So Much For Independence: Robert Redford Pawns Sundance Channel for $496 Million


In a deal forecast by analysts back in March, New York broadcast titans Cablevision yesterday acquired the Sundance Channel for $496 million. The amount was nearly 25% higher than its valuation at the time, and it adds nearly $50 million to the wallet of minority shareholder and Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford; his partners at NBC Universal and CBS pocketed the rest. While Redford is expected to stay with the network, it should undergo plenty of other changes — not the least of which will be its transition to a commercial-supported entity. What else would you expect from Sundance other than a word with its sponsors?

That development would help neutralize what's arguably Cablevision's biggest paradox here: How to create coexistence between Sundance and its current indie-film channel IFC. Sundance currently reaches about 30 million homes, having balanced out uncut broadcasts of its namesake festival's selections with more original programming over the last three years. It stops short of airing commercials, though, which Cablevision will seek to integrate in a fashion similar to its canny evolution of AMC from vintage movie dump to contemporary outlet for mainstream films and original series like Mad Men.

A commercialized Sundance Channel would also entitle IFC the latitude to pursue its precious mission — "independent film, unedited and commercially uninterrupted 24 hours a day" — with fewer of the tacky on-air branding and sponsorship credits it endures now. (Not that it'd give up all of that easy revenue, but still.) To that end, Sundance last week presented its first upfronts to advertisers, led by Redford himself. Assuming you haven't changed the channel, expect to see the results between Iconoclasts and The Green segments some time this fall.