Billionaire Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media Details Plans To Launch Its Own Cable Channel

Jeff Skoll, the former eBay executive who is dedicated to solving the world’s big problems, has just taken a step to expand his movie company Participant Media – the company behind An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc. and The Help — into cable TV.  Skoll and Participant Media CEO Jim Berk announced Monday that Participant is purchasing two cable TV channels and will launch a Participant TV network in the summer of 2013, focusing on viewers age 18 to 34.

In an interview in June, Skoll told Forbes he wanted to make Participant Media a global media company and that negotiations to acquire a cable channel were ongoing. “Right now if we do 8 movies a year, that’s at most 16 hours of content. But if we’re on TV, you’re reaching people 24/7,” Skoll said over the summer. His rationale: more hours of content equals a greater chance of inspiring people to take action.  “The goal of Participant is to tell stories that serve as catalysts for social change. With our television channel, we can bring those stories into the homes of our viewers every day,” Skoll said in a statement Monday.

Participant Media announced it has purchased The Documentary Channel, which has 25 million viewers, and has an agreement to acquire Halogen TV (with 15 million viewers) from The Inspirations Networks, a Christian TV network. Financial terms were not disclosed.  According to a 2009 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, The Documentary Channel had revenues of between $1 million and $5 million that year.

Skoll, whose net worth Forbes estimates at $3.3 billion, has spent the past decade atop his Skoll Foundation, which funds social entrepreneurs tackling problems such as health care and poverty, and nurturing Participant Media, which makes engaging films that address big social issues. Its online unit,, engages viewers to take action to make a difference on issues raised in Participant’s films. (See article on Jeff Skoll here.)

“The creation of this network is a natural evolution for Participant. After nearly a decade of telling compelling, entertaining stories on the big screen, a television channel allows us to build upon our existing film, digital and social action resources to create a continuing conversation with an audience that is interested in staying connected and engaged with the world around them,” Participant CEO Jim Berk said in a statement.

Evan Shapiro, who joined Participant in May after serving as president of IFC and the Sundance Channel, will head up the new cable TV network, Berk said.

“Our content will be specifically designed for the viewers that the pay TV eco-system is most at risk of losing,” Shapiro said in a statement.  “We all know that Millennials are changing how media is consumed. However, they also have the strong desire and inimitable capacity to help change the world. Our research shows that there is a whitespace in the television landscape and we believe that a destination for ‘the next greatest generation’ will be a win for our affiliate partners, advertisers and the creative community.”

Participant is working with a variety of people to develop content for the channel, including Oscar winner director Davis Guggenheim (Waiting for Superman and An Inconvenient Truth), The Jim Henson Company’s Brian Henson, columnist and blogger Meghan McCain (daughter of U.S. Senator John McCain), and Oscar nominated humorist Morgan Spurlock (director of Super Size Me and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold).

The financial success of the Participant Network is far from guaranteed, particularly given the difficulties that Oprah Winfrey has had with OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.  Skoll has deep pockets, though, and is passionate about using media to influence change.

Follow me on Twitter at @KerryDolan


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Billionaire Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media Details Plans To Launch Its Own Cable Channel

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