“We’re paying particular attention to Sundance” because of the campaign to begin folding in commercials — due to take effect toward the end of this year — AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan told analysts this morning. The company touted Sundance Channel‘s appeal to upscale audiences in its sales pitches to advertisers for the upfront market, and is now negotiating to change the channel’s pay TV distribution agreements. Sundance’s current affiliation deals “had not embraced or expected advertising”, Sapan says. But “we’re at the final stage of that [renegotiation] plan”. While the finances for Sundance remain “a little difficult to model,” the AMC chief says that he wants to maximize ad rates by promoting the channel’s “story-telling genetics” and ability to become “a home for some of the best shows on TV.” That should result in “very high engagement and people who care a lot about them.” AMC has used the drama Rectify, its first wholly owned original scripted series, to lead its campaign to change Sundance’s business model. “The critical reception was extremely strong and we think that signals vitality for the direction the channel is going in,” Sapan says. He adds that AMC helped the series by offering new episodes in movie theaters and on cable VOD ahead of their appearance on the channel’s program schedule. “We tried to get people to watch and refer their friends and others to it and we think there’s been some success.”
MIPTV Briefs: Keshet Int’l; AMC/Sundance; ‘Big Brother’; ‘Restless’; Bear Grylls; OWN UK; Warner TV Distribution
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Keshet International‘s UK office has hired producer Amelia Hann as head of unscripted programming to oversee a new factual production venture. Hann was most recently executive producer on Channel 4’s The Undateables and her other credits include the BAFTA winning Ross Kemp On Gangs, Wife Swap USA, Baby Bible Bashers, Scrapheap Challenge/Junkyard Wars and The Hunt For Britain’s Sex Traffickers.
EXCLUSIVE: Sundance Channel has greenlighted drama series The Descendants (working title), from writer Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners) and producer Sarah Condon (Bored To Death), with a six-episode straight-to-series order. As Sundance is stepping up its original scripted efforts, the cable network also is expanding its scripted programming team. In addition to the recent appointment of Nena Rodrigue as Head of Programming and Development, overseeing scripted and unscripted development with a focus on scripted series, Sundance has named Christian Vesper as SVP Scripted Development and Current, and Jordan Helman as Director, Scripted Development and Current. Vesper, based in New York, reports to Rodrigue. Helman is based in Los Angeles and reports to Vesper.
The Descendants is Sundance’s second wholly owned original scripted series, joining Rectify, which debuts April 22. (Sundance’s mini-series Top Of The Lake premieres March 18.) The Descendants, which was among the handful of scripts Sundance brass zeroed in on for series pickup, is a hard-hitting drama that revolves around a sheriff struggling to keep his family together while simultaneously policing two clashing communities: the small town where he grew up and the neighboring Ramapo Mountains, home of the Ramapo Mountain Indians. After a terrible tragedy and cover-up occurs involving the sheriff’s wife, an unholy alliance is forged between the sheriff and a dangerous member of the tribe that will come back to haunt all involved. Guzikowski, repped by Verve and Madhouse Entertainment, wrote the script and created the series with former HBO executive-turned-producer Condon. “At Sundance Channel, we are passionately dedicated to the creation of non-formulaic, daring original stories and we are delighted with this outstanding new addition to our scripted slate,” said Sarah Barnett, Sundance Channel President and General Manager.
Sundance Channel‘s Sarah Barnett is getting a title bump. Barnett, who has served as EVP and general manager of the cable channel since 2009, has been upped to president and general manager, effective immediately. She is based in the company’s headquarters in New York City and reports to AMC Networks COO Ed Carroll, who noted that “under Sarah’s leadership, Sundance Channel has undergone a successful and dramatic transformation.”
During her tenure, Barnett has been building Sundance Channel into a destination for original programming. The channel is currently preparing the rollout of its first wholly owned scripted drama Rectify, which premieres Monday, April 22, and Top Of The Lake, which bows Monday, March 18.
These look like interesting defensive maneuvers at a time when cable and satellite companies are threatening to drop little-watched channels. Sundance — which only reaches about 52M pay TV households — would seem to be vulnerable in some negotiations, although AMC Networks says it has recently completed long-term deals with Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. But AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan told analysts today that he recognizes the channel “is undernourished, in need of (investment) and rich in opportunities.” While execs offered few specifics, they noted that on April 22 Sundance will introduce its first fully owned scripted series, Rectify (from the producers of Breaking Bad), and that a second one will be coming as soon as next winter. There’ll be at least two scripted series in 2013 vs one in 2012. In addition, the company just announced that beginning March 4 Sundance will show the first four seasons of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Along with the Sundance investments, AMC is researching online distribution opportunities that “shouldn’t be confused with TV Everywhere” — the industry-wide streaming initiative — Sapan says. The goal is to become “educated and smart” in the possibility of distributing shows directly to consumers. “Think iTunes,” he says.
Sundance Channel Developing Dramas Produced By Robert Redford, Sarah Condon, Steve Buscemi, Ira Glass & Bob Cooper
Sundance Channel has unveiled its 2013-2014 original scripted development slate, which includes five drama projects: Valentines from producer Robert Redford and writer Olaf Olafsson, Behind The Sun from producers Steve Buscemi and Stanley Tucci and writer Dylan Gary, The Descendants (no relation to the 2011 movie) from producer Sarah Condon and writer Aaron Guzikowski, T from producer Ira Glass and writers Dan Futterman and Anya Epstein, and Death In The Modern Age from producers Bob Cooper, JJ Jamieson and Michael Fuchs and writers Josh Shaffer & Eli Kooris.
Sundance Channel’s first wholly owned scripted drama, Rectify, is slated to premiere next year. The channel’s scripted efforts to date have been in the limited series/mini-series area through co-productions and acquisitions. They include miniseries Carlos, Appropriate Adult and the upcoming Restless. Here are details about the projects on Sundance’s drama development slate:
For the first time, Sundance Channel will be available in Thailand via a deal with TrueVisions, the country’s largest pay-TV operator. AMC/Sundance Channel Global made the announcement today along with a deal for Sundance On-Demand, which will debut …
StudioCanal Acquires Hoyts Distribution Down Under
European production and distribution giant StudioCanal has expanded its footprint to Australia and New Zealand, acquiring Hoyts Distribution, which releases the Twilight franchise Down Under. Hoyts Corp, which owns the second-biggest circuit in Australasia, had been looking to unload its distribution unit before The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 opens here in November. No price was disclosed for the 11-year-old distribution company, which has a library of more than 120 titles, but industry executives estimated it would have fetched $A20 million-$A30 million. The existing team led by CEO Robert Slaviero remains in place.