How Streaming is Changing Documentary Films

How Streaming is Changing Documentary Films

Streaming services have become a key part of the entertainment industry in recent years, and are now threatening to jeopardize traditional mediums. This reaches far beyond the realm of cinema and cable television. Talk shows, documentaries and even long-form journalism are being disrupted by this new technology.

Likewise, the world of documentary films is changing as well. Change is coming hard and fast in a variety of ways, and it’s not easy to predict which ones will stick in the long-term.

A Wider Market

The market for documentary films has always been smaller than broader, more mainstream projects, and filmmakers have learned to adapt. However, as streaming platforms now offer access to a much wider audience, documentaries are enjoying new access to the mainstream. This is one net positive.


The lines between journalism and documentary film are blurring, as more films take on a journalistic approach to societal topics. Several big players have recently entered the game: The New York Times has shifted focus to more long-form video content, and the Obamas are now collaborating with Netflix to create documentaries with civic and societal themes.

New Companies

New businesses are joining the world of streaming. What was once an industry dominated by Netflix is now seeing competition from companies such as Disney, HBO and Amazon. More competition may lead to an increase in overall quality.

More Awards

For some time now, streaming services were ineligible for awards, as categories were not available to accommodate their new technology. Awards were reserved mostly for films screened only in theaters.

However, documentaries produced for streaming will now be eligible to receive award recognition, due to increased collaboration between theaters and streaming companies. This is creating some backlash, however, as streamers can remove films from theaters once they have become eligible for awards.


There’s a move to serialization when it comes to both fictional and non-fiction content. Longer content offers more room for creators to express themselves, and streaming technology allows for the content to be consumed in large quantities at once, commonly known as “binging”. Documentaries can expect similar treatment in the coming years. This is already noticeable in the work produced by liberal outlet Vox, with their Netflix series Five Came Back: a highly-praised series about American film history.


There’s quite a long backlog of older documentaries, which will now become available as they are uploaded to streaming platforms. This means many older films will find new audiences: a net positive for both viewers and creators alike. On the flip side, streaming companies will have the option of archiving films as well: creating a higher demand for films by keeping them hidden from the public for years.


Streaming platforms are changing the movie industry, but not every change is a negative.