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Sundance to Bow Docu Net

Sundance Channel plans later this year to launch a new service devoted exclusively to documentary films. But unlike its premium parent network, it may be offered as a digital basic channel.

The yet-to-be-named channel will feature independent nonfiction films that don't get much exposure on other networks, including Sundance itself. Only 20 percent of the pay service's programming consists of nonfiction documentary movies, said Sundance Channel president and CEO Larry Aidem.

The new service could be offered to operators as a digital basic service, rather than packaged with Sundance on a premium tier, he said. He wouldn't reveal specific rate-card figures.

"It won't necessarily be a premium service, but rather a service that would be offered on a more widely distributed tier," Aidem said.

Sundance's partners — Vivendi Universal S.A., Viacom Inc. and actor Robert Redford — are hopeful that the documentary network's distribution will eventually surpass that of Sundance, which currently counts 14 million subscribers and is available in 55 million homes.

"At the heart of the decision to launch this channel devoted to documentary film is a belief that these films not only deserve a broader audience, but will attract a broader audience if we put them out there," Redford said in a statement.

Aidem said Sundance has received positive feedback from several MSOs and direct-broadcast satellite distributors, but has yet to sign a carriage deal for the service.

"In talking with viewers, operators and filmmakers, it became evident to us that there is a real need for a dedicated home on television for documentaries that reflect the breadth and diversity of our culture," Aidem said. "It has to be something that operators feel will add incremental value to their digital offerings and provide value to the subscribers, and we feel it does."