Coronavirus & COVID-19: It's Business as Usual! Learn More

How Streaming is changing documentaries

Streaming services have been a big part of the entertainment economy for a while now and they are now seriously jeopardizing traditional mediums. This goes beyond cinemas and cable TVs. Talks shows and documentaries, as well as long form journalism is also being disrupted by the new technology and the new medium.

Documentary films are also being changed and the industry needs to adapt to this new reality. This is already happening in a variety of different ways but it’s not easy to predict which ones of these will stick and for how long.

A bigger market

The market for documentaries was always a bit smaller than it was for other film projects and documentary filmmakers had to learn to work with that. Now this is no longer the case and at least in theory every documentary film hosted on a streaming platform has the reach of the whole platform.

In reality, this won’t mean that fiction and documentary films are viewed in the same numbers. However, the bigger audience is there and documentary films need to take this into account and to work on getting those new viewers.


The lines between journalism and documentary film making are getting blurred and there are more and more documentary films that are basically journalistic reports on political and societal topics. There are a few big players getting into this game. For instance, NYT is focusing on long form video content more than before.

Also, Barack and Michaele Obama are working with Netflix to create documentaries on these subject and their first film was nominated for an Oscar. The movie is about the Chinese factory opened in American mid-west where there are more traditional industries that sustained that area of the country for years.

New companies

There are new businesses going into the field of streaming. For a while now the industry was dominated by Netflix since it is the largest company in the industry. Disney has now started their own streaming service called Disney + and so did HBO and Amazon.

This will change the industry in a few ways. First of all, there will be more competition and that may lead to increase in quality. At the same time, it’s true that there will be less viewers that are subscribed to all of these services and that follow all of these documentaries.

More awards

For a while now the streaming services were on top of their game in terms of the quality of the content, but they weren’t eligible for awards in this area since they have been established at a different time. The awards are mostly reserved for the movies that were shown in theaters.

The documentaries that are made for steaming will now be eligible for awards because there’s more collaboration between the theaters and the streaming companies. This is creating a backlash because the streamers can remove those movies from theaters once they are eligible for the award, however.


There’s a move to serialization when it comes to both fiction and non-fiction content. This is because such longer content gives more space to the creators to express themselves and the streaming technology allows for this content to be consumed in the form of binging. This will happen to the documentaries as well and it’s already happening.

This is already noticeable in the work done by a liberal outlet Vox that has a series on Netflix as well as in the “Five came back” which is much praised docuseries about American film history.


There’s also quite a backlog of old documentaries that will now be more available because they will be put on a streaming platform. This means that many old movies will find new audiences and that’s always a good thing both for the new audiences and for the authors of old documentaries.

There’s also an issues about the streaming companies and their ability to archive movies as well. This is a way to create the demand for the films and with these large companies having the exclusive right for streaming those films, it may keep them hidden from the public for years.


Streaming platforms are changing the movie industry and this goes for documentary films as well. Now there’s more competition between different streaming platforms and this creates more demand and more viewers for documentary film makers. These are more than before made with collaboration from established journalistic institutions.

There will also be a change in how these documentaries are seen by the industry because they will soon be accepted for awards now when the streaming companies are working with traditional movie theaters. The documentaries will also be serialized more as is the case with the best fictional content.

Send this to a friend