Documentary-The development of niche themes in China
As a branch of the film industry, documentary films record and express the changes in human society and the natural world by means of film and television. Documentaries have become an important carrier of cultural communication with their unique authenticity characteristics, rich historical and cultural connotations, and unique aesthetic values. However, in China, the development of documentary films started later than the cultural powers such as the United Kingdom and the United States. This can be clearly explained in the 2013 China Documentary Film Development Report. In 2012, China’s domestic documentary production was only 15 and only two of them entered the theater line 2. In the same year, American cinemas screened 141 documentaries online, with total revenue of 130 million U.S. dollars. In addition, the box office revenue of Chinese documentaries was only 1/600 of that of the United States.
Let’s start with the Chinese documentary industry chain. Documentaries are invested by advertisers and commercial companies or government officials in television stations, new media companies such as Tencent, bilibili, and private documentary producers. Furthermore, cultural content is delivered to the audience through TV channels, movie theater lines, and new media platforms. Official organizations such as China Documentary Network and Guangzhou International Documentary Film Festival(GZDOC) provide service organizations.
In the audience dimension, users through the platform’s paid subscription and cinema income constitute the economic value return of the documentary. Under the background of China’s documentary industry chain and China’s unified regulation of the development of the cultural industry, the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television issued a policy to accelerate the development of the documentary industry in 2012. The policy objectives include enriching documentary film creation and production, establishing a sound market system, actively promoting documentary innovation, promote the export of documentary culture and cultivate documentary-related talents.
The encouragement of cultural policies has revitalized the development of Chinese documentaries to a certain extent. For instance, the TV documentaries such as A Bite of China and National Treasures have received extremely high ratings. However, Chinese documentaries are restricted by traditional models. The difficulty of establishing a Chinese documentary project generally requires government approval before it can be broadcast. On the other hand, the documentary itself has a long production cycle, large investment, and lack of creators’ creative awareness, making it difficult for China to improve the quality of documentaries. In contrast, Australia established Screen Australia to fund the development of its own documentary, providing opportunities and financial support. In the United States, in addition to the commercial documentary channels, the documentary programs of its public television stations also account for a large proportion. This is the reason why China’s television stations have provided 30 minutes of broadcast time per day for domestic documentaries in recent years.
With the advancement of policies, the audience’s sensitivity to documentary subjects has increased. New media platforms, government official funding subsidies, and professional training have jointly promoted the development of documentaries. What is optimistic is that the appreciation level and consumption-ability of documentary audiences(see chart 1) are in a leading position in the cultural industry. Most documentary audiences have a bachelor’s degree or above and their consumption ability basically exceeds the per capita income standard. It can be said that documentaries have the potential to become the pillars of the cultural industry in the future.
Source by: China 2019 documentary content and user reports