Love Factually: Watching documentaries is booming, inspiring a nation of aspiring armchair experts

Wednesday 9 June 2021
  • FROM REEL TO REAL - Brits have watched more documentaries this past year than ever before
  • Research comes as Sky announce five new Original factual programmes
  • Other Sky original titles coming to Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW includes Chernobyl ’86,: Hawking Ghislaine Maxwell: Epstein’s Shadow and Positive

Nothing has got in the way of Brits and their TV screens this past year, especially factual content, with new research from Sky revealing that two in five Brits admit to watching more documentaries in the last 12 months than ever before. The research was commissioned to celebrate the first anniversary of the launch of Sky Documentaries and Sky Nature.

The boom in factual programming - a genre of non-fiction television programming that documents actual events and real people - is such that approximately eight million people say that they watch at least four factual programmes every single week, with one in five feeling so strongly about the subject they are watching that they question whether they are in the right career.

Real life really does imitate art, as one in ten Brits say that watching factual crime programmes has even inspired them to become real life police detectives. It’s no wonder then that crime and justice (28%) tops the list of the UK’s favourite documentary programmes, closely followed by history (27%), science and nature (25%).

1 in 6 (19%) also say they’ve been inspired to become the next Mary Beard or Sir David Attenborough from their viewing of history and nature content.

Many even engage in dual screening, with a third (31%) further researching documentaries or the people in them while watching a programme.

Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual, comments: “More than ever factual programming seems to be inspiring water-cooler conversations across the country; even when the water-cooler has to be virtual. It's interesting and really exciting to see that people have engaged even more with documentaries during the strange year we’ve had, perhaps indicating a desire to escape and experience people, places, stories from both near and far. It was great to learn from this research that the public are excited about the new films and series launching on Sky Documentaries including: Ghislaine Maxwell: Epstein's Shadow, Mother Teresa: For the Love of God and many more.”

So, what’s behind this surge in popularity? Knowledge-hungry Brits. A third of people (33%) say that they get most of their factual knowledge from watching factual TV programmes, ahead of books (23%) and news (17%). Trust also plays a big role, with twice as many people admitting they trust documentaries for information more so than the government (24% vs 11%).

The influence of factual programming can be felt even further, with more than half of people (53%) in the UK admitting that they have changed their mind about a subject after having watched a factual programme on the topic. One in eight (12%) also say they have become more vocal on human rights or environmental issues as a result of watching documentaries.

Approximately one in seven (14%) say factual programmes have inspired them to be more creative with the food they cook, with the same number being encouraged to explore nature and the great outdoors more often.

Jamie East, TV broadcaster, journalist and critic comments: There’s a reason why we can’t stop watching hard-hitting documentaries, awe-inspiring nature programmes and gripping history shows, they give us an all-access immersion into a world that would otherwise be extremely difficult to explore. Mentally stimulating, emotive and provocative, factual programmes really speak to us and feed us with knowledge or insight that we’re clearly so thirsty for. So, if like me, you’re among the eight million people who regularly tune into at least four factual programmes a week, Sky has a wealth of amazing factual content to look forward to.” 

The data also coincides with the broadcaster announcing five new Sky original documentaries coming to the service later this year. For more information on this please click here.

For further information, please contact:

Sky at Fever

 Research commissioned by Sky in May 2021, consisting of 2,006 UK adults.

*The Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW slate includes:

Biographical Documentaries

Mother Teresa: For the Love of God? (3x60”)

Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW. A Sky Original documentary produced by Minnow Films in association with Sky Studios.

Over three episodes, Mother Teresa: For the Love of God? takes viewers on a remarkable ride through the twists and turns of an improbable life, revealing the extraordinary truth about one of the most recognised yet enigmatic, controversial, and complex figures in contemporary history.

Told through the multiple viewpoints from those who knew her best and drawing on archive and personal letters where we hear from Mother Teresa in her own words, this series tells the astonishing story of a latter-day Saint.

Directed by Benedict Sanderson and Ziyaad Desai, Executive Produced by Sophie Leonard and Sophie Jones and Produced by Dearbhalie Flynn.

Mother Teresa: For the Love of God? is a Sky Original documentary produced by Minnow Films in association with Sky Studios and commissioned by Zai Bennett, Sky’s Managing Director of Content and Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual.

The Three Lives of Michael X w/t (1x90”)

Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW. A Sky Original documentary produced by BBC Studios in association with Sky Studios.

TX: October 2021

This is the untold story of the rise and fall of Michael X otherwise known as Michael De Freitas or Michael Abdul Malik - a man once heralded as the UK’s answer to Malcolm X who spent the end of his days on death row, and eventually executed by signed order of the Queen.

The feature length documentary directed by James Van der pool (The Surgeon’s Cut, Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners, Black and British) will provide a chance to re-evaluate this divisive historical figure, a man who lived multiple lives in one lifetime and knew everyone – from Muhammad Ali to William Burroughs, Malcom X to John Lennon - but few today have heard of him.

This intimate portrait of Michael’s life and times will explore a defining period of modern British history. Reflecting all sides of the story - with insider testimony from those who knew him, unseen archive and dramatic reconstruction - the audience will be taken from Michael’s childhood in Trinidad, to the genesis of the British Black Power Movement and the intoxicating days of counterculture and Notting Hill Carnival, before returning to the Caribbean where Michael was tried and convicted of murder.

The Three Lives of Michael X is a Sky Original documentary produced by BBC Studios’ Documentary Unit in association with Sky Studios and commissioned for Sky by Zai Bennett, Sky’s Managing Director of Content and Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual.

Sports Documentaries

Queen of Speed (1x90”)

Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW. A Sky Original documentary produced by Drum Studios in association with Sky Studios

Queen of Speed tells the incredible story of one woman’s battle to rise to the top of the male-dominated world of rallying in the 70s and 80s.

From the roads of Monte Carlo to the dirt races in Africa as well as in America/USA, Michèle Mouton defied the odds as she broke her way into the world of motorsport at a time when rallying was at its fastest and most dangerous. She made history as the first and only woman to win rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship and the last woman to compete in top-level rallying, cementing her reputation as one of the greatest motorsport drivers of all time.

Directed by award-winning Barbie MacLaurin (The Abused, The Drug Trial) and produced by Drum Studios, Queen of Speed will be driven by compelling interviews with Michèle, her co-driver, her family, her teammates and her rivals. Featuring spectacular footage of some of the most dangerous races on earth, as well as previously unseen cinematic archive shot by an embedded cameraman who captured the behind the scenes politics and pressures facing Michèle, this film takes viewers on a white-knuckle ride through this exciting time in sporting history.

Queen of Speed is a Sky Original documentary commissioned by Zai Bennett, Sky’s Managing Director of Content and Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual. Hayley Reynolds is the Commissioning Editor for Sky.

Right to Fight w/t (1x90”)

Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW. A Sky Original documentary produced by RAW  in association with Sky Studios

Directed by BAFTA award-winner Georgina Cammalleri and Exec-Produced by Tim Wardle (dir. Three Identical Strangers) comes Right to Fight, the untold story of the pioneers of women’s boxing, who defied sexism and racism for their place in the ring.

New York, 1974. The city is on its knees and nearly bankrupt. Life for women is hard. Domestic violence is deemed a “private matter”, and women can be fired for getting pregnant. Roe vs Wade has legalised abortion across America, but access to it remains highly restricted. Racial prejudice is commonplace.

Against this backdrop, women from all walks of life decide to forge a path into the most macho of sports: boxing. They are mocked and patronized, told that women are too delicate to fight, and their attempts to secure boxing licenses are rejected.  But time and time again, they pick themselves up from the canvas and continue the fight, taking the New York State Athletic Commission to court and igniting a movement across the country that will change the face of boxing forever.

Weaving together rare and previously unseen archive footage, intimate interviews with the key fighters behind the campaign, managers, trainers, judges and spectators, and contemporary verité filmmaking, this cinematic documentary takes viewers ringside to one of the greatest fights never told.  Powerful, moving and dramatic, this is the story of how a small group of maverick pioneers overcome the odds to become the first women issued with professional boxing licenses.

Right to Fight is a Sky Original documentary commissioned by Zai Bennett, Sky’s Managing Director of Content and Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual.

Crime Caper Documentaries

The Scream (1x90”)

Sky Documentaries and streaming service NOW. A Sky Original documentary produced by Curve Media.
TX: 2022

This is the remarkable story of the theft of one of the most iconic paintings in history, Edward Munch’s The Scream. Stolen during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway, it was an outrageously bold art heist that triggered a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase, involving the Norwegian authorities, the global media and Scotland Yard’s specialist Art Squad.

Only one man was ever convicted of the crime - former professional footballer Pål Enger. Why did he do it and what really happened? Different people involved in the case have different versions of the truth. Was Pål the true mastermind? Was his motive money, fame or an obsession that’s haunted him since he first saw the painting as a child on a school trip? Brilliantly witty and mischievous, The Scream is an extraordinary Scandi-noir psychological crime caper.

Directed by Jenny Ash (The World’s Biggest Murder Trial, Me and My Penis) and Executive Produced by Oscar-winning filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Senna, Amy, Diego Maradona), Camilla Lewis and Rob Carey for Curve Media.

The Sky Original documentary is commissioned by Zai Bennett, Sky’s Managing Director of Content and Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual.

Other upcoming titles

These five new Sky Original commissions join a raft of factual programming coming to Sky Documentaries including a forensic look at newly discovered footage from the Chernobyl disaster in Chernobyl ‘86, a 90-minute feature documentary chronicling the life of world-famous cosmologist Stephen Hawking in Hawking: Can You Hear Me?, a three-hour special investigating the powerful, connected Ghislaine Maxwell in Ghislaine Maxwell: Epstein’s Shadow and a definitive and ultimately uplifting story at Britain’s 40-year struggle with HIV/AIDS in Positive.

Chernobyl ‘86 (1x90”)

Directed by Emmy Award winner James Jones, Chernobyl ’86 tells the story of Chernobyl through newly discovered archive footage and original interviews with those who were there.

For thirty-five years the story of what happened in April 1986, when the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant melted down, has enthralled and horrified. Radio programmes and scripted dramas have all told their version of events and it’s clear an enduring fascination exists for the human tragedy and broader significance of this nuclear disaster. But there has not been a documentary that tells the full true story of this cataclysmic, world-changing event in such remarkable close-up detail – until now. The extraordinary archive was shot at great risk in the hours, days, weeks and months after the accident by a handful of cameramen positioned inside of the plant. These cameramen lived side by side with the ‘liquidators’ who went to incredible and often fatal lengths to try to prevent another explosion. The reality of their bravery and sacrifice is more harrowing than any drama can portray.

Chernobyl ’86 is produced by Top Hat in association with Sky Studios.

The Sky Original documentary has been commissioned by Zai Bennett, Sky’s Managing Director of Content and Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual.

Positive (3x60”)

Produced by the award-winning team at Arrow Pictures and directed by Grace Chapman, Positive marks Britain’s 40-year struggle with HIV/AIDS. Told by the key players who confronted this terrifying disease, Positive is the definitive and ultimately uplifting story of the disease that changed Britain.

Across three episodes, Positive will tell the story of the arrival of HIV/AIDS in Britain through interviews with some of the earliest HIV patients and real-life heroes, including healthcare workers and activists on the front line, working tirelessly to conquer the disease. It also includes brilliant and rarely seen archival footage. The story of HIV/AIDS permeates key moments in the recent history of our country – from the turbulence of the miners’ strike to the long battle for same sex marriage. Through Positive, audiences will witness the making of modern Britain.

John Smithson is the Creative Director for Arrow Pictures.

The Sky Original documentary has been commissioned by Zai Bennett, Sky’s Managing Director of Content and Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual.

Hawking: Can You Hear Me? (1x90”)

Hawking: Can You Hear Me? is a new 90-minute feature documentary about the life of Professor Stephen Hawking. The film produced by multi-Bafta winning Atlantic Productions, explores the remarkable human story of the man who became one of the most iconic physicists of the 20th Century. It draws on private family archive – footage and stills – and includes interviews with his family, friends and colleagues.

Hawking: Can You Hear Me? is produced by Atlantic Productions in association with Sky Studios.

The Sky Original documentary has been commissioned by Zai Bennett, Managing Director of Content at Sky UK & Ireland, and Jamie Morris, Director of Programme Strategy.

Ghislaine Maxwell: Epstein’s Shadow (3x60”)

The three-part documentary investigates the powerful, connected, and mysterious Ghislaine Maxwell, who was once the heiress to the Maxwell fortune but whose life is rocked by a series of scandals and accusations when she meets Jeffrey Epstein, the serial sex offender. The series will untangle the complicated story of power, sex, and money, leading to Ghislaine Maxwell’s arrest and pointing to her upcoming trial.

Ghislaine Maxwell: Epstein’s Shadow is produced by Blue Ant Studios, in collaboration with Sky UK and Peacock.

The Sky Original documentary has been commissioned for Sky Documentaries by Zai Bennett, Managing Director of Content and Poppy Dixon, Director of Documentaries and Factual and negotiated by Jack Oliver, Head of Co-Productions, Sky Entertainment.

About Sky 

Sky is Europe’s leading media and entertainment company and is proud to be part of the Comcast group. Across six countries, we connect our 23.4 million customers to the best entertainment, sports, news and arts including our own award-winning original content. 

 Our technology, including the market leading Sky Q, connects people to everything they love – with entertainment from Sky TV, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video and BBC iPlayer, and apps like Spotify, YouTube, BBC Sounds, Highbrow, Peloton, Fiit, and more, in one place, easy. Our streaming service NOW brings viewers all the enjoyment of Sky with the flexibility of a contract-free service. Through our new B2B broadband provider, Sky Connect, we offer superfast broadband with business-grade 4G back-up to small businesses in the UK. 

 Building on the success of Sky Originals like Chernobyl, Gangs of London and Brassic, we are doubling our investment in original content by 2024 through Sky Studios. Sky News provides impartial and trustworthy journalism for free, Sky Arts is the UK’s only dedicated free-to-air arts channel making the arts accessible for everyone and Sky Sports, our leading sports broadcasting service, brings customers some of the biggest and best global sporting events from the Premier League to Formula 1 and everything in-between. Our new TV and movie studio, Sky Studios Elstree, which will open in 2022, is expected to create over 2,000 new jobs and generate an additional £3 billion of production investment in the UK over the first five years. 

 We believe that we can be a force for good in the communities in which we operate. We’re committed to being Europe’s first net zero carbon entertainment company by 2030 and we’re proud to be a Principal Partner and Media Partner of COP26. We take pride in our approach to diversity and inclusion: we’ve been recognised by The Times and Stonewall for our commitment to diversity and we’ve set ambitious 2025 targets to continue to increase diversity and representation.  We’re also committed to investing £30million across our markets over three years to improve our approach to diversity and inclusion, and to tackle racial injustice.  

About NOW  

NOW is the home of brilliant entertainment. We’re one of the UK’s leading streaming services with critically acclaimed shows, new and exclusive movies, unmissable sport and epic kids TV – all with no contract. Join in with an Entertainment, Cinema, Sports, or hayu Membership to stream instantly across TV, mobile, desktop and over 60 other devices. Watch on the go and even offline with our app by downloading shows and movies.

Entertainment Members can enjoy critically acclaimed dramas, documentaries and comedies, Emmy award-winning shows, the best of HBO and exclusive Sky Originals. Cinema Members can discover over 1000 brilliant movies, from the latest blockbusters and classic favourites and a new premiere every day. Sports Members cheer on unmissable Premier League, international cricket, F1, golf and more – all live, across 11 Sky Sports channels.

Plus, members can enhance their experience with NOW Boost – that’s full 1080p HD, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound and streaming on up to 3 devices at once, all ad-free in VOD.

For super-fast broadband, members can enjoy a contract-free connection with a NOW Brilliant Broadband, Fab Fibre or Super Fibre Membership.

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