Documentaries at home on Sundance

Jan 14, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Sundance Channel plans to launch the Sundance Documentary Channel, a new cable channel devoted exclusively to documentaries.
The channel, which does not yet have in place any carriage agreements with cable multiple system operators, will debut in the second half of the year, according to a statement from channel executives.
“At the heart of the decision to launch this channel devoted to documentary film is a belief that these films not only deserve a broader audience but have a broader audience,” said a statement from actor/director Robert Redford, who founded the Sundance Channel. “Documentary films have the power to reveal truth in a way other genres don’t.”
Going ahead with the new documentary channel is a response to the increasing number of documentary submissions that “every year goes up more dramatically than any other category,” said Sundance Channel’s President and CEO Larry Aidem.
After last year’s festival, Mr. Redford committed to going forward with the documentary channel, Mr. Aidem said, and everyone concluded that, “There’s way more [documentary] product than can be exhibited, not only at the festival but on television … That’s when it crystallized.” The green light was given at the Sundance Channel board meeting last August, he said.
Sundance Channel is a venture involving Mr. Redford, Showtime Networks and Universal Studios. The board is made up of the three owners.
The new channel, like the original Sundance Channel, will be both commercial free and distributed on cable’s digital tier.
“We have a very modest expectation in terms of the revenue and the distribution,” Mr. Aidem said. “This is an investment that the owners are prepared to make. It will not be profitable for the first few years. We’re hoping to launch in front of a few million homes, but the rate card for those distributors who already carry Sundance Channel is extremely aggressive, meaning free for a long time. And then when the rate kicks in, we’re talking about something that is very modestly priced. We know our place in the world.”
This is the first “line extension” since the Sundance Channel launched in 1996, Mr. Aidem said, but others have been contemplated. Ideas for extending the Sundance brand include a Sundance Shorts Channel and a Sundance International Channel, which would focus on films from around the world.