Who Buys Documentaries?
Documentary funding, financing and distribution

"Who Buys Documentaries?"

The following question regarding documentary distribution recently popped up in our inbox.


Hi, I am interested in making a number of documentaries on various subjects.  I have spoken to some people who are interested in funding the project but they ask me one question I am not sure how to answer: "Who buys documentaries?" Any tips on how to answer this question? 

Answer from Desktop Documentaries:

Thank you for your question regarding documentary distribution.  

Depending on the nature of your documentary, here's a potential list of buyers:

  • Consumers - Sell directly to the people interested in the documentary.  For example, sell DVDs from your website or upload your documentary to a VOD (video on demand) service provider such as Vimeo and sell the film as a streaming download. You could also offer it through Amazon.com.

  • Broadcast Television -- Examples include HBO, A&E, BBC and The History Channel, although this is a very tough market.  To sell your documentary to a group like this, I recommend submitting your documentary to lots of film festivals where these TV networks have "agents" who attend and pick out documentaries they want to buy.  You can also try to "Pre-Sell" your documentary to broadcasters at events such as Independent Film Week (IFP), Real Screen Summit and MIPCOM.  
    (Just so you know, PBS does not usually purchase documentaries.. but it's a great way to promote your film for sales from your site)

  • Non-Profits -- A non-profit group directly connected with the subject matter of your film could become a major buyer of your documentary either by helping fund the production of the documentary and/or purchasing DVD's from you to sell to their supporters.

  • Educational Institutions and Libraries - If you have a documentary that appeals to professors and librarians, you can sell educational licenses to these organizations.  A standard license is sold for between $150-$295 (more or less depending on the quality and popularity of the film).

  • Theater Release -- One final option is a theater release where you have ticket sales.  You would have to have a really awesome movie to do this.  

Keep in mind, sales are directly related to how many people know about your film.  So marketing is almost more important than the actual making of the film. You can accomplish that through viral marketing (Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, etc).. also sending out press releases, a publicity campaign, public speaking, etc.

Wondering How To Sell Your Documentary?

With the explosion of online video and VOD (video on demand) options, filmmakers are taking distribution into their own hands and presenting (and selling) their films directly to their audience.

Check out our brand new documentary film distribution course:

Learn How To Sell Your Film!

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