Why Documentary Content is in Demand Right Now


Image via Ideas Roadshow

With international travel largely restricted, would-be travelers have few ways to satisfy their wanderlust. Films remain a well-known exception, but fact-based, documentary-style content that opens a window to the world is now having a moment in the in-flight entertainment (IFE) space.

In a time when the longest journey many of us make is from the bedroom to the makeshift home office on the kitchen table, the hunger for fresh, factual and documentary-style content that engages all the senses has never been stronger. And while streaming said content from the comfort of the couch is always fun, it’s hard to top the unique thrill of watching breathtakingly beautiful documentary films while jetting 30,000 feet above the planet.

With new Hollywood content harder to come by these days, fact-based IFE purveyors like Flame Distribution and Ideas Roadshow say the time to stock up on fresh documentary content is now.

“There has always been interest in documentaries as a way of providing audiences with an opportunity to explore the world – whether that be through travel documentaries, natural history, human history or more entertainment-based factual content,” said Kirsten Cargill, Flame Distribution’s VP Content Sales. “Audiences want to be entertained but also have their lives enhanced, and documentaries provide that balance.”

Noting that she has seen a definite uptick of interest in documentary content during the pandemic, Cargill says documentaries also offer carriers a unique, cost-effective way to refresh their IFE slate.

Irena Burton, co-founder and COO of Ideas Roadshow (Roadshow) says she could not agree more.

Home to the award-winning Ideas Roadshow interview series, which features in-depth conversations with the brightest thinkers across the arts, sciences, and sports, Roadshow has been providing budget-friendly, fact-based IFE content and original documentaries to carriers worldwide for years, and Burton says she’s seeing demand for this type of content growing.

“For all the challenges they cause, a crisis like the pandemic represents an ideal opportunity to stop and change your worldview,” explained Burton. “And now that people are much more limited in having the usual sorts of experiences, this is an ideal occasion to plunge into a wide variety of fascinating worlds of ideas that they might not otherwise be exposed to.”

Especially since so much real-life factual information – especially on the political, medical and social equality front is, as Burton puts it: “so downright depressing.”

“Our content is different,” she added. “And it directly enables people to not only be stimulated by a wealth of captivating, accessible stories and frontline research, but also to experience first-hand the passion, dedication and joy of those making a wide range of intriguing discoveries.”

Taking those concepts to new heights in 2021, Roadshow’s upcoming offerings include their new Ideas of Film initiative, which expands the Ideas Roadshow digital platform via a wide range of ideas-based projects, from full-length documentaries – like the upcoming eight-part series, An Exploration of Chess – to intellectual biographies and animated features.

Flame is also starting off the new year with a bang, offering up a slate of IFE content featuring everything from documentary series like Outback Truckers and Volcanic New Zealand to compelling, in-development series such as The Great White Vanishing Act, Made in Space, and the timely A Girl’s Guide to Hunting, Fishing and Wild Cooking, which centers around celebrity chef Analiese Gregory going “off the grid” for a year in Tasmania’s rustic Huon Valley.

And while the immediate outlook for the IFE market may seem a little grim, both Cargill and Burton agree that there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel.

“The market is slowly coming back,” said Cargill. “By providing a diverse and interesting range of content, carriers have the opportunity to give their customers a true value-add on their journey that will keep them entertained and coming back for more.”

“As we all know, people are tired,” continued Burton. “It has been an exceptionally difficult year and many believe that the next month or two might be the hardest of all on a number of fronts. But there is real hope on the horizon. Things look to be picking up by April, and many [of our airline customers] expect that they will be slowly and steadily improving from that point forward, which means that the time to start thinking progressively to get ahead of the curve is actually right now.”