Docs

Matthew Blank, Showtime Networks (US)

Showtime Networks ceo Matthew Blank raised the ire of the documentary community in March when he inked a deal with the publicly funded Smithsonian Institute to form Smithsonian Networks, a joint venture that will develop branded original content for distribution. But as cultural institutions ache for funding and commercial broadcasters look to cut costs, quicken production timelines and build promotional partnerships, could similar collaborations be far behind?
June 1, 2006

Showtime Networks CEO Matthew Blank raised the ire of the documentary community in March when he inked a deal with the publicly funded Smithsonian Institute to form Smithsonian Networks, a joint venture that will develop branded original content for distribution. But as cultural institutions ache for funding and commercial broadcasters look to cut costs, quicken production timelines and build promotional partnerships, could similar collaborations be far behind?

Its first service, Smithsonian On Demand, will launch in December and feature documentaries, events and shorts on America’s scientific, cultural and historical legacy, as well as kids programming. Showtime will manage the venture and the Smithsonian will provide production and content assistance. The contract also sees Smithsonian Networks get right of first refusal on any commercial programs made with a hefty reliance on the museum’s assets, which many see as limiting filmmakers’ access to the public institution and giving preferential treatment to a commercial entity. A petition began circulating asking that the deal be nullified; more than 200 people signed it, including Michael Moore and PBS’ co-chief program executive, Jacoba Atlas. The Smithsonian says it will comply with the contract. While the pros and cons of the deal are up for debate, the partnership presents an interesting paradigm.

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 HMV.com. 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.

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