DOC: Canuck doc industry is shrinking

DOC logo

While audience demand for POV documentaries is increasing, the Canadian doc industry is shrinking at an alarming rate, according to a report released Thursday by the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC).

Getting Real, an Economic Snapshot of the Canadian Documentary Industry, which looks at the sector over the period from 2006-2009 paints a grim picture, particularly for filmmakers making artistic and social issue films.

As Canadians flock to festivals and the NFB’s online portal to watch hard-hitting docs, documentary production in this country has declined to $413 million, its lowest level in six years. While the French-language sector remains relatively stable, English documentary production dropped by $52 million between 2006-07 and 2008-09, says the report.

Getting Real points to a range of factors to explain the decline in doc production, including media convergence and government funding cuts. The death of the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund was a blow to the industry and there has been a 33% decline in support for docs from agencies such as the NFB and Telefilm.

But the main reason why documentary production is on the decline is that broadcasters, desperate to attract eyeballs as their advertizing revenues drop off, have stopped programming POV docs in favor of lifestyle and reality shows they believe their audiences want, says DOC’s Executive Director, Lisa Fitzgibbons, “Broadcasters and funders are shutting the door on Canadian documentary production, just as demand for documentary content in our country has never been higher.”

While the Canada Media Fund (CMF) created a $3.5 million English POV program and approved 21 projects for funding late last year, the fund was forced to extend the deadline because many doc makers were having a hard time making the broadcast sale they needed to access the cash.

”Broadcasters are the gatekeepers and in spite of CMF’s best efforts the policy directives at the core of the fund are really working against documentary production because the filmmakers need broadcasters to access their financing.”

While doc production is down, there has been a 77% increase in documentary film festival attendance in Canada, says the report. In English Canada, half the docs Canadians watch on TV are Canadian ones and Canadians are also consuming more documentary content online. Since 2009, the NFB’s free documentary portal had 3.3 million views, while documentaries on broadcaster websites had more than 3 million hits.