Post-Indie: With Shapiro Now at the Helm, IFC Embraces "My Media" and "TV, Uncut"
by Eugene Hernandez
As insiders and trade reporters debate the state of theatrical moviegoing, executives charged with delivering movies to viewer's homes are exploring new ways to reach audiences. In the case of the Independent Film Channel, now known simply as IFC, new EVP and General Manager Evan Shapiro is pursuing a strategy he's branded simply as "tv, uncut." The ten-year-old channel is shedding its indie film roots as it aims to reach a generation of viewers that embrace new technologies and watch movies and TV programs in less traditional ways.
For the network, available in over 40 million households, the "TV, Uncut" slogan is more than just a tagline, according to Shapiro. In an email interview last week, he emphasized, "The entire experience IFC delivers is designed by and for people who love film and want it without filters - unedited uncensored and uncut. The network expands the definition of indie film by including classic works and new content that challenges the status quo." Shapiro is targeting viewers who use what he calls "my media" in everyday life, meaning they record programs with a PVR device (perhaps a TiVo), or watch movies in home theaters via DVD, and download TV shows and films through video on demand services. In his mind, there's the answer to the drop in traditional ticket sales.
"We've designed IFC as tv 5.0 - the network for the PVR generation - and tv, uncut exemplifies this perfectly," Shapiro told indieWIRE. "We are film exhibitors - short form, long form, docs and narratives - who happen to use TV as our primary portal... At least for now."
Anyone with digital cable knows that there are hundreds of cable channels serving many interests: Lifetime for women, EWTN for Catholics, Animal Planet for pet owners and animal lovers, FOX News for conservatives, the new Logo network for gays and lesbians, and any number of sports channels. But for IFC, aimed at establishing a personality for its network, the goal is to reach beyond the limits of its old name. "Niche is bullshit," emphasized Shapiro. "You either have good programming, or you don't."
As more audiences embrace this "my media" idea, Shapiro believes they won't care as much about niche outlets, but will instead gravitate towards places that offer quality content. "Niche networks will become even less relevant," he explained, "Brand names defined by the quality of their content will be key. We are prepared for that shift - IFC an indelible brand with a reputation for honesty and quality in our content."
To tout the new IFC personality, Shapiro and his team are promoting IFC Film Fanatic Fridays, an initiative that he calls a "megaphone for everything we do." He offered, "Its success has spread to the entire weekend and even has given great exposure for our new strand on Mondays - Cinema Red." Though Shapiro may not use the exact language, Friday night is IFC's attempt at 'must-see TV', with the channel debuting original programs in the primetime slots on Friday night.
Promoting the launch of a group of new series that will debut on IFC next month, a network announcement last week called Film Fanatic Fridays the channel's version of "Adult Swim," invoking the name of the popular block of programming seen each night on Cartoon Network. IFC TV will debut the new Film Fanatic programming block on August 19th. Included are Bob Balaban's "Hopeless Pictures," about an indie studio in Hollywood, "Greg The Bunny" with puppet parodies of movies, and "The Festival," described as a "verite satire" about a filmmaker taking his first movie to a mountain film festival.
As the times change at IFC, the network is investing in original programming and putting its film acquisitions dollars towards on-air festivals, like the recent pulp programming, and buying titles tied to original documentaries, like the upcoming "Punk: Attitude" doc airing this Saturday night.
Six docs are currently in production at IFC and a dozen more are in development, according to Shapiro, a former senior VP of marketing at Court TV who also ran a marketing agency named Four Front (before that he worked in marketing at Manhattan's Public Theater and the New York Shakespeare Festival). He added that the ultimate goal is building strong primetime programming all week, mixing series, docs, films and stunts. The IFC TV chief maintains a blog on the IFC TV website.
"TV, Uncut is our personality - great film in all shapes and sizes, uncut and unedited, without filter," explained Shapiro. "Film is a broad genre - even indie film - how else can we put Freddy Kruger and 'The 400 Blows' under one programming umbrella? What we CHOOSE to show and how, is the difference - it makes us Uncut."
So, gone are the days when IFC was a direct competitor with Sundance Channel, according to Evan Shapiro. "With 40 million homes, we think it's time to shoot for HBO," he enthused.