StoryScout 2024

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

ITVS: $191+ Million Spent on Independent Productions Since 1990

I Am Not Your Negro would have earned my vote for the Feature Documentary Oscar for 2017.

  • ITVS was a key funder of Raoul Peck’s marvelous film which envisions the book James Baldwin never finished, a radical narration about race in America.
  • ITVS’s contribution to independent documentaries deserves a big cheer at this moment when publicly funded media is under such severe threat.

We recently caught up with the Independent Television Service (ITVS) team to refresh our profile of their work.

  • This is the first of two posts.
  • We will soon cover the ITVS-curated PBS documentary strand Independent Lens.
  • And then POV.

ITVS Mission

  • Funds, presents, and promotes independent documentaries and dramas on public television.
  • Creates innovative new media projects on digital platforms.
  • Curates and presents the PBS documentary strand Independent Lens.


  • More that $191 mn production license and development funds since 1990:
    • $181+ mn for production
    • $9.5 mn for development
  • Current  spend:
    • $5-6 mn / year in production funding,
    • $250-$350k in development
    • $2 mn per year for acquisitions.
    • $2-5 mn per year on community engagement, education, online and public awareness campaigns that support each film.


  • Independent Television Service (ITVS)was founded by independent producers and the media arts community to foster plurality, diversity, and innovation in public television.
  • In 1988, Congress mandated the creation of a service dedicated to independently produced programming that takes creative risks, sparks public dialogue, and gives voice to underserved communities.
  • ITVS funded its first wave of programs in 1991, introduced its national community engagement program in 1999, and internationalized in 2005 to bring the work of international filmmakers to U.S. audiences and the work of American filmmakers to public media systems abroad.

The continued success of my free newsletter depends on expanding my reach to industry professionals and newcomers.  Please recommend my work to your friends and colleagues. Here is the link to this week’s report on Amazon Prime at MIPDoc.  Please copy and pass it on. Peter


Open Call:

  • The Open Call initiative provides completion funds for single nonfiction programs suitable for public television.
  • Projects should be in production.
  • ITVS requests a work-in-progress video with the proposal.
  • Open Call funding is available only to independent producers who are citizens or legal residents of the United States.
  • There are two funding rounds per year, with deadlines typically in mid-January and early August.
  • Applicants may apply with only one project per call.
  • The entire proposal review process takes up to five months.
  • Only 2% of Open Call applicants receive funding.
  • Open Call is not a grant; ITVS provides funding to license programs for public television.

Diversity Development Fund (DDF)

  • The Diversity Development Fund (DDF) provides up to $15,000 in research and development funding to producers of color to develop single documentary programs for public television.
  • Funded activities may include travel, research, script development, preliminary production for fundraising/work-in-progress reels, or other early phase activities.
  • There is one funding round per year, and only one project per round.
  • The proposal review process takes up to three months.
  • About 5-6% of applicants receive funding. DDF is not a grant; applicants receive funding in the form of a development agreement that assigns ITVS certain rights during the contract term.

International Projects:

  • Beginning in 2012, the international funding initiative shifted to a commissioning model.

Series and Special Projects

  • ITVS no longer accepts unsolicited materials, including proposal submissions or project inquiries for Series & Special Projects (SSP) funding.
  • The initiative shifted to a commissioning model that provides development and/or production funding to a limited number of projects in order to respond to timely opportunities.
  • For development funding, activities may include travel, research, script development, preliminary production for fundraising/work-in-progress reels, or other early phase activities.
  • For production funding, all production & post-production activities are eligible.
  • ITVS’s capacity to fund projects outside of its three standing initiatives is extremely limited & highly competitive.
  • There is no deadline for applications.
  • As with other ITVS initiatives, applicants may only have one project under consideration at any one time.
  • The proposal review process takes six to eight weeks.
  • Series and Special Projects Funding is not a grant; applicants receive funding in the form of a development agreement or production agreement that assigns ITVS certain rights during the contract.


ITVS has been a leader in public media in creating innovative community engagement events for over 20 years. ITVS’s engagement initiatives include:

  • Indie Lens Pop-Up:
    • A neighborhood series that brings people together for film screenings and community-driven conversations.
    • Featuring documentaries seen on PBS’s Independent Lens, Indie Lens Pop-Up draws local residents, leaders and organizations together to discuss what matters most, from newsworthy topics, to family and relationships. Make friends, share stories, and join the conversation.
  • OVEE:
    • Public media’s social TV platform created by ITVS, OVEE is a social TV experience — a powerful new way to reach, connect, and engage with audiences.
    • OVEE brings together viewers from anywhere to watch videos and livestreams while chatting, answering poll questions, and expressing themselves via emoticators–all on desktop or mobile.

Research: Paisley Millhausen