A new outlet for passionate indie films

September 1, 2005

The Documentary Channel
(Nashville, U.S.)

December, 2005

Target Audience
Even gender split, 25 to 50 range, urban, cultured, middle to upper income

On-air hours
24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Tom Neff,
CEO and head of acquisitions

‘We’re looking for docs with a strong point of view and a strong personal, visual and thematic approach,’ says Neff, adding that he’ll accept projects of all lengths and genres. ‘But we don’t want to release the channel as a potpourri of films,’ he furthers, saying theme months, focused on a topic like music, will be incorporated into the sked. ‘And films don’t have to be from this year – they can go back a number of years.’

Need It
‘This is a channel by, and for, documentary filmmakers,’ declares Tom Neff, CEO and head of acquisitions – and he’s not pulling your leg. After 20 years of producing docs himself, Neff can sympathize with the struggles of indie filmmakers, and tries to renew licenses whenever he can. ‘We’re quality, not quantity,’ says Neff, noting that he initially plans to license roughly 250 hours annually, with the goal of increasing that to 650 hours per year. Supported primarily by sponsorships from major corporations, the diginet offers what Neff calls ‘humble’ license fees, which range from us$500 to $50,000, with $5,000 for an hour being the average.

In addition to welcoming shorts, Neff is looking for feature-length docs that have won at festivals but have not yet been on TV. He cites Khachaturian, a documentary about a famous Russian composer, as an example. It won best doc award at the Hollywood Film Festival in 2003.

Those interested in submitting can visit

Don’t Need It
‘We are not looking for the types of films, say, that Discovery would look for,’ explains Neff. ‘That’s not to denigrate Discovery at all, but they’re just not our style. In other words, Bowling for Columbine is likely more interesting for us to expose than something about treasures of the pyramids or sharks.’ Since he believes there is already a huge market for traditional, corporate docs, Neff says, ‘What we’re missing is an outlet for the independent film created by the passion of the filmmaker – those who aren’t really necessarily looking for a commercial outlet.’

While Neff won’t automatically dismiss series pitches, he thinks they ‘tend to be more commercial, and therefore less interesting to us. We’re not interested in a series of travelogs,’ yet Neff could be open to a personalized, in-depth series on China.

Although the channel generally won’t co-fund projects, it will consider providing finishing funds. The catch is, if you need more than $15,000, Neff says he probably won’t be able to help.

Selling DVDs
Neff is eager to enter into a partnership with producers to sell their DVDs on the channel’s website (it’s a 50/50 cut). This non-exclusive deal enables The Documentary Channel to act as a point of purchase, further to any agreements the filmmaker may have with retail stores or distribs. ‘Our goal is to help the filmmaker produce their next film,’ says Neff. ‘We want them to maximize their profits, and we see ourselves as part of their revenue pie.’

The channel will help filmmakers and distributors create dvds if they don’t already have one. ‘We don’t try to cut the distributor out; if the distributor has the dvd rights, no problem, we’ll work with them.’

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.