Sundance Rolls Film on Non-Movies

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Sundance Channel is writing its own scripts for independently produced programming. Once an outlet for independent films, some of which were showcased during the famed winter Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, the pay network, which now counts some 23 million subscribers, expects to devote as much as a quarter of its lineup to original series and documentaries by the end of 2006, according to Sundance executive vice president of programming and marketing Laura Michalchyshyn.

Now in its 10th year, Sundance — co-owned by NBC Universal, Showtime Networks Inc. and the actor and film-festival organizer Robert Redford — hopes that original limited series and standalone documentary specials not only builds value for the brand and broadens its audience, but also provides content to push it into new distribution platforms such as video broadband.

“We’re now facing a competitive landscape of video broadband, download-to-[portable devices] and Internet streaming. To be distinct, you have to create and own original content and we’re now in that game,” said Michalchyshyn.

She said 25% of the network’s overall programming schedule is expected to feature original fare — a significant jump from five years ago, when acquired programming comprised more than 90% of all Sundance content.

Among the new series Sundance has green-lighted for 2006 include: Nimrod Nation, an original, eight-part documentary series that looks at one town’s obsession with its high school basketball team, the Nimrods; The Hill, which will follow the personal and professional lives of Capitol Hill staffers; and an eight-part documentary series tracking the journey of European fashion designer Ozwald Boateng as he strives to duplicate his success in the United States.

Michalchyshyn said the network has opened its doors to independent movie producers looking to create original, short-form documentaries, backing projects from Yoav Shamir (Five Days) and Katherine Linton (Follow My Voice).

Such programming is also being lined up for the network’s eventual move into other platforms, including video broadband, and Internet downloading to portable media players later this year, Michalchyshyn would not reveal specifics.

Sundance hopes that its focus on original fare will help broaden its predominantly male audience to reach more female and younger viewers. She added such shows as last year’s miniseries TransGeneration, which followed the lives of several transgender college students, drew a significant number of 18-to-24 viewers.

Combined with series like City of Men, Ladette to Lady and Monkey Dust that were created abroad, Michalchyshyn said the network is gaining recognition for its non-movie fare.

“All of our focus testing is saying that viewers are beginning to recognize us for our original programming,” she said.