Docu Net Turns Corner


A year after converting
from a public-interest service to
a full commercial network, Documentary
Channel has inked
brand association deals that
have helped push the independent
service into the black.

Dedicated to the genre and
the independent film community,
Documentary Channel,
which counts some 26 million
subs through deals with DirecTV
(channel 267) and Dish
Network (channel 197), has executed
sponsorship programs
for ExxonMobil, Don Q Rum, the
Environmental Protection Agency’s
EnergyStar program and the
Tennessee Valley Authority.

Currently, Documentary Channel
is engaged in production with
BAFTA Award-winning programmer
Back2back Productions on
behalf of London-based A Brand
Apart Television for Procter &
Gamble and its Eukanuba line of
dog food.

Eukanuba Extraordinary Dogs,
a 13-episode series showcasing
how dogs have been trained
to capitalize on their keen senses
of smell, sight and hearing,
plus their loyalty, agility and other
traits, while discerning what is
myth and reality about man’s best
friend, is scheduled to premiere
in the first quarter of 2011.


Over the past 13 months, deals
such as these have helped reverse
the financial fortunes of the
Nashville-headquartered service,
which has been managing costs
with just 20 employees.

“The network had been experiencing
financial difficulty before
making the switch” to a commercial
channel on Aug. 1, 2009, CEO
James Ackerman said. “We went
from insolvent to being profitable.
It’s been an incredible turnaround
for us.”

The move into the commercial
realm — the network broadly targets
adults 25 to 54, with a core
audience of those 35 and older
— has largely netted deals with
direct-response advertisers, according
to senior vice president
of sales Jay Kelley. However, the
network is developing a growing
reputation as a place where marketers
can link their brands to
documentary fare.

“We have dozens [of other potential
pacts] at various stages of
concept and development,” he
said. “It’s a matter of maintaining
balance and brand objectivity,
with the legitimate making of
documentary films.”

Documentary Channel has two
basic branding models in play:
Advertisers can come to the network
looking to match up with
existing fare or can get involved
at more incipient, creative levels.

The Eukanuba relationship
evolved from the briefing stage,
with the agency A Brand Apart
reaching out to the network.

"They were aware of Documentary
Channel and had been talking to
Procter & Gamble and the need for
a distribution partner for the show
in the U.S. to go along with those in
50 other countries,” Ackerman said,
adding that the appeal was obvious:
to be associated with a legitimate,
high quality series about dogs. “Jay
did the three-way negotiating for
the network with the agency and
Procter & Gamble.”

The network wouldn’t disclose
the value of the relationship,
which includes title sponsorship,
spots in the series and branding
mentions in on-air and online promotional
materials for the series.
There is no product integration
— depictions of dogs chowing on

“The product is not in [the] series
itself. This is a fascinating series
about the things dogs can
do. It will certainly be attractive
programming to those who love
pets,” Kelley said. “The association
is by inference: Your dog will
do better with Eukanuba food.”

It was a similar situation for
Don Q Rum and the series Icons
Among Us
. “The brand wanted to
be associated with a high-quality
series about top modern jazz musicians,”
Kelley said. “You don’t
see anybody pouring out a drink
on the series.”


On the original programming
front, the network on Sept. 10
launched an 18-episode second
season of DocTalk, its inside look
at the modern world of docs.

Twelve days later, the first of
two major projects the network
commissioned for 2010 will premiere:
Ride the Divide
, a Hunter
Weeks production about the longest
mountain bike race in the
world, from Banff , Alberta, Canada,
to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The other is Kimjongilia. Set for
an Oct. 17 debut, the film chronicles
the lives of five North Koreans
who escape to South Korea.

It also would appear that
growth potential is on the horizon
with the MSO community.
“We have meetings with two of
the three largest cable operators
over the next few weeks. In one
case, we’re exchanging terms
sheets; with the other it’s more at
the dialog stage,” Ackerman explained,
reporting that the network
is also exchanging contract
drafts with a midsized MSO.