Sundance Embraces 'Change’

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Sundance Channel is the latest network to refresh its branding, creating interstitials that will communicate its role as a broader cultural destination.

“We’re no longer identified as a film channel but as a place for emerging culture, talent, fashion, environment and politics,” said Laura Michalchyshyn, executive vice president and general manager of the channel, now part of Cablevision’s Rainbow Media Holdings.

Though the content mix is more diverse, Sundance is still cultivating thought leaders and creatives aged 25 to 54 who are interested in global issues and strong storytelling, she said.

Sundance has moved away from all-movie programming, tripling its original content during the last four years.

Now, 70% of its lineup consists of films, and Sundance continues to add new series — as well as such programming blocks as its “green”-themed one — all of the time.

The brand refresh was in process before Rainbow’s acquisition this year. Channel executives have actually been looking to update its signature “monogram boxes” since winter 2004.

Sarah Barnett, the channel’s new marketing senior vice president, worked with Buster Design, a division of the Los Angeles agency Stun Creative, to update the boxes to better reflect the mission.

Executives have even developed a “philosophy kit” behind the imagery, Michalchyshyn said.

Sundance’s logo consists of two “quadrants,” according to Michalchyshyn. The left one represents mainstream content; the right alternative culture.

Sundance is the stripe in the middle, “a hybrid, maybe slightly undiscovered,” said Michalchyshyn. “The unknown, the provocative, the curious.”

The interstitials will be more colorful and playful than used in the past. The right, or attribute, box in the logo will list channel abilities such as “transform,” “discover” and “breakthrough.”

The refreshed elements include promos, IDs, opens, closes, lower thirds and other graphic elements.

Sundance Channel also is in the process of reconceiving its Web site to become its own channel, Michalchyshyn said. Sundancechannel.com will launch two new Web series in January. Breakfast is a farce featuring two New York filmmakers creating a big-budget feature film. The second, Moby Loves Cassidy, features the composer-musician interacting with a Barbie-like doll he calls Cassidy as he tours with his band. The aim is to build unique visitors and page views while still providing more reporting for film enthusiasts.

Changes will be visible in the on-air programming mix, too. Michalchyshyn said Sundance will launch a “whole new strategy” with its green block next spring, with character-focused programming. New shows will feature Josh Dorfman, “The Lazy Environmentalist,” who will demonstrate how small lifestyle changes can improve the environment; and global traveler David de Rothschild, who will show how the products Americans create and consume every day affect the environment.

Sundance will still program a substantial number of feature films and remain the largest buyer of documentaries on television, Michalchyshyn said, but it also aims to ad seven original series in 2009.

As part of Rainbow, Michalchyshyn looks forward to using that owner’s leverage to grow distribution of the channel. Sundance is currently in 30 million cable and direct-broadcast satellite homes. Breaking out of that range is a significant challenge, the general manager said: as a channel that is not rated by Nielsen Media Research, “we have to prove we are focused on growing our audience.”

Now that it’s part of a channel group, though, Sundance can be promoted across its sibling outlets and take advantage of Rainbow’s strong affiliate-relations team to negotiate more carriage, she said.

Rainbow is also examining how to expand Sundance Channel outside the United States, Michalchyshyn said.

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