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Extending Rainbow’s reach

Running up and down the Croisette last week during MIPCOM, realscreen grabbed a few minutes with Harold Gronenthal, senior vice president and general manager, program acquisitions and international development for Rainbow Media Holdings.
October 14, 2009

Running up and down the Croisette last week during MIPCOM, realscreen grabbed a few minutes with Harold Gronenthal, senior vice president and general manager, program acquisitions and international development for Rainbow Media Holdings. Amidst the hustle and bustle of The Majestic, Gronenthal (pictured) discussed both what he was looking for from an acquisitions standpoint for several of Rainbow’s channels (IFC, Sundance Channel and WEtv), and Rainbow Media’s international expansion plans.

From an acquisitions perspective, Gronenthal said that the presence of IFC, Sundance Channel and WEtv at the market was twofold: to buy content and also seek out copro deals for the domestic services, and also to look for acquisitions for the expanding international services. This past September, the Sundance Channel launched in France on French TV operator Free, airing 24/7 on Free in both standard and HD with French subtitles. Free is the first French operator to debut the channel in France and the first to offer a triple-play service. The channel also launched last summer in Belgium via Telenet.

‘We try to use the brands as our guide, and populate our international channels not only with the domestic content that we produce, but also from an acquisitions point of view find content that speaks to the brands and that speaks to them in market,’ Gronenthal said.

Looking at each channel specifically, Gronenthal said the focus for WEtv is on what he calls ‘smart factual programming with a dramatic bent; dramatic in the sense that there’s a story.

‘Whether it’s Bridezillas, which is one of our more popular shows, or The Locator, which is about reconnecting lost family members and lost friends, there’s a story arc and moreover, a dramatic arc that speaks emotionally to the viewer,’ he said. He added that WEtv was at the market to round up copro deals and pre-buys not only for itself but for its recent domestic offshoot, Wedding Central.

As for IFC and Sundance Channel, Gronenthal said the two channels, linked as Rainbow Media’s independent film brands, are beginning to diverge in terms of content and demographic.

‘IFC is looking more male, 18 to 39, and it feels like comedy is a great slant for it,’ he explained. ‘IFC has shows like Z Rock and The Whitest Kids U’Know, but the big thing it’s doing this month is the premiere of the six-part Monty Python documentary, Monty Python – Almost True (The Lawyer’s Cut). It’s looking at more series [and] more coproduction, in scripted and reality.’

Regarding The Sundance Channel, ‘Sundance has its place in the independent world, leaning towards the independent thinkers and early adopters,’ said Gronenthal. ‘So it’s always looking for programming with the unique sort of angle that makes it right for the Sundance audience.’ Gronenthal said programming with a green slant, including Eco Trip and The Lazy Environmentalist is doing well for the channel, as is its recently launched Man Shops Globe, featuring Keith Johnson, globe-trotting buyer for American specialty retailer Anthropologie.

With its team also looking to set up more international launches and meeting with TV operators from around the world while at MIPCOM, Gronenthal said smart growth is also a priority for Rainbow Media, keeping both the challenges and opportunities created by the current global economy in mind.

‘We’re all trying to figure out ways to spend our money more wisely; everyone’s budgets have been examined and re-examined,’ he said. ‘It’s been great to have the corporate support from Rainbow and from our parent company Cablevision to expand and try to grow internationally in the midst of what’s going on, as a lot of companies would probably prefer to sit back and retrench. That doesn’t mean we have carte blanche; we still have to be smart about what we do. But it is a pretty good statement about the company’s desire to expand.’

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.

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