'Independent Spirits’ Spread Beyond IFC

2/24/2006 7:00 PM Eastern

The Independent Film Channel, which has been the exclusive television home to coverage of the Independent Spirit Awards for the past 11 years, is sharing the burgeoning event this year with fellow Rainbow Media Holdings networks WE: Women’s Entertainment and AMC.

Organizers note the March 4 awards fest — which has grown from a small gathering of industry insiders to a must-stop for celebrities during Oscars weekend — also has been successfully marketed overseas.

This year, 65 countries have licensed coverage from IFC, including the United Kingdom, Mexico and locations in Latin America and North Africa. And for the past two years, Canadians have watched the program via IFC Canada.

IFC’s telecasts have propelled the Independent Spirit Awards’ growth. The ceremony is staged in a huge tent pitched on the beach in Santa Monica and organizer Film Independent now has to turn away stars who would like to come, says the firm’s executive director, Dawn Hudson.

In past years, the awards have been the sole source of major recognition for some stellar independently produced films. This year, though, the slate of top nominees looks like the Academy Awards: Brokeback Mountain, Good Night and Good Luck and Capote are up for best picture, for example.

IFC executives think their event deserves a little credit for this year’s Oscar dominance by independents. “Our broadcast has helped to popularize and bring the genre of film to the forefront,” said Debbie Demontreux, vice president of IFC original series and specials.

The live awards show is a “huge investment for us,” she added, but it has turned out to be an invaluable brand builder. Said Rainbow Entertainment Services president Ed Carroll: “It’s Super Bowl day for independents, and it’s on our network.”

Exclusive advertising partnerships and foreign distribution will help offset production costs. Coverage will be expanded this year to include a half-hour red carpet pre-show scheduled on WE starting at 4:30 p.m. ET, with the Honda Odyssey as the exclusive sponsor.

From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. ET, the program shifts to IFC for live coverage of the awards program. Carroll said Film Independent has allowed IFC to involve personalities from the channel’s programming, including musician Henry Rollins and comedienne Sarah Silverman, who will host.

Target reprises its role as the sponsor of the awards. At 10 p.m. ET, AMC will telecast an edited version of the awards show, with the rerun sponsored by Celebrity Cruises.