‘Slightly Off,’ but Right on Target

IFC’s tagline may position the network as “slightly off,” but president and general manager Jennifer Caserta believes its approach to delivering quality, original comedy programming is exactly on target to reach its core adult audience.

As IFC parent company AMC Networks looks to extend the network’s comedy presence to the stage with the acquisition of Levity Live, which owns numerous upscale comedy clubs around the country, IFC hopes to further build its television and digital brand with original sketch and narrative comedy content, with hit shows such as Documentary Now! and Brockmire.

Hank Azaria stars in "Brockmire."

Hank Azaria stars in "Brockmire."

Brockmire, which stars Hank Azaria as a journeyman baseball broadcaster, in particular has been a standout. Its season-two premiere on April 25 drew nearly 3 million viewers on digital platforms including VOD, IFC.com, the IFC YouTube and Facebook pages and FunnyOrDie.com, while averaging 506,000 total TV viewers in Nielsen live-plus-3 ratings.

Caserta spoke with Multichannel News about the network’s brand and its original programming strategy, as well as the challenges cable networks face in an uncertain television marketplace.

MCN: How would you define IFC’s brand?

Jennifer Caserta: We take great pride in our off-center sensibility — the “slightly off ” which is in the tagline — and you will see more of that amplified, because we’re very proud of it. It’s consistent in everything that we do with regards to the way we approach marketing and promotion on every platform. There will be a little refresh because we think that it’s right to keep things fresh, but the slightly off remains true and at our core.

MCN: Will that refresh be reflected in the content that the network is delivering?

JC: No, it’s more in the brand. Like I said, we take the brand very seriously with a lot of intent, so it’s more about amplifying the slightly off. We’re finding it existing in a lot of places in the world around us — the comedy sensibility that we have is smart and intellectual. It’s imperfect, and we love that, so you’ll probably see it more in how it’s presented.

"Documentary Now!"

"Documentary Now!"

As for our original content, we do all scripted right now. Portlandia is now off the channel, so we’re looking for our sketch replacements. Documentary Now! coming back is a big win for us not only in terms of sensibility but because of the critical acclaim it has generated.

MCN: With your adding shows like Brockmire and Stan Against Evil, will the network look to move more into narrative-based shows and place less emphasis on sketch shows?

JC: It’s really a focus on both. Portlandia was on the air for eight seasons, and we feel that continuing to develop programming in the sketch format is important to us. Documentary Now! is a longer-form parody within sketch comedy that you didn’t see a lot of before but see more of today. Sherman’s Showcase, for example, ties into a sketch format that’s unique, but also a format that speaks to African-American culture, variety and music. As for narrative, there’s so much flexibility with what comedy narrative is today. Brockmire, for example, is a wonderfully complex story line that gets really dark at times, so you’ll see more of that develop over time because its really important to us.

MCN: What are some of the challenges facing networks like IFC in a very crowded and evolving television environment?

JC: In a time where everything is about disruption, I think it’s always hard for people to remain focused because it’s all happening around us. Yet focusing on what we do well and how we move into the future and how we realize and adjust to how people watch our shows. You have to follow the audience, and that’s a big part of what it is that we do in making people really attracted to your brand and to your network in the way that you present your viewing options.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.