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Documentaries become fastest-growing genre as streamers chase current events

Data: Parrot Analytics; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Documentaries were the fastest-growing genre on streaming last year, as more news companies leaned into licensing deals with streamers around current events.

Why it matters: Data from Parrot Analytics shows that there’s an appetite for news-adjacent content on-demand.

  • "While current events have always been fodder for entertainment programming, we’ve seen a rise in consumers’ appetite for content based on real-world events," says Jana Winograde, president of entertainment at Showtime Networks Inc.

Driving the news: New series and documentaries — both scripted and unscripted — are getting optioned around events as recent as the Capitol siege and Wall Street's GameStop saga.

  • On the scripted front, Winograde says Showtime is developing a limited scripted series about the Capital riots from the same creators of Showtime's miniseries "The Comey Rule," based on James Comey's 2018 book "A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership."
  • On the unscripted front, Winograde says "we were thrilled with the consumer response" to Showtime's non-fiction projects "Kingdome of Silence" about Jamal Khashoggi's murder and "Outcry" a true crime documentary.
  • Both Discovery+ and Hulu are airing documentaries about the saga around GameStop and Wall Street's populist revolution from ITN Productions and ABC News, respectively.

Showtime has also just ordered the limited-series Superpumped based on New York Times reporter Mike Isaac’s bestselling book Super Pumped: The Battle For Uber. Hulu has just unveiled a documentary about WeWork's corporate drama.

  • Netflix recently debuted "Operation Varsity Blues," a scripted series about the celebrity college-admission scandal.
  • HBO Max and Netflix have each debuted documentaries about the perils of social media with "Fake Famous" and "The Social Dilemma."

By the numbers: Demand for documentaries has started to outpace the supply of documentary series available to consumers, according to Parrot Analytics.

  • From January 2019 to March 2021, the number of documentary series increased by 63%. But demand grew by 142%.

Between the lines: The evolution of streaming and technology has made it easier for studios and news companies to quickly turn around shows based on events shortly after they occur.

The bottom line: ”We have also found evidence that documentaries are increasingly becoming a useful retention tool (for streamers)," says Alejandro Rojas, director of applied analytics at Parrot Analytics.

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