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Cable Chronicles: Sundance Selects; Discovery Goes Public; ESPN Turns 30

By Tom White

Rainbow Media, the parent company of the Sundance Channel, IFC, AMC and WEtv, announced this week the launch of Sundance Selects, a new Video On Demand service that will be made available to cable and satellite operators in early 2009. The service, for which Sundance founder Robert Redford will play an advisorial role, will offer both fiction films and documentaries. Sundance Selects follows the lead of sister channel IFC, whose day-and-date models On Demand and Festival Direct have helped define the Rainbow brand.

"The launch of Sundance Selects is an exciting next step in our mission to bring the art house to the viewer's house," said Rainbow President and CEO Joshua Sapan in a statement. "Many of the markets we now reach have never had a theater that plays these films, but our experience shows that there are independent film fans everywhere. We believe that the transactional gross for many of these independent films will surpass even DVD grosses within a few short years, because of the economics of releasing a film theatrically."

"The hallmark of the Sundance brand is creating an environment of discovery, for both artists and for audiences," added Redford. "Sundance nurtures new, independent voices in the creative realm, and works just as hard to bring their work to larger audiences in new ways. Sundance Selects' VOD is a perfect complement to this mission and I am really energized about working with Sundance Channel and Rainbow Media on this venture."

Let's see...The week opened with two financial giants, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch being, respectively, spurned by the US government for a takeover and bought for less than a song by Bank of America. Then the US government agreed to take over AIG. Wall Street saw its worse plunge since 9/11/01. And pundits were prognosticating Great Depression II. What a great time to go public! And that's exactly what Discovery Communications did, when Founder/Chairman John Hendricks and President/CEO David Zaslav rang the opening bell at the NASDAQ stock exchange Thursday morning, Discovery's first day as a public company. Discovery Holding Company and Advance/Newhouse Communications are major stockholders in Discovery Communications, Inc.

ESPN, the venerable 24-hour sports channel, celebrates 30 years in the business next year, and to commemorate that special anniversary, the programming execs are ramping up their documentary slate, enlisting such leading lights as Barbara Kopple, Jon Alpert and Spike Lee to produce works under the channel's proposed "30/30" initiative, which calls for 30 one-hour programs by 30 different filmmakers. This project is under the ESPN Films initiative, launched this past March, which also includes the Tribeca ESPN Film Festival. Here's an interview from RealScreen with executive producer Connor Schell.