×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Wake Up, Kids: Disruptive TV Is Here Via Participant Media’s Pivot Cabler

Issue-oriented company aims to inspire social action among millennials with a cable channel launching this summer

(From the pages of the March 26 issue of Variety.)

“The last thing anybody needs is another TV channel to make the media conglomerates richer,” Participant TV prexy Evan Shapiro says. “The approach is to make every day matter for the executives here.”

That’s a gutsy comment from the head of a nascent cable channel, but it is in keeping with the mandate that Participant TV has set out for its Pivot cable network — which promises to be “credible, brave, disruptive” — skedded to bow this summer. Social change is, after all, the name of the game at Participant, which has been producing issue-oriented features and docus like “The Help” (pictured here) and “Waiting for Superman” (pictured up top) since it was founded in 2004 by Jeff Skoll. (Participant unveiled the name and other details of the channel today at a media event in Gotham.)

“We wanted to design a next-generation channel for the next generation of consumers and leaders,” says Shapiro, who joined Participant last year from AMC Networks, where he ran cablers IFC and Sundance.

The Participant TV team has waded hip-deep into research to shape the network for the 18-34 crowd, conducting ethnographies and quantitative studies of thousands of millennials in order to even better understand what it considers to be its target audience.

“We went to four cities, sat with (viewers) and watched how they watch TV,” says Kent Rees, Participant TV’s exec veep of marketing, scheduling and operations. “We looked at how they consume media, how they relate to it, how they talk about it and where their passion comes from. For millennials, social action is part of their lifestyle.”

Still, the question remains of exactly how to craft a new linear television network for a demographic whose native tongue is digital. Current TV tried a similar approach nearly a decade ago, but never gained traction with it — and that was before Internet video became so ubiquitous.

There’s also the problem of making sure that socially conscious programming doesn’t inspire yawns, as Oprah Winfrey learned the hard way with the launch of OWN.

For Shapiro, the answer is a dual-minded approach that offers on-demand content and compelling live TV. He cites the “fomo” factor, “fear of missing out,” as being an incentive for millennials to tune into a live broadcast.

“You watch the viewership of shows like ‘Walking Dead’ and they get a tremendous live rating with the 18-34 demo,” he says, because of the water cooler effect, which is amplified by social media.

To that end, “we’re working with our distribution partners to also create one of the most vibrant offerings through the digital space,” Shapiro says.

Participant Media started laying the groundwork for its cable network last year, when the company acquired Halogen TV and the Documentary Channel, giving it a subscriber base of more than 40 million cable homes in the U.S. The net, which will unveil its moniker at a media event in Gotham on March 27, plans to launch with six original series, plus acquired skeins.

“We’re looking to do a variety show, a docuseries, a talkshow, a reality program and scripted dramas,” says Belisa Balaban, Participant’s senior VP of unscripted programming. “All programming goes through the ‘credible, brave, disruptive’ filter. Everything we do has to pass through that, even marketing.”

The internal and development processes at Participant TV also break normal corporate boundaries. Shapiro says that lower-rung employees in the millennial demo are able to influence decisions about projects.

“Programming slates get their feedback before we go to greenlight,” he explains. “I haven’t seen that kind of approach before.”

Shapiro emphasizes that Participant is going into the launch with an understanding that the channel is part of a larger mission by many orgs to inspire social action.

“Traditionally in many of these media companies, you pick a brand and you are the voice, the comedy brand, the news brand,” he says. “We are not saying we are the social action network — we are one of the voices out there.”

Recent cable startups:

Aspire
lifestyle/entertainment
Owners include: Magic Johnson
Premiere: June 2012
Sub base: 40 million

Al Jazeera America
news
Owners include: state of Qatar
Premiere: May
Sub base: 40 million

El Rey Network
Latino entertainment
Owners include: Robert Rodriguez, FactoryMade Ventures
Premiere: Jan. 1, 2014
Sub base: TBD

More Biz

  • Apple Event: Everything We Learned From

    Everything We Learned From Today's Apple Event

    After revealing new services in news, finance, and gaming, Apple CEO Tim Cook kept the biggest, most anticipated announcement until last. Cook, along with heads of worldwide video programming Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, and a whole group of Apple’s creative talents, presented the company’s new Apple TV+ streaming service, which is slated to [...]

  • Wynn Nightlife Announces Residency for Roving

    Wynn Nightlife to Host Las Vegas Residency for Roving Spanish Party Elrow

    One of Las Vegas’ biggest music players is doubling down on the power of a global brand instead of just a single DJ to help them stay on top of Sin City’s increasingly competitive clubbing scene. Wynn Nightlife has announced a year-long residency and partnership with Spain’s Elrow, a respected Ibiza-born party that last year [...]

  • PledgeMusic Down to a ‘Skeleton Staff,’

    PledgeMusic Down to a ‘Skeleton Staff,’ Although a Potential Buyer Is in the Wings

    PledgeMusic, the direct-to-fan marketplace that has faced serious financial troubles in recent months, is down to a “skeleton staff” and payroll in the U.S. office ceased within the last month, sources close to the situation tell Variety, although a potential buyer is “very interested” in the company and has been in due diligence for several [...]

  • Michael Avenatti

    Michael Avenatti Arrested on Bank Fraud and Extortion Charges

    Attorney Michael Avenatti was arrested Monday and is facing federal charges on both coasts of bank fraud, misappropriating client funds, and trying to extort Nike. Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York allege that Avenatti tried to extract more than $20 million from Nike, and said that if the company did not pay him, [...]

  • Daily Show Viacom

    DirecTV, Viacom Avert Blackout After Marathon Negotiation

    DirecTV and Viacom have agreed on a carriage renewal pact covering a raft of Viacom’s cable channels after a marathon negotiation over the weekend. In a joint statement early Monday, the companies said: “We are pleased to announce a renewed Viacom-AT&T contract that includes continued carriage of Viacom services across multiple AT&T platforms and products. [...]

  • Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018

    Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018 Compensation Soar to $129.4 Million

    Discovery Inc. president-CEO David Zaslav is once again making headlines for an enormous compensation package. Zaslav’s 2018 compensation soared to $129.44 million in 2018, fueled by stock options and grants awarded as the longtime Discovery chief signed a new employment contract last July that takes him through 2023 at the cable programming group. Zaslav received [...]

  • Jonathan Lamy RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy Stepping Down From RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy, the Recording Industry Association of America’s longtime executive VP of communications and marketing, is stepping down from his post after 17 years, he announced today. As he put it in an email to Variety, “I started back in 2002, which means it’s been 17+ years, four different RIAA CEOs, three format changes and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content