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Monday, August 26, 2013

Pivot TV Pitches to Young Viewers


Jason Decrow/Pivot, via Associated Press
Meghan McCain and her brother Jimmy in “Raising McCain,” which will be shown on Pivot.
Dan Steinberg/Pivot, via Associated Press
Evan Shapiro, the president of Pivot.

The question is more than academic for Mr. Shapiro, a former president of IFC and the Sundance Channel, who is honing his own plan for something new, a channel for young people called Pivot that will become available in 40 million homes on Thursday. Being around students has reminded him again and again how hard it will be to keep their attention.
“There are a bajillion media choices out there,” said Mr. Shapiro, now the president of Pivot, probably slightly underestimating how many options there really are. “This generation has information and data and content thrown at them at lightning speed. The idea that they will actually care about us and know about us is probably our biggest challenge.”
So Pivot is keeping expectations low — it won’t be rated by Nielsen at the outset — while trying to be on every screen it can. The channel is part of a drive into television by Participant Media, the film company behind “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Lincoln,” “A Place at the Table” and others. It comes at a time of intense skepticism about whether people under 35 are watching traditional television at all anymore, now that alternatives like Netflix and YouTube are available.
Nielsen data backs up Pivot’s claims that old-fashioned television is still paramount among young people. In the first quarter of 2013, the typical adult aged 18 to 24 watched about four hours of TV every day, most of it live, and 16 minutes of Internet programming. Those aged 25 to 34 watched about an hour more TV than the younger group, and almost as much on the Internet.
Still, the trend lines are ominous; traditional TV consumption has been slipping among those under 34 for the last two years. And many people suspect that the shift is happening faster than Nielsen’s data suggests. So why start a channel for the so-called millennial generation, besides the obvious answers involving advertisers who pay a premium for younger demographics?
Mr. Shapiro’s answer involved a great deal of flattery. Where others see stereotypes about “navel-gazing entitled narcissists,” he said, “we see the most open-minded, most connected, most generous, most giving generation alive on the planet today. We’re betting heavy on their ability to make the changes that the world so badly needs.”
Participant Media’s progressive mandate — “entertainment that inspires and compels social change” — will carry over to Pivot through on-screen graphics about how viewers can help combat, say, hunger in America, or support antibullying efforts. But Mr. Shapiro stressed that Pivot will be a general entertainment channel, complete with an original comedy called “Please Like Me” and repeats of “Friday Night Lights” and “Farscape.”
“We can’t fulfill the second part of our mandate if we can’t fulfill the first,” he said.
Mr. Shapiro, 46, is not himself a millennial, nor is his senior management team, and when told during a telephone interview that this reporter was 27, he exclaimed, “You’re a child!” At other times, he used “kids” before correcting himself and saying “young people.” But he said “half the programming group are millennials.”
The channel’s celebrity backers include Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose variety show, “HitRECord on TV!,” will come on early next year, and Meghan McCain, whose on-the-road talk show, “Raising McCain,” will premiere in September.
In an interview Ms. McCain, 28, daughter of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, admitted to some hesitation before her first meeting with Pivot, given the history of high-minded start-up channels “that quite frankly don’t do that well.” (Participant acquired two failed channels, the Documentary Channel and Halogen TV, last year to allow the creation of Pivot.) But she said she came away convinced by the channel’s potential.
“When I was growing up, MTV News had such a big impact on my life,” Ms. McCain said. Now it scarcely exists, she added, implying that Pivot could fulfill a similar purpose. Mr. Shapiro included MTV in Pivot’s competitive set, along with ABC Family, BBC America, the forthcoming FX spinoff FXX, Hulu and Netflix.
“Our bet is on a pluralistic view of the future of television,” he said, meaning viewers can choose scheduled or on-demand offerings. Kent Rees, Pivot’s top scheduler, said the channel has been constructed with binge viewing in mind: For instance, the first six episodes of “Please Like Me,” an Australian comedy starring Josh Thomas that made its debut in that country earlier this year, will be shown several times in a row during Pivot’s first week. They’ll also be available on demand.
While Pivot is dependent on the support of cable and satellite providers, some of which have declined to carry it, the channel also wants (and needs) to reach the viewers it calls “broadbanders” (and others call cord-cutters), who pay for Internet but not bundled TV channels. It is encouraging broadband providers to sell a small bundle of channels, Pivot included, for Internet streaming.
“It would be the first product of its kind,” Mr. Shapiro said, sold through the broadband provider — if any agree to do it, that is. Exuding confidence, he said the Internet version would “roll out in the next 12 months.” By then, Pivot hopes to be premiering its first scripted drama, “Will,” about Shakespeare’s life as a millennial.

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