Almost a year after the Sundance Channel’s launch last February, president Nora Ryan’s state of the channel address gives the service a resounding thumbs-up. “We’ve signed more than a million subscribers over the course of the year, which is a lot to say about a niche channel.”Ryan says the channel’s success mirrors the boom in popularity of indie films. The channel, a venture between Robert Redford, Showtime Networks Inc. and Polygram Filmed Entertainment, has been able to measure this popularity through its partnership with the Blockbuster video chain. By tapping into Blockbuster’s database, the channel was able to gauge the incidence of people renting indie films one or many times, sampling 100 indie titles. The study concluded that a little less than 20% of Blockbuster’s client base had rented one or multiple indie films. “Our audience is made up of two typical segments,” says Ryan, “the light viewer, who is a little more sophisticated and not your normal TV viewer, and the heavy viewer: people who subscribe to movie channels but want access to movies that aren’t necessarily widely available.” Dalton Delan, the channel’s exec VP of programming and creative director, describes the station’s viewership as “rabid fans. If I do little things that are quite standard in cable, such as putting our so-called bug on the screen at the top of the hour, I get e-mail and letters that make me feel that the Unabomber is still on the loose.” The channel’s programming makeup consists of 60% American indie features, 10% documentaries, 10% foreign-language and 20% shorts and animated fare. And beginning this year, the channel will bring the Sundance Festival into people’s living rooms, kicking off with a half-hour preview that Jon Cryer is hosting, followed by nightly five-minute updates on the day’s events, live coverage of the awards ceremony with Cryer and Jennifer Tilly, then a wrap-up half-hour on the fest’s last night. “This is our opportunity to, in a very pointed way, bring the festival home to the people who aren’t in Park City,” says Ryan..
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