The Sundance Channel: Redford Fading. The Filters? How Many Green Lights? Which Producers?

  • Where is the Sundance Channel headed after 15 years?
    • Founder Robert Redford is an occasional presence at the channel
    • He’s certainly not gripping the tiller
    • Is there anything left of his vision? 
  • A clue: What did Sundance green light at the 2011 Upfronts?

 Ownership

  • Robert Redford, Universal Studios and Showtime Networks launched the Sundance Channel in 1996
  • Rainbow Media acquired full ownership in 2008 for $496 million
    • The Rainbow family of channels is lead by AMC (Tagline: ‘Story Matters Here’) and includes IFC (‘Always Slightly Off’), WEtv (‘Life As We Know It’) and Wedding Central
    • Rainbow Media is a division of # 8 U.S. cable/satellite operator Cablevision Systems Corp (3.3 million subscribers)

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Sundance Distribution

  • U.S.: 40 million subscribers
    • Sundance ranks well outside the Top 20 U.S. networks as measured by distribution and average prime time viewing
  • Canada: A Corus Entertainment property
  • Europe and Asia: Expanding footholds

Direction

  • Under Rainbow’s management, Sundance has turned away from the founders’ vision of ‘super-serving’ its indie niche with edgy movies, docs and culturally-forward series
    • The channel now pursues a slice of the mainstream TV audience
    • Its tagline: ‘Live Your True Life’
  • The Sundance Channel is still the official network of the iconoclastic Sundance Film Fest 

Target Audience

  • Adults 35-44
  • Female skewing, but also appealing to men
  • The Sundance Channel characterizes its audience as
    • ‘Plugged into the World’
    • ‘LOVE Television: watching up to 7 hours a day’
    • ‘Desire for the next big thing’
    • ‘Influencers’
    • ‘Want to push their own boundaries’
    • ‘Need to expand their minds and grow personally’

Competition

  • OWN, Planet Green, Bravo, AMC and others

Acquisitions

  • Sundance is still primarily an acquisitions channel, and most of the acquisitions are movies
    • The titles are bigger than before: less niche, less obscure
    • More Pulp Fictions fewer Old Joys
  • For years the Sundance Channel programming team was active in the international documentary market
    • The channel has stopped acquiring docs for its Monday DOCDAY slot
    • Although Sundance Channel docs live on in its digital offerings

Original Programming

Sundance programmers are seeking

  • ‘Series that tell a story, build, and have a payoff’
  • ‘Formats that are repeatable and returnable’
  • ‘Programs that add value to the lives of our audience’

Creative Filters

The  channel’s ‘Programming Brief’ outlines the Sundance programming filters for producers:

 

   

Our Creative Filters Defined

The Pursuit of Living a True Life
Are you living your true life? Dreamers. Individuals. Independents – they all have one thing in common: they chase their passion and are true to themselves. This is the core of our original programming – people that are living their true life, or are on the chase for it!

Emotional Immersion
We take our audience on a journey – the emotional risk, and the rollercoaster, that comes with the pursuit of living a true life.

Credible Individuals
It doesn’t get more credible than someone who is living their true life. We experience the world from their unique POV.

Authentic Situations
When you are on the pursuit of living a true life, the real story is all you need.

Idea Forecasting
We celebrate what is just ahead of the curve – ideas, people and things that are on the horizon. What’s next. Now.

Original Programs, 2011

Sundance is steadily increasing its original content, but, we hear, without significantly upping the programming budget

  • 2010:       35+/- hours
  • 2011:       ‘75-80 hours’

UPFRONTS
And which programs matched up against the Sundance filters and budgets?

Unscripted programs announced at the 2011 Upfronts were:

SUNDANCE CHANNEL        
New Series        
  Title

Eps

Min

Season

Producer

  ALL ON THE LINE

8

60

1

Authentic Entertainment
  LUDO BITES AMERICA

6

60

1

Authentic Entertainment
  GARO UNLEASHED

6

60

1

North South Productions
  LOVE|LUST

14

60

1

Sharp Entertainment
  QUIRKY

6

60

1

Sharp Entertainment
  SHOEBOX SESSIONS

10

30

1

Relativity Real
           
Returning Series        
  GIRLS WHO LIKE BOYS WHO LIKE BOYS

8

60

2

World of Wonder
         
In Development        
  NEUMONT (wt)        
  DIVA OF DISTRESSED (wt)        

 

TWO TAKEAWAYS

1. Where are the Producers Located?

We keep tabs of the locations of the production companies who earn commissions

  • This knowledge may help if you’re looking to commission programs
  • Or get a job

New series hours:

  • LA: 30
  • NY: 20
  • Everywhere else: 0

2. How Many New Indies?

  • Each of the green lit producers is well established, and enjoys multiple commissions from other U.S. channels

ALSO

What Does Sundance Pay for Programs?

Click here for our ‘Sweet Spot’ study of U.S. unscripted networks, including what the Sundance Channel pays for programs.

On Line

  • SundanceNow is an online destination where you can rent or buy ‘the best in contemporary and classic independent films from all over world’

On Demand

  • Sundance Selects is a leading U.S. distributor of prestige films that focuses on American independents, documentaries and world cinema
  • Some of the past and upcoming projects the label has worked on are: Abbas Kiarostami’s Cannes prize winner Certified Copy starring Juliette Binoche, Werner Herzog’s 3D Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Errol Morris’ Tabloid and Sundance Film Festival Documentary Audience Award-winner Buck.

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SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT

LA ROCHELLE
Sunnyside of the Doc
La Rochelle, France
June 21-24
3D Where is the Money ?
For a year now, 3D has been on the rise. Initiatives are announced by the week.
Is this new format the next El Dorado, despite the heavy technical constraints ?  
Between public subsidies, industrial partnerships, TV copros and theatrical releases: What is the path to successfully finance a 3D project?   
What is the cost premium for 3D vs HD?

Ghislaine Le Rhun-Gautier, head of 3D project, Orange (France)
John Cassy, Director, Sky 3D (UK)
Baptiste Heynemans CNC (NTP) (France)
Laurent Dondey, DP La Géode (France)
Modérateur: Peter Hamilton, DocumentaryTélévision.com