Ovation: The US Niche Channel Dedicated to ‘Artists’. Budgets are Expanding. What Are the Sweet Spots?

Ovation is “dedicated to artists and every kind of artistic expression.”

  • SVP Programming Kris Slava  kindly shared his network’s mission, filters, sources, key deal terms and budget ‘sweet spots.
  • Kris met with us at Westdoc, and later at MIPCOM with my MDA Singapore delegation.

History

  • Launch: 1996.
  • In 2007, the channel was acquired by management and private investors.
    • At that time, there were 5 million subscribers.
  • Relaunched in 2007, the new Ovation quickly grew thanks to early distribution deals with DIRECTV, Dish, Time Warner and Comcast.
    • Today, Ovation reaches a national audience of 51 million homes.

Financial

  • Ovation is privately-held.
  • The channel is advertiser-supported and Nielsen-rated in 2010.
  • In 2012, Ovation tripled its Upfront revenue from the previous year.

Marketing

Audience

  • Ovation’s average prime time audience in 3Q 2012 was 59,000.
  • Viewing has doubled (+/-) since 2011.
  • The mix is 60/40 Women in the key 25-54 demographic.
  • A sample of niche US channels with comparably scaled audiences are DIY, IFC, Discovery Fit & Health and Outdoor.

Programming Budget

  • For  many years after the 20007 acquisition: $3-4 million / year
  • 2013 estimate: $15 million

Pipeline

According to Kris Slava, “We are looking to add 400-500 hours of new programming in 2013.”

  • Original (15%)
  • Acquired programming (85%)
  • Unscripted: 80-100 hours
  • Feature docs: 6-8

Premieres

  • U.S premieres               25%
  • Non-premieres             75%

Filters

  • Powerful storytelling about the arts and artists
  • Emotional tug
  • Ovation’s filters are:  Art, Culture, Music, Dance, Visual Art, Cultural Tourism

Competitors

  • Competing for comparable programs are: The Documentary Channel, though its new schedule hasn’t been announced following its acquisition by Participant Media; PBS, Sundance and others.

Schedule

  • Currently, Ovation has the exclusive off-network rights to seasons 8-9 of So You Think You Can Dance. The channel is running the series on Fridays.
  • Click here for the monthly schedule

Monthly Stunts

Ovation has reduced the frequency of its 1-2 week themed programming stunts. An example

  • Battle of the Nutcrackers which showcases multiple different productions of the Holiday family classic and asks viewers to vote on their favorite
  • Instead, Ovation has increased the frequency of dedicated theme nights. For example, “Artists & Icons” includes profiles of artists and artist-themed movies

Sources of Acquisitions

  • Library package deals:  70% of acquisitions.
  • Sources include ITV Studios, BBC Worldwide, DRG and others.
  • “The others are acquired as individual programs, either from individual producers (around 15%) and distributors (15%)
  • “We actively acquire documentaries, films and series at major markets and festivals, including MIP, MIPCOM, BANFF TV, Sundance, Real Screen, SXSW, TIFF, Showcase, IDFA, WESTDOC, IFM and others.”
  • “We also do deals with smaller companies, too. Content Media is a good example.”

Exclusivity / Rights

  • Ovation seeks exclusive TV, VOD, SVOD, online, mobile device and TV Everywhere viewing rights to programming in North America.

Library Deals

  • “Ovation does not currently have any output deals, although we are beginning to explore them with international distributors.”

Scripted Programs

  • “We also acquire scripted shows that tell a dramatic story about art, artists or cultural events.”
  • “And there are more MOW’s in the mix since 2011.”
  • “These fit in with the brand.”

Sweet Spots

We asked Kris what Ovation pays for programs, including its ‘sweet spot’, that magical internal benchmark for the cost of a production or acquisition.

“Our license fees for acquisitions start at:

  • Feature Docs:  $10,000 to $50-150,000 for a Signature doc.
    • “Our ‘sweet spot’ to acquire a completed feature doc is $35,000.”
    • “And we have begun to contribute completion financing for unique projects, up to $100,000.”
  • “A Chance to Dance” is a hybrid observational doc and competition show. The budget is $200,000+ / hour

Ovation’s Sweet Spots

Feature docs:

  • Low                         $3,000
  • Sweet Spot            $35,000
  • High                        $75,000 +/-
  • Signature               $100,000 for completion finance

Scripted co-pro’s:

  • Low                         $75,000
  • Sweet Spot            $150,000
  • High                        $250,000 +/-

Reminder: What is the ‘Sweet Spot’?

  • Every network is steered by an annual programming budget that establishes or implies a ‘Sweet Spot’ for an hour of original programming.
  • This benchmark is based on the network’s investment strategies, revenues, schedule, the competitive situation, contributions from co-producers and partners, and much more.
  • The ‘Sweet Spot’ is the cost that the Director/VP of Development/Programming is comfortable presenting to the final decision-maker, expecting buy-in for an approved idea that meets the channel’s mission and on screen standards.

Takeaways

  • Ovation is a rapidly growing U.S. channel that is uniquely focused on the category of arts and contemporary culture
  • With broader distribution and the new pressure of Nielsen ratings, Ovation has inevitably shifted its programming schedule from classical arts to popular culture-based entertainment that is artist-themed.
  • The channel offers modest opportunities for documentary filmmakers.
  • Ovation is also actively looking for co-production deals to help bolster its original programming slate.

Key Contacts

Ovation is based in Santa Monica CA.

  • Michelle Zajic, VP Acquisitions & Scheduling
  • Mary Carlin, Director Programming, with responsibility for docs

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