StoryScout 2024

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Ovation: The US Niche Channel Dedicated to ‘Artists’. Budgets are Expanding. What Are the Sweet Spots?

Ovation is “dedicated to artists and every kind of artistic expression.”

  • SVP Programming Kris Slava  kindly shared his network’s mission, filters, sources, key deal terms and budget ‘sweet spots.
  • Kris met with us at Westdoc, and later at MIPCOM with my MDA Singapore delegation.


  • Launch: 1996.
  • In 2007, the channel was acquired by management and private investors.
    • At that time, there were 5 million subscribers.
  • Relaunched in 2007, the new Ovation quickly grew thanks to early distribution deals with DIRECTV, Dish, Time Warner and Comcast.
    • Today, Ovation reaches a national audience of 51 million homes.


  • Ovation is privately-held.
  • The channel is advertiser-supported and Nielsen-rated in 2010.
  • In 2012, Ovation tripled its Upfront revenue from the previous year.



  • Ovation’s average prime time audience in 3Q 2012 was 59,000.
  • Viewing has doubled (+/-) since 2011.
  • The mix is 60/40 Women in the key 25-54 demographic.
  • A sample of niche US channels with comparably scaled audiences are DIY, IFC, Discovery Fit & Health and Outdoor.

Programming Budget

  • For  many years after the 20007 acquisition: $3-4 million / year
  • 2013 estimate: $15 million


According to Kris Slava, “We are looking to add 400-500 hours of new programming in 2013.”

  • Original (15%)
  • Acquired programming (85%)
  • Unscripted: 80-100 hours
  • Feature docs: 6-8


  • U.S premieres               25%
  • Non-premieres             75%


  • Powerful storytelling about the arts and artists
  • Emotional tug
  • Ovation’s filters are:  Art, Culture, Music, Dance, Visual Art, Cultural Tourism


  • Competing for comparable programs are: The Documentary Channel, though its new schedule hasn’t been announced following its acquisition by Participant Media; PBS, Sundance and others.


  • Currently, Ovation has the exclusive off-network rights to seasons 8-9 of So You Think You Can Dance. The channel is running the series on Fridays.
  • Click here for the monthly schedule

Monthly Stunts

Ovation has reduced the frequency of its 1-2 week themed programming stunts. An example

  • Battle of the Nutcrackers which showcases multiple different productions of the Holiday family classic and asks viewers to vote on their favorite
  • Instead, Ovation has increased the frequency of dedicated theme nights. For example, “Artists & Icons” includes profiles of artists and artist-themed movies

Sources of Acquisitions

  • Library package deals:  70% of acquisitions.
  • Sources include ITV Studios, BBC Worldwide, DRG and others.
  • “The others are acquired as individual programs, either from individual producers (around 15%) and distributors (15%)
  • “We actively acquire documentaries, films and series at major markets and festivals, including MIP, MIPCOM, BANFF TV, Sundance, Real Screen, SXSW, TIFF, Showcase, IDFA, WESTDOC, IFM and others.”
  • “We also do deals with smaller companies, too. Content Media is a good example.”

Exclusivity / Rights

  • Ovation seeks exclusive TV, VOD, SVOD, online, mobile device and TV Everywhere viewing rights to programming in North America.

Library Deals

  • “Ovation does not currently have any output deals, although we are beginning to explore them with international distributors.”

Scripted Programs

  • “We also acquire scripted shows that tell a dramatic story about art, artists or cultural events.”
  • “And there are more MOW’s in the mix since 2011.”
  • “These fit in with the brand.”

Sweet Spots

We asked Kris what Ovation pays for programs, including its ‘sweet spot’, that magical internal benchmark for the cost of a production or acquisition.

“Our license fees for acquisitions start at:

  • Feature Docs:  $10,000 to $50-150,000 for a Signature doc.
    • “Our ‘sweet spot’ to acquire a completed feature doc is $35,000.”
    • “And we have begun to contribute completion financing for unique projects, up to $100,000.”
  • “A Chance to Dance” is a hybrid observational doc and competition show. The budget is $200,000+ / hour

Ovation’s Sweet Spots

Feature docs:

  • Low                         $3,000
  • Sweet Spot            $35,000
  • High                        $75,000 +/-
  • Signature               $100,000 for completion finance

Scripted co-pro’s:

  • Low                         $75,000
  • Sweet Spot            $150,000
  • High                        $250,000 +/-

Reminder: What is the ‘Sweet Spot’?

  • Every network is steered by an annual programming budget that establishes or implies a ‘Sweet Spot’ for an hour of original programming.
  • This benchmark is based on the network’s investment strategies, revenues, schedule, the competitive situation, contributions from co-producers and partners, and much more.
  • The ‘Sweet Spot’ is the cost that the Director/VP of Development/Programming is comfortable presenting to the final decision-maker, expecting buy-in for an approved idea that meets the channel’s mission and on screen standards.


  • Ovation is a rapidly growing U.S. channel that is uniquely focused on the category of arts and contemporary culture
  • With broader distribution and the new pressure of Nielsen ratings, Ovation has inevitably shifted its programming schedule from classical arts to popular culture-based entertainment that is artist-themed.
  • The channel offers modest opportunities for documentary filmmakers.
  • Ovation is also actively looking for co-production deals to help bolster its original programming slate.

Key Contacts

Ovation is based in Santa Monica CA.

  • Michelle Zajic, VP Acquisitions & Scheduling
  • Mary Carlin, Director Programming, with responsibility for docs


Early Discount
New York, January 23-25, 2013

The  Impact Media Summit brings together the world’s best program makers to share their insights on the year’s significant events affecting programming, while also looking forward to future trends in history, archives, and investigative and social issue programming.

Impact attracts producers and broadcasters from over 20 countries who are actively pursuing partnerships.

Impact Media Summit is offering a discounted rate of $649. Register before November 30 to save with the promo code: DOCUTV