U.S. arts and culture network Ovation TV is driven by acquisitions, and senior VP, programming and production Kris Slava is very proud of the wide range of producers and distributors he acquires from internationally. Slava talked to realscreen about his plans to ramp up original acquisitions and his intentions to compete more aggressively with channels like Sundance and PBS.
Why do you think it’s important to have a channel dedicated to arts and culture in the US?
People want to watch that kind of stuff and always have. Of course, PBS does a certain amount of arts and cultural programming, but if you really look at the PBS schedule, what they do is great, but it’s an astonishingly small amount.
This has always been a really successful category of programming. A&E built a huge business on this programming, Bravo did, [when] nobody was bringing people this kind of programming. It’s also one of the most fun and worthy [categories] – I hate to go there because I’m a television programmer and I don’t want it to be [like saying] ‘Eat your spinach’ – but it’s a great category of programming that’s full of passion, inspiration and color and that also speaks to what makes life worth living for a whole lot of people.
What are you looking for in terms of factual and documentary product?
We’re looking for stuff that covers contemporary culture and art in an interesting, engaging, contemporary way. I feel like that is kind of a ‘duh’ answer, but we’re not necessarily looking for radical new takes, just takes on people – certainly artists – and on areas of art. [We also want to show] how art intersects with the way people live, which is what culture really is.
We do frequent on-air events; we blow out our entire primetime schedule and our weekend and devote two weeks or even longer to an area of popular culture. This week we’re covering [the theme] ‘Every big artist starts small,’ which is the inspiration that leads to the next generation of artists. So we have Morgan Spurlock, who is very much into this and is the executive producer of one of the films we’re premiering called Class Act. It speaks to the importance of arts education but in an inspirational way.
What is the balance you keep between series and one offs?
We have many more one-offs and documentaries than series, and there are several reasons for that. We’re still very much an acquisition-driven network. We acquire from everybody, from the major studios to international suppliers. A huge percentage of our material is acquired from individual producers. We very commonly acquire one-off shows that have been labors of love for the individual producers and give them airtime in 35 million homes in the United States. So we’re looking for all categories of films, from every level of producer.
Up until now we haven’t competed on an aggressive and constant level with Sundance and PBS, but now we’re competing more aggressively for those projects. Also, we’re looking for projects from producers or international distributors at an earlier stage. When we go to MIPTV and MIPCOM we’ll be looking for things that are in the midst of shooting or are a year out. We’re looking for those kinds of projects to be the anchors of our events for next year.
For more information on Ovation TV’s acquisitions and original production plans and tips on how to work with the arts and culture network, see the September/October issue of realscreen.