Online and documentary film

[Basically, this is just a snapshot of limited interest, and I’m leaving it up in the spirit of the last days of GeoCities – I won’t update it in the future, as there are far better places to start, such as Doc Society, on whose board I have been privileged to sit for four years.]

[Jan 2020 – Important: this list was last updated in 2011, with a tiny tweak in 2014 – in that time so much has happened that this needs a total overhaul to be useful. There’s some stuff of use below, possibly, for archive purposes, but caveat emptor…]

Here’s a list of resources I’ve gathered together for clients related to the UK and international documentary market, including theatrical, DVD and online releases. (Thanks to Lina Srivastava for contributing some key resources here.) Please let me know of any items I’ve missed that you think would be useful – comment below, email me, or tweet me.

Key documentary sites and supporters: (I’m slowly adding more and categorising a bit more finely)

VoDo – documentary specialist, uses P2P legally to distribute, gaining much traction, content.  Supported by UK funders and documentary specialists.
MUBI – has very carefully-selected deals and partners, integral social network of enthusiasts, and now comes embedded in Sony PS3s and connected Bravia TVs worldwide. Online film festivals every month with selected partners.  Operates subscriptions/PPV in 14 countries in Europe, is part VC- part EU-funded.
ReFrame Collection – supported by Tribeca Film Festival, partnered with Amazon for online/offline distribution, part-focused on supporting institutional/educational usage.
DocAlliance – group of 5 European film festivals pooling little-seen content for online viewing – subscription/PPV.  Festivals are a key avenue for documentaries to gain traction.
YouTube – global clearing-house for video of all kinds, interested to develop curated channels that receive official branding and support.
Vimeo – more creator-focused video-sharing platform, high quality and audience, and has new yearly awards.
LoveFilm and/or Netflix – the latter serves 10x as much film daily as iTunes – huge audience, subscription-supported and has global expansion plans.  Important conduit to post-theatrical/DVD documentaries.
Channel 4 BritDoc Foundation – key UK funder and broker of documentary film
Kickstarter/IndieGoGo – crowdfunding sites that numerous documentary-makers are using to raise production funds.
Filmaka – trying to commission theatrical documentary over the web
Sheffield DocFest – crowdfunding some of its Fellows through IndieGoGo, increasing engagement and participation in the festival from a wider base
Flattr – new online micropayment system which users pay a subscription fee to, and decide how to apportion their monthly fee to content and platforms they like online.

And remember, 2011 research from Brightcove/TubeMogul showed that Facebook is now the largest referrer to online videos, and is itself in the top 5 video platforms.  Twitter also refers huge numbers of users to videos (Victoria Grand of YouTube said in 2011 that 700 links to videos are tweeted every second), and visitors from both these social networks are significantly more likely to watch more or even all of an online video than those finding videos via general search engines.

Relevant research:

Amy Hardie has been the leading UK researcher on audiences for theatrical release documentary in the UK, primarily through her research organization, DocSpace. Her 2000 report on the state of the UK documentary market, and her subsequent audience research to 2007 remains the only wide-ranging and serious insight into UK theatrical audiences for documentary (that I know of – please correct me if I’m wrong on this…)

David Whiteman (
University of South Carolina  //  Columbia, SC 29208  //  E-mail:
Extract of research: “An issue-centered model of political impact calls attention to the kinds of impact documentary films have beyond their effects on mass audiences. With the increasing popularity of documentary film, and the wide audience for films like An Inconvenience Truth and Super-Size Me, the temptation might be to return to the notion that documentary films achieve their influence through mass education and perhaps even mass mobilization of the general public. However, for the vast majority of activist documentary films, much more of their impact can be revealed by attention to recruitment, education, mobilization, and framing within the relevant activist organizations and within the issue network of which they are a part.”
See also abstract for “Production Companies Navigating the Policy Process: Developing an Issue-centered Model of Outreach and Impact” at

Dr Anna Zoelner, Leeds University (
Extract from description of her research findings: “In order to successfully pitch a film to commissioning editors at a network, independent producers rely heavily on developing personal relationships, on their track record, and on appealing to the anticipated preferences of editors. This generally means that a film has to be a new angle on a familiar topic such as a well-known historical figure or event. In addition, a film has to adhere to familiar narrative conventions. Typically, for example, films about contemporary subjects follow a case study format that profiles individuals and their personal stories. Not only do government codes demand a balanced portrayal of these topics, but the subjects have to be “camera friendly” in appearance and a “good talker” with added points for “extraordinariness.” This last criterion commonly leads to films profiling a celebrity or using one as a host. It also includes choosing individuals who can offer predictably extreme attitudes, behavior and lifestyles.”


UK production stats graph – (via
Nielsen VideoCensus: an online video measurement tool that tracks what people are watching, on which sites, for how long, and from which location, in addition to demographic data.

The UK Film Council (UKFC)
Film Distributors Association:
Dodona Research:
European Cinema Online database:
Rentrak Corporation:
Screen Digest:

Education: – there’s no documentary equivalent. – how do films get launched?  from the FDA


Film units and funding in the past –

Tools and support:

As yet uncategorised resources:

European Documentary Network (EDN) Financing Guide – very comprehensive guide to the international documentary market:

Glitner – EU initiative to centralise rights database for VOD –

CineEuropa dossier on the European documentary industry:

Set of case studies of innovators in mixed film business models:


One response to “Online and documentary film”

  1. Go to theres a lot of good ones on there.

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