With options for both documentary filmmakers and viewers multiplying, The Center for Media and Social Impact at American University posed the question: is public television still distinctive? What makes public television different in the growing documentary landscape? CMSI identified diversity as “one potential measure of the differentiation between publicly funded and commercial media, particularly for documentaries.” Focusing on the past two seasons of content from documentary series on public and commercial television, the study found that POV and Independent Lens earn the distinction of most diverse documentary series on television.
The study found that POV and Independent Lens are more diverse in the following categories than both commercial televsion and other documentary series on public television: minority directors, female-identified directors and minority and international characters featured in programming.
Patricia Aufderheide, an author of the study and professor at CMSI at American University, concluded:
The implications: Independent filmmakers with a diverse team or characters have options these days, but their best bet is still public TV. Public TV can celebrate the diversity in Independent Lens and POV, but can’t boast about consistent diversity in other doc series.
For more background on the study’s methods and conclusions, take a look at the full report on the CMSI’s website and this blog post. Other authors of the study include Caty Borum Chattoo, Creative Director, CMSI and Kenneth Merrill, Ph.D. Candidate in Communication Studies at American University.