With increased backing from parent companies NBC and Viacom, Sundance Channel is trying to get noticed by admitting it is not the first option for cable viewers and pitching itself as break from the norm.
The network boasts a new tagline and a programming grid to help viewers navigate their offerings, in addition to an increased budget for originals, with four shows in development.
The all-digital premium network, co-owned by NBC Universal, Robert Redford and Showtime Networks, is adopting the tagline "Sundance Channel For a Change" this fall.
“We know our place in the television viewing world,” said president and CEO Larry Aidem. “In a digital world, we’re never going to be less than a three-digit [channel position] number. We’re not the first thing people turn on at night and we acknowledge that we’re a secondary viewing option.”
Sundance says its original programming budget is “up dramatically,” with EVP, Programming & Marketing Laura Michalchyshyn about six months into her job. Originals and acquired series account for about 25% of the network’s fare now, the other 75% being movies and documentaries.
Beginning in September, that programming will be structured in a grid, giving shows fixed start and end times and establishing branded blocks (Alan Cumming-hosted “Midnight Snack” on Friday nights and Kung-Fu movie block “Asia Extreme,” on Sundays, for example).
Originals are slated mainly for late night.
Four new programs are in development including weekly media satire Culture Shock; addiction-themed documentary limited series Addict Nation from R.J. Cutler (Freshman Diaries, American Candidate); and sketch comedy/mockumentary series The Whitest Kids U Know, based on a comedy troupe of the same name. The network is also developing shows with Court TV, Bravo, MSNBC and others and looking to acquire full libraries and packs of films from independent studios like Lions Gate and Warner Independent Pictures.
Four films in production include Came so Far from Beauty, a documentary about singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen the network pre-licensed U.S. exclusive pay TV rights from Lions Gate Television’s feature-length documentary unit.
A high priority for the network is limited series Iconoclasts, from Sundance and Grey Goose Entertainment, which will likely bow at 9 p.m. the second week in November.
Conde Nast Media Group will promote the show in its magazines and the show will be cross-promoted by MTV Networks and NBC. The show pairs leaders in various professions (chef Mario Batali with R.E.M. front man Michael Stipe, for instance, or Viacom chief Sumner Redstone with producer Brian Grazer) for an hour of discussion.
On the marketing front, the network says it plans national multi-platform campaigns tied to 3-4 original or acquired series per year.
To that end, Sundance will pair with Apple to promote the Al Franken Show through a weekly podcast on iTunes and a “best of” clip show on apple.com.