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Upfronts: Meet Pivot, the Cabler With a Crowdsourced Variety Show and New Ideas

Participant Media web offers atypical program slate and broadband-only subscriptions

On the cable scene, Pivot hopes to take a new step where the now defunct Current turned its ankle.

Pivot is a new cabler set to launch Aug. 1 that aims at what might be called the most socially conscious demographic, viewers between the ages of 15 and 34. Current, a cable news outlet backed by  former Vice President Al Gore, hoped to hook those young couch potatoes with new-fangled ideas, interactive elements and crowdsourced programming. Now Pivot wants to do the same with a little more emphasis on the old-fashioned way: high-quality shows.

Vowing to run programs that can “teach, illuminate and even inspire,” Pivot prexy Evan Shapiro unveiled a slate that included a crowdsourced variety program curated by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt; “Will,” a scripted drama that looks at the early days of William Shakespeare; a five-day-a-week socially conscious talk show; and a reality program about two non-traditional Jersey couples – a heterosexual couple that still belong to the Bloods and Crips gangs and a same-sex female duo who manage kids and a socially conscious law firm.

Pivot has the backing of Participant Media, the producer of a number of widely acclaimed documentaries and features, including Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” “The Help,” “Good Night and Good Luck” and “An Inconvenient Truth.” Indeed, many of the company’s documentaries will air on Pivot and Shapiro said the producer was busily acquiring more docs at various film festivals to air on the network.

Pivot will be beamed to more than 40 million homes at launch and feature 300 hours of original programming to start.

In a twist for this part of the TV business, Shapiro said cable and other video providers would make the network available for consumption via broadband only if that’s what subscribers wished – for both on-demand programming or the network in its linear broadcast. So long as viewers pay the required fees, they can watch the network without having to use a cable or satellite dish.

What makes Pivot’s viewers different and, Shapiro suggested, attractive, is a unique worldview: “They want change,” he said, and “they want a lot of options to make the change themselves.” (Executives at Viacom’s MTV might argue they also draw people with these beliefs). Many of the shows will be accompanied by interactive options that allow viewers to find out more about the subject, or even get involved somehow in a cause presented by the programs. These viewers, Shapiro said, “are still figuring it out” but want to hear about options that give them power to get involved with subjects they find compelling.

For advertisers and video distributors, who may not be solely interested in changing society, Shapiro had other arguments. The young viewers Pivot seeks are among those most coveted by marketers, who often feel consumers choose their favorite products when they are young, and are more resistant to change later on in life. And these “millennials” are also the people most likely to use new methods to watch TV – think videogame console, videostreaming websites or mobile tablets – that don’t include paying a monthly fee to Comcast, Time Warner Cable or other distributor.

Ballast for Pivot’s schedule comes from reruns of cult favorite “Friday Night Lights”; a comedy, “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” that has aired for seven seasons in various foreign countries, and is now available in the U.S. on Hulu Plus; and the sci-fi series “Farscape.”

But the original programs tend to push traditional format envelopes. The half-hour variety show, for instance, will be called “Hit Record,” and will focus on a theme each week as Gordon-Levitt directs contributors to a digital community of artists he curates to devise songs, animation, conversations and more. Pivot has ordered seven half-hour episodes. “Jersey Strong,” the reality show, features strong personalities, and Shapiro insisted, will not contain scripted elements or fake storylines. Net has ordered 10 half-hours, along with 10 hourlong eps of “Will,” the Shakespeare bio.

Another original program is “Raising McCain,” billed as a “docu-talk series” with blogger and daughter of former presidential candidate John McCain. The net has ordered 10 half-hour episodes.

“Take Part Live” is an hourlong  live program focused on daily headlines and discussions and depends upon a live-streamed pre-show midday where viewers help build the program that will air later.

Pivot will also partner with Univision to produce a series of 10 one-hour documentaries in Spanish and English. The programs will air on both networks.

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