At MagellanTV we love documentaries, but does the American public share our passion? To find out we asked 1,027 American men and women about their documentary consumption patterns. We see striking answers about how viewers relate to them- especially among Millennials and young women.
News sources have proliferated. Not only in number, but also in the diversity of viewpoints and degree of credibility. And yet, the technological revolution that has made this possible has also increased the accessibility of documentary movies and series. A surprising number of Americans are now turning to documentaries, and our data shows they are getting something back.
Americans consume large amounts of information and commentary on the events of the day. From our social media feeds to 24 hour news programing, there’s always something to read, watch, or listen to.
Most respondents spend most of their viewing time watching the news- far more than all others, including fictional drama. But here’s the rub- only 15 percent of respondents reported that news programming is good for their emotional/ mental health.
Our finding that viewers consider Documentaries good for mental health is line with previous research. A recent University of Berkeley, CA found nature documentaries reduce stress and improve mental health, so it’s no surprise that our Nature and Earth playlist, Stunning Visuals, is trending.
But this is not the only trend our survey revealed. Respondents reported documentaries gave them something beyond emotional / mental health- something more elusive in our 24 hour news cycle: social credibility.
Interestingly, 70 percent of respondents reported sharing something learned in a documentary while talking with others. And 44 percent of respondents go further, reporting that documentaries have inspired change in their lives – an impressive finding considering only 15 percent report spending most of their time watching documentaries.
But there’s more to this story, a whole generation more.
Our survey revealed Millennials (specifically age 25-34) use documentaries to shape their worldview. Only 40 percent of non-Millennial respondents were inspired to change their lives based on a documentary; but for Millennials, this number jumps to 57 percent.
The trend doesn’t stop there. Overall, only 39 percent of non-Millennial respondents report using a documentary successfully as evidence or proof to persuade someone. But segment again to Millennials, and the number rockets 51 percent. Bottom line: Millennials appear to be more willing to accept documentary evidence when shaping their worldview.
Report Continued Below
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Modern documentaries have advanced far beyond the stereotype of black and white footage covering old wars fought by old men. Modern documentaries are rich with diverse points of view conveyed with cinematographic art, and satisfy an unmet demand for broadly inclusive content.
Take for example a University of Pennsylvania study conducted in 2014 that asked young women about their traditional media preferences. Only 41 percent of respondents reported that their media consumption “is an accurate reflection” of personal values. And 72 percent said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed that media “portrays women to be as equally competent as their male counterparts.”
Documentaries, like the ones we feature in our Breaking Barriers: Women in History playlist, tell the stories that traditional media sources will not. Among women age 25 to 34, 62 percent reported documentaries have inspired change in their lives. Furthermore, 75 percent shared documentary evidence with others; and of those who shared, 64 percent used this evidence to persuade another about their point of view. And this is not limited to a small niche of female viewers – 68 percent of young women report watching at least one documentary a month.
Our results reveal the potential for a shifting landscape of viewer consumption patterns that merit additional study. However, what is made clear is a common appreciation of documentary content beyond its entertainment value. Viewers believe documentary content has meaning – not just for amusement, but also for expanding personal horizons. For experiencing other conditions and environments, or exploring places we cannot travel to. And perhaps most important of all, giving viewers something of value to share with others.
Documentaries have an important mission. And in this era of Fake News, they might be the medium to turn angry Twitter posts into thoughtful discussion.
MagellanTV surveyed 1,027 Americans, men and women between the ages of 18 and 64, in July 2018, with a series of questions aimed at understanding their documentary watching habits. For the sake of this report, “Millennials” and “young women” are defined as Americans between the ages of 25 and 34. The survey was randomized, anonymous, and conducted through Google Surveys.
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