Documentary and New Digital Platforms, portrait of an ecosystem in transition

Surveying nearly fifty documentaries created for the new digital distribution platforms, this study provides references to numerous training and educational resources. It will prove practical as well as inspirational to all documentary professionals.

We have tried to give a snapshot of the creation, production, and distribution of documentaries in a rapidly-changing digital environment. Nonetheless, an analysis of the situation inspires certain reflections, both encouraging and prompting us to be cautious.

Digital platforms offer opportunities for both the specifically-dedicated documentary content created for the web, and the production and distribution of linear documentary.

For filmmakers, the platforms throw into question the entire creative process that has existed until now. This widening of the documentary field challenges creators to think differently about their relationship to reality, to the work, and to the audience. The exploration of transmedia is only in its infancy; its creative potential and rich possibilities are attracting the growing interest of directors.

However, this form of creation is struggling to obtain recognition. With broadcasters still the dominant force in the new ecosystem, public and private financers continue to conventional economic models which do not take the new reality into account.

Documentary creation on the new platforms should be able to develop with appropriate resources, without straining budgets allocated to linear documentaries produced for theater and television release which should continue to develop. It’s essential to find new sources of money. One way of increasing resources could be to involve the Internet service providers. As for the funds intended to finance the multi-platform productions presently and dedicated to experimental creation and innovation, a portion of these envelopes should be reserved for documentary on the new platforms in order to encourage its development. The granting of specific funds subject to distribution guarantees on recognized platforms, could allow these digital works to exist independently or in complement of linear documentaries destined for television.

The new platforms can also be an effective tool in the circulation of work. The documentary is not threatened by the multiplatform: time passed in front of various screens accumulates. The television viewer is not a species facing extinction; the number of hours spent watching television increases each year, along with interest in documentaries. Online distribution platforms and broadcaster portals serve as audience-multipliers. They increase the influence of documentaries. But today this new form of distribution does not automatically generate significant economic returns. For the most part, the platforms that disseminate documentaries on the Internet are not profitable. New ways of managing rights need to be found which can boost the public profile of works, and can also be a real source of revenue for the creators and producers.