DOC Releases 6th Edition of “Getting Real” Report, Observes Changing Production Landscape

By Pat Mullen

The appetite for documentaries is better than ever, but are filmmakers in Canada and Ontario are seeing the results? The Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC) released the 6th edition of its report Getting Real: An Economic Snapshot of the Canadian Documentary Industry last week during the frenzy of the Toronto International Film Festival to consider the changing documentary landscape. The report indicates declines in production and investment across the documentary sector and new terrain to explore.

The study, conducted by Maria De Rosa and Marilyn Burgess of Communications MDR, provides a profile of independent documentary production in Canada from 2012-2013 to 2016-2017. The study defines an “independent documentary” as “productions of original works of non-fiction that provide an in-depth critical analysis of a specific subject or point of view, created by independent production companies (i.e., private companies not affiliated with a broadcaster or distribution company).”

The report notes a decline in the volume of documentary production overall. Although the number isn’t dramatic, falling from 388 projects in 2012/13 to 341 projects in 2016/17, the corresponding decline in budgets is cause for concern. In these same years, total documentary production budgets fell from $313,399,847 to $219,867,558.

Among the findings within the study are declines in direct jobs and spin-off jobs. The number of jobs for documentary creators dropped to 5998 in 2016/17 from 13846 in 2007/08. These declines are also reflected in independent documentary’s economic impact in Canada. Documentary’s contribution to the overall value of film and television production of Canadian content dropped by half from 2007/08 to 2016/17, falling from 16% to 8% despite growth for Canadian content production overall. The report notes that “documentary production is losing ground in the overall pool of Canadian production.”

Declines are happening across the board with broadcast/television production being hit the hardest. The report notes that production of documentary series is down by half overall and with drops as high as 64% in Ontario and 61% in British Columbia. However, the report notes improved opportunities for digital content creators among the trends. But monetization of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) continues to be a challenge. The report also observes that financial support for theatrical documentary is on the rise, and that the exposure and audience reach afforded by film festivals for theatrical docs encourages the discoverability of documentary across different platforms. The number of theatrical docs, while minor, is seeing gains with total theatrical budgets growing from $7,064,391 in 2012/13 to $14,329,104 in 2016/17.

Despite some concerning figures, particularly for TV and broadcast documentary, the report notes documentary’s continued role in the Canadian media landscape having contributed $324 million to the GDP in 2016/17. Audience interest in and awareness of documentaries is on the rise with viewers indicating strong preference for at-home viewing on TV and streaming sites such as Netflix. Over the survey period, Canadian documentary accounted for half of all documentary viewing. This proves that the audience interest is present and that creators need more support to feed the demand. Despite the challenges the documentary industry faces, the report encourages opportunities for growth.

“Getting Real provides us with one of the first opportunities to quantify the changes that independent documentary filmmakers in Canada have been feeling for years, since the rapid growth of online streaming services,” said Mathieu Dagonas, executive director of DOC, in a statement. “Although the demand for Canadian documentaries remains high, we don’t have the regulations or framework in place for independent filmmakers to take full advantage of these online platforms. This report allows us to put concrete numbers behind trends we’ve been talking about for years.”