Ovation TV has the distinction of being the only multi-platform network in the U.S. devoted exclusively to arts and culture. And, although it’s a small network with low budgets and no head of development, Kris Slava, SVP programming and production, says the channel is growing and open for business.
Ovation TV originally launched in 1997 and was relaunched in June 2007 with an expanded, nation-wide audience through carriage on DIRECTV. The network is currently available on DISH Network and major cable systems across the country, sending its programming out to 35 million homes. The programming strategy for Ovation TV involves packaging daily programs by genre (performance, people, visual arts, music and film) and creating weekend- or week-long ‘events’ which see the entire primetime and weekend schedule devoted to a certain area of popular culture. Particular areas that do well for the channel, and that Slava foresees continuing on the network, include ‘American Revolutionaries,’ which focuses on artists who have revolutionized the art form they work in; the design event entitled ‘Everything Is Art’ and the photography-centered ‘Framed.’ Photography is a particularly strong category for the network, for which Slava says he is always looking for programming. He is also currently on the hunt for material for an arts and religion event for next year.
Ovation TV is largely an acquisitions-driven network, with 85% of its programming acquired from producers and program distributors around the world. However, as part of the network’s plan to step up its game and compete with the likes of Sundance and PBS, in the last year 20% of its acquisitions have been first-run programs. ‘Just as a function of us getting up on our feet and getting more people on board, we’re looking for projects from producers or international distributors at an earlier stage,’ says Slava. ‘When we go to 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.’ At the same time, the network, which caters to a 35 to 40-year-old sensibility, is also open to acquiring older programs, from as far back as the ’60s. ‘We put it into a package that makes it urgent and interesting to a contemporary audience,’ he says.
Slava says that for Ovation TV, one benefit of having a small staff is that they’re also always willing to talk. ‘Email me,’ he implores, adding that he and his staff (head of acquisitions Michelle Zajic and head of production Rob Canter, in particular) try to have an open door policy. However, he has some advice to producers on how to get through – ‘Short and sweet is better.’ He says that for the initial contact, all he’s looking for is a title, log line, and a four-line description of the project. ‘If I’m still reading past that, I’ll talk to you on the phone.’