Open Call is going digital!
Please be sure to read the updated How To Apply page for details.

The application review process

Open Call applications are reviewed in a three-phase review process by ITVS staff and industry peers using a specific set of criteria. Applicants will create an account and upload all their application materials online. In the first two phases of the review process, ITVS staff and readers evaluate application materials. The top 8 to 10 percent are asked to submit to a national peer review panel, which requires a more detailed proposal. Funding decisions are based on the panel recommendations for funding and a feasibility evaluation by ITVS staff. The call is extremely competitive as we are only able to fund between one and two percent of the Open Call applicants.

The application review process takes up to five months. Applicants for the January deadline are notified in late May, and for the July deadline in late December. Producers of programs selected for funding will be required to attend an orientation.

Timetable for a round of Open Call

  • Internal Review: After the submission deadline, all applicants will receive notification of their status by email within six weeks.
  • Reader Review: Because of the new digital application process, applicants are no longer required to submit additonal copies of their work-in-progress. Applicants will be notified of their status within six weeks.
  • Panel Review: A small group of finalists will submit additional information (revised treatment, extended budget, etc), and receive a final decision within approximately eight weeks.

Program funding selection

Programs are selected and funded through a license fee for public television broadcast. The detailed ITVS guidelines for funding explain the process and criteria for program selection. Decisions are based on the merits of a proposed project and at the discretion of ITVS professional staff and peer panels. Decisions on program selection are made solely by ITVS, which is an independent nonprofit corporation and not within the control of any other public or private entity.

Production and distribution for ITVS funded programs

Open Call funding is not a grant. In exchange for funding and services, the producer grants ITVS the exclusive U.S. television broadcast rights for a determined time period of seven years. The producer is required to deliver a completed program that meets U.S. broadcast standards. Other contract points, including theatrical rights and revenue sharing, are negotiated on a case-by-case basis.

Here are some additional things to know about working with ITVS if your program is funded:


  • If you are funded through Open Call, you have one year from contract to produce and complete the program.
  • As your program is completed, ITVS offers the program to PBS and works with public television programmers around the country to secure broadcasts.

Creative control and rights

  • The producer has editorial, creative, and financial control of the project and will own the copyright.
  • ITVS will contract a license agreement for exclusive domestic television rights for a determined time period (usually four releases in three years). In exchange, ITVS provides a comprehensive service including funding, creative development through feedback, and support for the public television launch including publicity, website, station relations, and outreach.
  • We provide producers with a handbook outlining the required standards for packaging, underwriting, and product offers. A more general version - the ITVS Production Manual - is available for sale. PBS also makes their standards public in their Red Book.


  • ITVS does not give grants, but enters into a production licensing agreement. This means that although the producer retains the copyright, s/he grants ITVS the exclusive public television rights for four years.
  • ITVS offers every program it funds to PBS, who has first right of refusal. PBS can accept the program for the NPS (National Program Service or “hard feed”) or PBS Plus (“soft feed”). In addition, ITVS works closely with series like Independent Lens, P.O.V., American Experience, and Frontline to encourage placement of ITVS-funded programs.
  • If PBS and the various series pass on a program, we offer it directly to every public television station through a process we call an “ITVS offer.” This means we buy the satellite time and feed the program directly to stations and then work with programmers across the country to encourage broadcast. This effort, known as station relations, ensures that some, many or all of the public television stations will broadcast ITVS-funded programs.
  • About two-thirds of ITVS shows have been offered through PBS subscription services such as NPS, PBS Plus, P.O.V., Frontline, or Independent Lens. The remaining programs are offered to stations directly by ITVS.

Ancillary sales

  • If you enter into the ITVS license agreement, ITVS holds exclusive domestic television rights.
  • ITVS encourages educational distribution.
  • Most ITVS-funded projects also have success in the festival, educational video, home video, and foreign broadcast markets. But people sometimes forget that television is our middle name. Our mission is to present works for television and not for theatrical release. We allow producers to pursue non-television distribution on a case-by-case basis if the opportunity arises.
  • Certain other ancillary sales rights are controlled by the contract as dictated by CPB. You cannot, for instance, exercise any ancillary rights before the public television broadcast unless you receive permission from ITVS.
  • We review all theatrical or non-theatrical distribution contracts to ensure they meet CPB requirements and do not infringe on ITVS's rights.

Financial reporting

  • ITVS requires periodic financial reporting, and it must be able to withstand an audit. Each year ITVS randomly selects a number of projects for auditing. Every funded producer is assigned a member of the production staff who works with them to review financial and narrative reports and other deliverables. The production department representative will also be in dialogue about the program and its progress.