Weaknesses in the BBC and Channel 4 e-commissioning systems have come to light in a survey unveiled at Sheffield Doc/Fest, with 70% of commissioners admitting they had rarely developed an idea via the system.

The survey, conducted by The Documentary Filmmakers Group, showed only 27% of film-makers had used it in the past two years.

The survey generated responses from 155 film-makers and 15 commissioners from the BBC, Channel 4 and Al-Jazeera. Half the commissioners preferred to be contacted through one-liner emails, compared with only 10% who preferred the e-commissioning system.

Feedback about e-commissioning from film-makers included: “I would prefer to discuss programme ideas with the relevant commissioner directly.”

The feeling was shared by BBC documentaries commissioner Charlotte Moore and C4 creative diversity director Stuart Cosgrove.

Moore described the system as “literally a process, a back-up system that ensures you are directed to the right person.

It’s a safeguard if, for whatever reason, your idea got missed on a personal email.”

She added: “Your calling card is how you pitch, how you get in to see someone, and perhaps about making a tape. The question is how you start that dialogue.”

Cosgrove agreed more commissions emerge out of purposeful dialogue, but said that raises questions about how to build relationships in the first instance. He pointed to a “bottleneck” of entry-level producers seeking relationships with commissioners.

Former Current TV managing director Jane Mote also highlighted the limited number of broadcasters to which documentary makers could take their ideas, and warned against directors becoming disheartened by rejections from the bigger broadcasters and giving up.

The survey also found that 72.5% of respondents were self-funding developments worth less than £1,000, despite 40% of the commissioners saying they would be willing to give development money to new suppliers.

The e-commissioning system was established to offer IP protection to producers as they develop their ideas.