New Scenes: Documentary Channel Relaunches As Commercial Service

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The Documentary Channel, which debuted nearly four years ago as a public-interest television network, has been relaunched as a fully commercial service.

The Nashville-based service, founded in 2006 by Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Tom Neff, the service's chief creative officer, has entered into a multiyear carriage deal with Dish Network.

Deal terms were not disclosed. Asked if Dish had taken an equity stake in the service, network officials said they could not discuss its structure.

Documentary Channel, through its distribution pact with the No. 2 satellite provider, which carries the network on channel 197 as part of its Classic Bronze 100 Package, also has a number of retransmission-consent deals with PBS stations, including WNYC-TV in New York. All told, Documentary currently counts some 21 million full- and part-time subscribers.
Documentary Channel also provides content online via a partnership with Sling.com at www.sling.com/network/189/The-Documentary-Channel.
Documentary, which gained access of Dish four years ago as a public-interest service via a Federal Communications Commission requirement that satellite providers set aside a certain portion of its spectrum for educational and non-commercial channels, was restricted in pursuing the sale of commercials by the rule.
To that end, Documentary, which had been renewing its carriage on a year-to-year basis, sold PBS-style underwriting messaging or custom-packaged some of its films in sponsored blocks, according to James Ackerman, who was recently appointed president and CEO of the network after serving as its chairman.
Now, the network, which is currently sporting a number of direct-response and per-inquiry spots, is in the market for traditional ad deals for 30-second commercials, according to Ackerman.
Similarly, with its carriage deal with Dish in place, Ackerman said Documentary is beginning the process of reaching out to cable operators and other distributors for carriage deals.
"Dish Network is delighted to continue offering customers The Documentary Channel, which has been a nice complement to our programming lineup since early 2006," said Dave Shull, senior vice president of programming for Dish in a statement. "We are pleased to support The Documentary Channel in their transition to commercial service, and know our customers will enjoy the best documentaries at the best value for years to come."

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