By Eric Kohn | Indiewire May 7, 2008 at 11:31AM
Rainbow Media announced today a plan to purchase the Sundance Channel for $496 million. Confirming reports that the network was seeking a buyer and Rainbow Media was the lead contender, the deal finds Rainbow Media Holdings, LLC, a programming subsidiary of Cablevision Systems Corporation, buying the channel from its current owners NBC Universal, CBS, Showtime Networks and Robert Redford. The Sundance founder, meanwhile, will continue his role as the network's creative director, in addition to recieving just under $50 million from the deal, with the rest of the money divided up between the other owners.
Rumors that the twelve year old network, which has 30 million subscribers, would be sold have been swirling around since March, and accounts of the proceedings increased last week. The New York Post reported that Cablevision outbid Time Warner and Viacom with its offer, adding another channel to Rainbow Media's slate, where it joins AMC, WE and the Independent Film Channel (IFC). "We are always looking for strategic opportunities for our business and Sundance Channel adds another valuable asset to Rainbow's award-winning lineup of programming networks," Cablevision president and CEO James L. Dolan said in a statement.
Although both the Sundance Channel and IFC showcase independent film, a Cablevision spokesperson denied the possibility that Rainbow Media would merge the two channels. Both Rainbow Media and the Sundance declined to comment further to indieWIRE about the new arrangement Wednesday afternoon.
The Sundance Channel, which only recently began airing original programming content, has a continually expanding library of titles. Among its recent purchases are Dan Klores' "Crazy Love," which Magnolia acquired at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and later released theatrically last year. Last month, it bought eleven features from the National Film Board of Canada and 22 recent and classic titles from Lionsgate's library. It's not clear if the Sundance Channel will share its titles with IFC, or vica versa, but there is the distinct possibility that Sundance, which started taking sponsorship in January 2007, will start airing advertisements.
In a mass e-mail to industry colleagues and friends sent out this morning, Sundance Channel CEO Larry Aidem referred to NBC Universal and CBS as "Mommy and Daddy," and praised Redford for founding "this extraordinary brand three decades ago and [defining] its underlying mission: Discovery, Opportunity, Risk-taking and of course, Independence."
Downplaying the possibility of any executive shifts, Aidem portrayed the news as part of ongoing process. "As exciting as the opportunities are on the television and the digital media landscape, the challenges facing an independent programmer today are profound," he wrote. "In the weeks and months to come, my colleagues and I will work closely with NBC [Universal], CBS, [Redford] and, subject only to certain customary closing conditions, CVC, to facilitate the transition process and set the stage for Sundance Channel's continued success."