Evan Shapiro to head channel that will focus on social issues

Calling Participant Media’s entry into the cable TV business “not an investment for the faint of heart,” chairman Jeff Skoll says his shingle is bullish about launching a new network next summer.

Having just bought out Documentary Channel and Halogen TV, the still unnamed network is set to reach 40 million viewers and focus on socially relevant programming.

The channel will aim to reach the 18-34 demo — a group that is most associated with social change — and air projects from filmmakers such as Davis Guggenheim, Morgan Spurlock and Brian Henson. There will also be collaboration with Cineflix Media, a leading international TV producer and distributor in which Participant Media controls an equity interest.

The network will be run by former IFC and Sundance Channel topper Evan Shapiro.

Producing five to 10 movies a year, Participant is jumping from about 20 hours of content to a network that will air programming 24 hours a day. It’s a daunting task, but one that doesn’t faze Skoll or CEO Jim Berk.

“We will fill the pipeline with an aggressive pace by finding stories that speak to this generation and speak to contemporary issues,” Berk told Variety.

The majority of programming will be acquisitions, with a slow ramp up to include more original fare. Berk said the programming will not be genre specific, as long as it has the underling tone of bringing social change.

Berk said the 18-34 demo is not only the age group that is most involved with social and environmental issues, but the net believes it can profit handsomely with selling products to that age group.

The new Participant-owned network will have to redo carriage deals with cable providers and satcasters, such as Time Warner Cable and DirecTV, for example, Berk said, but reaching the 40 million audience at the outset shouldn’t be a problem.

As for Shapiro, who joined Participant last May, his work at IFC and Sundance Channel was specifically geared toward that demo.

“Evan is the perfect choice for this,” Skoll said. “He ramped up those other networks from scratch and is a force of nature. I can’t think of anyone better suited for this.”

Participant’s recent film projects have included the Matt Damon starrer “Promised Land,” which opens Dec. 28, “Lincoln,” “Middle of Nowhere” and “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

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