partner data reveals how the targeted release of issue-oriented theatrical documentaries and single event screenings are able to reach large, transnational audiences.

In 2016, Moving Docs films reached an audience of 2,034,054 people via TV, theatrical, non-theatrical, educational screenings, VOD and DVD,  in Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Norway and Denmark. In 2017, films reached an audience of 5,228,493, up more than 100% from 2016.

Spanish partner DocsBarcelona reports that documentary audiences in Spain are increasing year by year.

"Our figures show an ascendant line from 2012 until now and the main element is the online traffic, which has doubled since 2014, meaning a 25% of our total audience in 2015, a 37% in 2016 and 44% in 2017,” explains DocsBarcelona coordinator Laia Aubia. “Although the average of people attending screenings has decreased since last year, it is true that when the film has a very clear and subject oriented title, the figures of cinemagoers go through the roof and the level of engagement through social network gets multiplied. This phenomena has been happening with thematic oriented films, such as education and economy and films about women's rights, female characters and sexual identity.”

Thematic films are used by Moving Docs partners to organize single event screenings, combined with dynamic online marketing and media partners. For example, to promote the Danish documentary At Home in the World, Moving Docs partnered with Al Jazeera and UNICEF in September 2016 to organize a Facebook Live event about the education of child refugees in Europe, reaching nearly half a million users across the world. Indeed, TV commissioning editors have confirmed to us that the success of a programme is now judged by its online reach, including all related content.

In 2017, the distribution of the documentary Dolphin Man brought similar trends to the surface. Moving Docs partners from Greece, Norway, Finland, Slovenia, Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Italy, targeted audiences interested in freediving, yoga and ocean conversation. Together with Moving Docs central team, they developed a campaign to engage this audience across Europe.

The #MyBlue campaign, which aimed to raise awareness about our connection to the ocean and the need to protect it, was carried out in parallel to the film’s release. It included two photo competitions, the creation of video and written content in multiple languages, and partnership with ARTE, WWF, Cressi, and Apnea. Additional content which can be seen on YouTube and Vimeo was shared with ARTE, to further promote broadcasts, which reached a total audience of 2,155,293. ARTE in turn shared content about the campaign on its social media pages and newsletters.

In Germany the highly successful theatrical release of Raving Iran, distributed by Rise and Shine Cinema, showed that theatrical release of documentaries remains resilient in Europe. Raving Iran reached 60.000 people through cinema screenings in Germany in 2016-17, becoming one of Germany’s cinematic events. Weronika Adamowska, of Raving Iran’s distributors and Moving Docs partners, tries to explain the success of a niche documentary by a first-time director, about two unknown Iranian DJs:  

“We were hoping for final audience numbers of around 10,000 – 20,000. That’s the benchmark for documentaries in Germany that don’t have that much of a marketing edge – they aren’t about a celebrity; they aren’t made by Wim Wenders. We weren’t sure what sort of impact it would have; none of us expected to reach audience numbers of over 60,000. The interest in the film came from different angles. The clubbing scene got interested, and there is also a very big Iranian expat community in Germany."  

Rise and Shine set the tone for the film’s cinematic run with club screenings: “The film is screened and there’s a party afterwards, with a DJ set’ explains Weronika. “Some of the clubs would request the film too; sometimes the clubs would come straight to us to arrange the screening and party. We’ve now done over 80 club screenings.’

In contrast, several Moving Docs partners struggled to reach similar numbers in online sales. In 2017, Raving Iran was only sold 17 times on the Rise and Shine VOD platform, whereas via Global Nomads VOD, it sold 494 times. Greek partner CineDoc experienced consistent difficulties in convincing a local audience to buy documentaries online. While Greek content documentaries sold well to the Greek diaspora, largely living in the US and Australia, audiences in Greece refuse to pay for European documentaries online. When Cinedoc conducted a survey in November-December 2017, data revealed that 80.6% of the Cinedoc audience have never bought a documentary online and 41.8% are not willing to pay for an award winning documentary online.

Other data shared with Moving Docs reveals that documentary audiences in Greece are mostly women (65.7%) aged 36-45, employed in education, learn about documentary screenings from the internet and social media, 32.8% go to the cinema more than 15 times a year but rarely watch a documentary at the cinema, the majority like to watch (in order of priority) documentaries about a) society, b) culture, c) politics and history, d) nature and environment, e) sports and prefer to watch documentaries at the cinema. TV and the internet and second and third choices.

In the UK, Take One Action partnered with NGOs and foundations to organise event screenings, which were promoted through multiple marketing platforms including print, online, social media, blog posts, trailers in cinemas, press and radio. Take One Action also made its first foray into livestreaming, for the post-screening conversation after Free Lunch Society, and sought to increase engagement on Twitter and Facebook through regular posts and video content, experiencing an average audience increase of 13%.

According to Take One Action’s Tamara van Strijthem, the use of social media with regular posts and paid targeted adverts is a strong and effective tool. Written audience feedback confirmed that 10% heard about the screenings through social media. For regional festival audiences, the figure rose to 25%. Take One Action also reported that unique, shareable content successfully engaged new audiences, driving people to the event screening or the full festival programme.

In Macedonia, documentary festival MakeDox pioneered documentary screenings across the country. MakeDox director Petra Seliškar said:

"In 2009, there was no audience for documentary film. The situation is very different today, almost 10 years later.  By using innovative audio-visual methodology and educational tools, we have been able to target educators and youth aged 12 to 18, and offer the teaching of documentaries in the classroom to schools across the country, in both Albanian and Macedonian."

Sources (from top): Doc/it; Doc Lounge; Moving Docs playlist for Dolphin Man; Lemessos Documentary Film Festival; Demiurg; Take One Action; MakeDox.