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Pivot, network for millennials, tries to change TV

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Pivot president Evan Shapiro (Photo credit: ParticipantMedia.com)

Pivot president Evan Shapiro (Photo credit: ParticipantMedia.com)

NEW YORK (AP) — Pivot is the name of a TV channel aimed at 15-to-34-year-olds who want to change the world. In the process, they could help Pivot change the television business.

Announced last December, the new venture was officially unveiled Wednesday at a news conference disclosing program and distribution details as well as its name and August 1 sign-on date. It initially will be available in more than 40 million homes.

Pivot is a division of Participant Media, founded in 2004 by entrepreneur-philanthropist Jeff Skoll, who helped mastermind eBay. Since then, Participant has produced more than 40 fiction and nonfiction films (winning 35 Academy Awards) that include “The Help,” ”Charlie Wilson’s War,” ”Food, Inc.,” ”An Inconvenient Truth” and Steven Spielberg’s recent “Lincoln.”

The company is dedicated “to creating lasting sustainable change through the power of storytelling,” said Pivot president Evan Shapiro, “and now we’re bringing that to TV.

“The mandate of Pivot is entertainment that inspires social change and our target is millennials, but other than that we are a general entertainment network with all types of content: drama, comedy, talk and documentaries,” said Shapiro, who before joining Participant served as president of IFC and Sundance Channel, and executive-produced such documentaries and series as “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” and the Peabody Award-winning “Brick City” and “Portlandia.”

Pivot will program around the clock (no long-form infomercials padding fringe periods). Documentaries will fill much of the schedule, including those produced by Participant and other world premieres.

Acquired series include “Friday Night Lights,” the inspiring high school football drama, and “Farscape,” a cult classic previously aired on the Sci-Fi Channel about a diverse group of passengers of a space vessel forced to work together to survive.

Pivot also will introduce its viewers to “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” a long-running Canadian sitcom focused on a Muslim community in a fictional Saskatchewan prairie town. “It has never been seen in the United States because the word ‘mosque’ is in the title,” Shapiro said.

Pivot plans 300 hours of new programming its first year.

New series will include an audience-collaborated variety show produced and hosted by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, a talk-reality show with Meghan McCain (daughter of former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain), and, from writer Craig Pearce (“Moulin Rouge” and the upcoming “The Great Gatsby”), a fanciful drama titled “Will,” about a young, as-yet-unproven William Shakespeare that mashes up his era with modern times.

“Jersey Strong” is a new docu-series from the producers of “Brick City” that focuses on two unconventional families in Newark, N.J. — a young man and woman raising children and pursuing careers who are former members of two rival gangs, and two professional women in a same-sex relationship.

Each night the network will air “TakePart Live,” a talk show whose topics will be chosen earlier in the day by viewers going online to TakePart.com, Participant Media’s social action hub.

The slogan of Pivot is “It’s Your Turn,” which addresses the 27 million-member audience segment the network has dubbed “passionate millennials.”

Not only is the new network gearing its programs to this group, it’s also tailoring its distribution strategy to how they consume media, Shapiro said.

Reports are rampant that younger audiences are shunning traditional TV in favor of online viewing, and that they are “cutting the cord” of cable programming as a moneysaving move or because they deem TV an outmoded way to watch.

Pivot’s research has found otherwise.

“There is no such thing as a cord-cutter,” Shapiro said. “They all have broadband — and it’s bringing them everything they want, including video. So we decided to reframe the conversation.”

Pivot has identified two main groups within its prospective audience: cable TV subscribers who watch “television” across multiple platforms, and viewers who subscribe to broadband only.

Pivot will accommodate both groups.

“It’s the first channel that’s available both through traditional pay-television bundling, and via your broadband provider as a stand-alone (service),” he said. For a nominal extra fee through the Pivot app on any device, “subscribers will be able to take this channel, both live streaming and on-demand, with you wherever you go in the world.”

In addition, online features will include a “Take Action” button to access information about social issues touched on in each program, customized to the viewer’s locale and interests.

Shapiro believes this dual outreach could be a game-changer for the TV industry, making a “television” channel available to any viewer regardless of the chosen delivery device.

Such an arrangement meets the demands of younger viewers, said Shapiro, as overwhelmingly expressed in Pivot’s research: “I want to watch what I want where I want when I want.”

How will Pivot be greeted by this demanding audience?

“The market is a gauge of our success,” Shapiro said. “But social change is an equally important, if not more important, gauge.” Together they’re what the company refers to as its “double bottom line.”

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