Indie Film Channels Work Together to Court Brands

Newly Partnered IFC, Sundance Integrate Sales and Marketing Teams

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- At this time last year, IFC and Sundance Channel, the two leading cable networks for independent film, were still slugging it out for the same branded-entertainment dollars from advertisers that couldn't air 30-second commercials on either network.
Recently, Unilever's Axe Proximity brand sponsored a block of digital shorts on IFC On-Demand.
Recently, Unilever's Axe Proximity brand sponsored a block of digital shorts on IFC On-Demand.


Now, they're both under the same rainbow, following the completion of Cablevision's May acquisition of Sundance. The network joins the Rainbow Media network family that includes AMC, WE TV and IFC.

Because both networks operate without a traditional ad-supported model, IFC and Sundance are actively courting brands that share similar attributes to specific shows or programming blocks. Recent IFC sponsorship partners include Unilever's Axe Proximity brand -- which sponsored a block of digital shorts on IFC On-Demand -- and on-air sponsors such as Absolut Vodka, Geico, Piaget and Alliance for Climate Protection. Sundance recently completed its first upfront presentations, which brought in new clients such as American Express, DiTech and Subaru, in addition to adding another season of its trademark series "Iconoclasts," sponsored by Grey Goose Entertainment.

Defining the brands
Now IFC and Sundance integrated sales and marketing teams to make a more seamless pitch to advertisers who previously had to deal with the networks separately. Alan Klein, previously IFC's senior VP-partnerships and licensing, is now spearheading the division as exec VP of the new IFC/Sundance Channel partnerships, operations and business development unit. Also elevated under the new lineup is Kim Gabelmann, previously Sundance Channel's VP-branded entertainment and sponsorship, who will assume the role of senior VP under Mr. Klein's new division.

Evan Shapiro, who recently added Sundance Channel to his previous title of IFC president, said the acquisition has made business much easier for both networks. "Being able to not compete any more opens up a lot of mind space. We can chase both destinies without looking in the rearview mirror. It really helps to define the brands."
Alan Klein
Alan Klein

Part of the newly merged sales force includes Sundance and IFC's first joint research study, a collaboration with Mediamark Research Institute. The networks surveyed 3,040 digital cable and satellite subscribers and found that 76% of respondents consider themselves "independent," a word that has taken on many different implications in the current political and economic climate.

The importance of independence
"The word 'independent' is more important than it's ever been," Mr. Shapiro said. "These two audiences represent a taste structure. Perhaps it's not the biggest audience, but the more technically advanced you get the better you can reach them."

IFC tends to skew more toward the 18- to-34-year-old male, a demo the cabler is actively seeking with new comedy series such as "The Whitest Kids U Know," "Z Rock" and "The IT Crowd," in addition to an extensive original programming slate on IFC.com. Sundance appeals more to the 25-to-54 sector of the indie circuit, with an emphasis on green living and sustainable efforts.

But even though the audiences are becoming more distinct from each other, Ms. Gabelmann said synergies can still present themselves to advertisers. "If Cadillac sponsors 'Live From Abbey Road' on Sundance, for example, we could find an equivalent brand in General Motors for IFC," she said.

Generating new ad dollars is particularly important for each network as 80% of their respective revenues are generated from cable and satellite subscriptions. SNL Kagan estimates IFC will gross $23 million in sponsorship dollars this year, while Sundance is still tabulating figures as new upfront clients start to roll in.

Boosting cross-platform
Mr. Shapiro is particularly bullish on boosting the distribution of Sundance under the new Rainbow ownership. Sundance is currently available in 31 million households, with IFC carried in 50 million. Because neither is Nielsen-rated, the networks have been boosting their cross-platform strategy to attract larger audiences via on-demand channels and original content on IFC.com and Sundance.com.

Perhaps the most buzz-worthy example of this strategy thus far has been Isabella Rossellini's "Green Porno," a nature documentary in a "Waiting for Guffman"-esque acting workshop's clothes, acquired by Sundance earlier this year. Ms. Gabelmann said the shorts have seen incremental viewership growth on SundanceChannel.com and its related platforms, including on-demand and mobile, thus prompting the network to order a second series of Rossellini-narrated bug sex.
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