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Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Ovation Is Rising: What Are The Filters? How Many Hours? What Do They Pay?

Ovation is the only U.S. television network dedicated to arts and contemporary culture.

  • It is expanding rapidly.

SVP Programming Kris Slava kindly shared his mission, filters, sources and budget ‘sweet spots’.


  • Launch: 1996.
  • In 2006, the channel was acquired by management and private investors.
    • At that time, there were 5 million subscribers.
  • The new Ovation quickly grew thanks to early distribution deals with DIRECTV, Dish, Time Warner and Comcast, and Verizon FiOS.
    • Today, Ovation has 44 million subscribers.


  • Ovation is privately held
  • The channel is advertiser supported and became Nielsen rated in the Fall of 2010
  • Ovation recently wrapped up its Upfront ad season and tripled its Upfront revenue from the previous year


  • “Ovation’s mission is to entertain, inspire and engage the artist in all of us.”
  • “The 24-hour channel is the only television network dedicated to art and contemporary culture. The network showcases the artistic genres people love – design, photography, music, travel, and art in all its forms.”


According to Kris Slava, “We are looking to add 400-500 hours of new programming in 2012.”


  • Ovation showcases the world’s greatest artists in music, film, theater, dance, literature, design, animation, visual art, photography and architecture.
  • The channel features a mix of original (15%) and acquired programming (85%) from around the world.
  • Ovation offers viewers a number of US and World premiere documentaries, series, and films.


  • Ovation’s filters are:  Art, Culture, Music, Dance, Visual Art, Cultural Tourism


  • Currently, Ovation has the exclusive off-network rights to seasons 6 to 8 of So You Think You Can Dance. The channel is running the series Friday to Monday each week
  • Click here for the monthly schedule
  • The airings include original “extras” featuring the dancers, choreographers and judges talking about their most memorable moments on the show

Monthly Stunts

Each month, Ovation features one and two week-long themed programming stunts.  Examples include

  • “American Revolutionaries:  THE HITMAKERS” focuses on artists who changed their particular genre of art. It features docs and performances by revolutionary, chart-topping artists like Beyonce, Madonna, Justin Timberlake and Bruce Springsteen
  • “Battle of the Nutcrackers” which showcases multiple different productions of the Holiday family classic and asks viewers to vote on their favorite
  • “Music of the Night” featuring documentaries and films of new and classic Broadway productions.

Sources of Acquisitions

  • Library package deals:  70% of acquisitions
  • “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, and others.”

Exclusivity / Rights

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


  • U.S premieres               35%
  • Non-premieres              65%

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.
  • “These fit in with the brand
  • “A good example is Lost in Austen, a series which fits nicely into Ovation’s programming event “Tall, Dark and Classic” — featuring series and movies that are retellings of classic literature.”

License Fees

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:  $3,000.
  • Reality/Competition: $4,000 / episode
    • “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.”



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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 +/-
Signature               $400,000

Reminder: What is’s ‘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 is inevitably shifting its programming sweet spot from classical arts to a mix that includes popular culture
  • It offers an added opportunity for independent documentary film makers, as well as for distributors of library titles
  • Ovation is also actively looking for co-production deals to help bolster its original programming slate


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