Establishing a Content Strategy for the Future

By Jim Sommers, Senior Vice President of Content, ITVS
Posted on October 18, 2012


ITVS teams adapt and work together to better serve producers in a dynamic, chaotic media environment.



Five years ago, as the opportunities for creating and distributing content in a multi-platform, cross-media environment were compounding, the funding and rights management environment intensifying, we strategized internally on how to best support independents to thrive in this ever-changing media environment. What it took to fund, distribute, and promote independent film through a simple broadcast model required a shift to connect many more dots to reach audiences digitally. In short, success demanded a multi-pronged approach with more collaboration, flexibility, and partnership across everything we do. We also wanted to provide many points of access to producers seeking funding from ITVS.

Today, we have a service model and culture guided by a Content Strategy Team and several other cross-functional teams to support producers as they absorb new forms of content creation and distribution into their creative processes. The “CST,” also known as the “greenlight” team, finalizes all the programming slates and ensures that ITVS’s content portfolio achieves its mission of diversity and innovation and tracks how our content reaches and engages diverse audiences. In addition to me, the CST members include: Claire Aguilar, Executive Content Advisor (formerly Vice President of Programming); Lois Vossen, Senior Series Producer of Independent Lens; Matthew Meschery, Director of Digital Content and Innovation; Sreedevi Sripathy, Managing Director of Distribution and Content Management; and Tamara Gould, Vice President of International, who heads up strategic partnerships.

I’d also like to introduce you to the talented people behind the strategies of our standing funding initiatives. First, these initiatives are managed by the programming department headed by Erica Deiparine-Sugars. As we continue to focus on meeting our diversity mission with an emphasis on innovation and engagement, I hope to keep you informed on new faces and some changing roles. 

OPEN CALL Open Call is ITVS’s largest funding initiative with two deadlines per year. It provides completion funds for stand alone nonfiction public television programs on any subject. Karim Ahmad and Cynthia Kane, Senior Programming Managers, have been an integral part of Open Call over the past few years, and are now spearheading this initiative following the retirement of Richard Saiz, Senior Programming Manager.  They work closely with producers to shepherd projects through the process, including vetting proposals, providing feedback, and conducting peer panel reviews. 

INTERNATIONAL ITVS International provides production funding for single documentaries that bring international perspectives and stories to U.S. audiences. This year, this initiative transitioned from an open call to a rolling deadline and commissioning model. In her new advisory role, Claire Aguilar will continue to lead our international effort, travelling the globe to identify programs and special projects and establish production partnerships with our international colleagues. 

LINCS Linking Independents and Co-Producing Stations (LINCS) provides matching funds between public television stations and independent producers. LINCS has a rolling deadline. In addition to overseeing all programming staff and initiatives for the Programming Department, Erica Deiparine-Sugars manages this initiative and maintains the partnerships necessary to deliver programs to broadcast. 

DDF-Diversity Development Fund   The Diversity Development Fund provides research and development funding to producers of color to develop stand-alone documentary programs. The goal of the fund is to identify and support new and diverse producers of color, and to help them strengthen their projects so they are more competitive for further ITVS production funding through our other initiatives. Leading this effort is Programming Coordinator N’Jeri Eaton, a recent addition to the Programming team. 

DRAMA Over the past four years, ITVS has been innovating the area of short-form drama and online distribution through our ongoing initiative FUTURESTATES. This series of independent mini-features imagines tomorrow’s America today and transforms complex social issues into visions of what life will be like in decades to come. Karim Ahmad leads our drama initiatives. 

PROJECT 360 In the past three years, ITVS has developed this opportunity to support producers to create to digital stand-alone enhancements to their ITVS-funded productions including: mobile apps, online games, and interactive features on websites. Matthew Meschery leads our efforts in the digital content space, and is exploring more opportunities for developing original digital content. 

SERIES AND SPECIAL PROJECTS (SSP) ITVS accepts proposals on an ongoing basis for commissioning documentary projects (R&D and Production funding) that fall outside of the parameters of the standing initiatives (DDF, LINCS, OPEN CALL). ITVS has a very limited commissioning fund. Selected projects support strategic priorities of the organization. Producers should first reach out through Open Call managers to see if their programs are appropriate for Commissioning funds. We will also provide an online “project inquiry” form to which the CST will respond within six weeks of receipt. ITVS is grateful to the many readers and panelists who have helped vet thousands of projects. With their continued support, the programming staff and Content Strategy Team are dedicated to ensuring a diverse and dynamic portfolio that can inform and engage audiences with powerful independent storytelling. I hope this post provides a comprehensive map for the many ways in which producers can connect directly with ITVS around our funding opportunities. 

Jim Sommers, Senior Vice President of Content, oversees ITVS’s diverse funding portfolio as head of ITVS’s Content Strategy Team and aligns it with many aspects of ITVS’s programmatic areas, including programming, production, communications, broadcast and distribution, and engagement. 

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