Documentary filmmaker on site in Southern United States. Photo by Brian O’Leary – Crossing The Line Films.

By Grace Nolan, Adam Kane, and Darío Fernández-Bellon.

Read the full article here.

Natural history films, like Blue Planet II, have been hugely successful in recent years. These cinematic depictions of the natural world are exciting and emotive viewing experiences that captivate huge audiences worldwide. Whilst the focus of these programmes is primarily on entertaining audiences by showcasing the variety of creatures big and small on our planet, the way they live, and how they survive in the wild, critics of these programmes have suggested they should be doing more to help save our planet. We are living in a critical age where the actions of everybody on the planet will help determine how we combat environmental crises. Using natural history films to engage the public with conservation messages could be a key way of reaching people en masse. However, to do this effectively, we first need to understand whether the conservation messages already included in natural history films engage audiences.

We used Wikipedia page views to measure audience online engagement with Blue Planet II and Seven Worlds, One Planet, as well as with the documentary style production Extinction: The Facts. We analysed the daily page views for all species and conservation topics mentioned in the scripts of these shows on the day of and day after they premiered on UK television. Our results show that Wikipedia page views increased significantly for species far more frequently than they did for conservation topics, and that the average number of page views that can be attributed to the broadcast of these shows was also much higher for species than conservation topics. Additionally, online engagement with conservation topics was higher for Extinction: The Facts than for the other productions.

Our study suggests that natural history films do have great potential to engage audiences, but that in their current format they generate more interest in the species shown on screen than conservation messages. With this in mind, stronger collaboration partnerships between filmmakers and conservation messaging experts can help maximise the potential of these productions as key conservation messaging platforms.