Unscripted television has emerged as a powerful medium for delving into real-world issues and presenting a diverse range of voices and perspectives. In an era where authenticity and representation in media is highly prized, these shows offer a vital outlet for sharing stories that might not be covered elsewhere. They range from deeply personal accounts in documentary-style series to the captivating drama and competition found in reality shows, reflecting the intricate and varied nature of contemporary life and audience interests.
The significance of unscripted TV was further amplified following the 2023 labor disputes in Hollywood. Two major Hollywood labor unions went on strike, leading to a significant slowdown in the production of new scripted TV shows and movies for a large part of the year.
As a result, audiences turned to unscripted shows to fill the void left by the scarcity of scripted content. In 2023, there was a noticeable surge in interest across all major unscripted genres. Specifically, the demand for documentaries rose by 44% from early 2021 to the end of 2023, marking the most significant increase among all unscripted genres.
However, this rapid growth has led to potential signs of saturation in the documentary genre. Over the same three-year span, the production of documentaries increased by 63%, outpacing the growth in audience demand. Consequently, while documentaries constituted 23.8% of unscripted TV offerings, they only accounted for about 18% of viewer demand. This suggests that investment in the genre could stand to flatten or even decrease in the short-term.
It’s important to note that documentaries tend to attract different audience segments compared to other unscripted shows. For instance, reality TV generally attracts a predominantly female audience, with a relevant number of shows appealing to younger audiences. In contrast, documentaries are more popular with older audiences and have a more balanced appeal between male and female viewers.
The popularity of documentaries among male viewers is partly driven by sports documentaries. As of late 2023, “Welcome To Wrexham” was the most in-demand docuseries in the U.S., and ESPN’s “30 For 30” series continued to maintain high levels of viewer interest.
Daniel Quinaud is a senior data analyst at Parrot Analytics, a WrapPRO partner. For more from Parrot Analytics, visit the Data and Analysis Hub.
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