Project Development in Independent Documentary Production
Over the last few decades, European television industries have become increasingly commercialised across all genres with intensified competition and rising economic pressures leading to risk aversion and an orientation on audience ratings among broadcasters. In a broadcasterpublisher system the economic pressures that the networks experience are directly passed onto independent production companies impacting strongly on the production conditions and the nature of the programmes produced. My research project examines the under-researched independent production sector with a focus on the production of documentary programmes for television. The project analyses the impact the broadcasting system and its power relations and economic imperatives have on the development of original programme ideas. The recent changes in the broadcasting system are not restricted to a single nation state but are the result of global developments in the media industries with consequences for various national television outputs including documentaries. My research looks at the production framework in two national contexts, Great Britain and Germany, uncovering differences but also similarities in national culture, regulation and economy. In line with the tradition of media production studies, the research subject is approached in an ethnographic study applying participant observation and interviews complemented by content analysis of programme proposals. The case study of this research involves two independent production companies that specialise in documentary production. The analytical focus centres on three areas: first, organisational issues and practices in the development process; secondly, occupational issues with regard to the labour conditions in independent documentary production; and thirdly, textual issues with regard to the documentary programmes that are being developed. The thesis, with reference to the structure-agency debate, cultural labour in creative industries and documentary theory, will address key aspects of the independent production sector: Power relations and autonomy in the broadcasting commissioning system; the quality of working life; the special appeal of working in television; the potential for innovation; and the content and style conventions of the genre.