Pivot TV Aims to Entertain, Inspire Millennials


NEW YORK - Don't just sit there. Do something!

That's the word from Pivot, a new cable television network targeting 18-to-34-year-olds. It signs on next week.

Sure, passive viewing is permissible as Pivot rolls out more than 300 hours of original programming to a potential audience of 40 million viewers. But it will offer entertainment - whether comedy, drama, talk or documentaries - that aims not just to amuse but also to inspire social change.

"This is a general entertainment network, which we want to be enjoyable and interesting to the audience. Then the inspiration and the action come from it," says Chad Boettcher, Pivot's executive vice president of social action and advocacy.

Viewers can sample how with the premiere of "TakePart Live," which will be "the first millennial-driven talk and information show on TV," according to Pivot president Evan Shapiro. Airing at midnight Eastern time, the weeknight show is devoted to "decoding the news," he said, complete with online involvement by viewers who will join in the effort to separate what's true from what's not in each day's high-profile stories.

Earlier on the network's launch day, Aug. 1, Pivot will treat binge-happy viewers to all six episodes of "Please Like Me," a comedy-drama from 25-year-old Australian comedian Josh Thomas whose first half-hour is already available on the Pivot website.

"If `Girls' had a soul, this would be that show," Shapiro said with a laugh during a recent interview.

He described "Please Like Me" as "a coming-out quarter-life-crisis suicide comedy," which opens up all sorts of self-esteem issues for viewers to share and discuss online.

Pivot will present acquired programming such as "Friday Night Lights" and "Little Mosque," a long-running Canadian series focused on a Muslim community in a Saskatchewan prairie town that will make its U.S. debut on Aug. 5.

The network will air features and documentaries that befit its parent, Participant Media, which, founded in 2004 by entrepreneur-philanthropist Jeff Skoll, set a "double bottom line" for itself - financial profit and social impact - and since then has produced more than 40 socially relevant fiction and nonfiction films including "The Help," "Charlie Wilson's War," "Food, Inc.," "An Inconvenient Truth" and "Lincoln."

"Participant exists to tell stories that inspire people to be more involved in the world around them," said the company's CEO, Jim Berk, "and we have learned this doesn't happen unless the audience believes that the source of the content and the storytelling is authentic. With the launch of Pivot we now have new ways to foster a trusting relationship by providing tools to understand and distill complex issues."

That all sounds good, declared Brad Adgate, an analyst at the media-buying firm Horizon Media, "but it's easier said than done. It's a big chore to figure out what's relevant to this target audience and get them to respond."

Pivot thinks wide-ranging research and Participant's track record have given the network a handle on what will resonate with millennials, and it's programming accordingly.

In September, it will premiere "Raising McCain," billed as a "genre-busting docu-talk series" following Meghan McCain, daughter of Arizona's U.S. Sen. John McCain, and "Jersey Strong," an original docu-series from the producers of the Peabody Award-winning "Brick City" that centers on two unconventional families in Newark, N.J.: a man and woman mentoring young people who themselves are members of two rival street gangs and two women in a same-sex relationship who run a law firm.

And slated for January is the premiere of "hitRECord on TV," an audience-collaborated variety show produced and hosted by actor-impresario Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who rallies artists from his global open-source online community to create films, music and other content for the series.

Pivot will cull its programming for appropriate calls to action to air during the shows. During August alone, more than 160 action proposals will be highlighted on screen for viewers to consider, Shapiro said.

"But we also wanted an issue that was universal, across the entire network," he added - "a campaign that, whoever you are, applies to you."

What Pivot came up with: digital and media literacy. It resulted in a year-round initiative called Eyes Wide Open.

Underlying the campaign is Pivot's own polling of 18-to34-year-olds, which found a generation worried about bias in their news and often feeling misled by social media, even as many of them acknowledged having misled others with their posts. Meanwhile, this crowd voiced confusion, even a sense of defeat, about the problem of online privacy.

"This is the first digitally native generation in the history of the world," said Shapiro, "and they feel overwhelmed. They feel trapped. We want to give them a resource to talk about that, to know they're not alone in it and to get more information and help."

He calls "TakePart Live" the face of this initiative, and of Pivot overall, "because we want to help decode the information that is being thrust at this audience on an ongoing basis."

But there's more. On its website Pivot will launch its digital and media literacy hub containing information on a user's rights in the digital world, advice on establishing privacy settings, and, in a bid by the network for corporate transparency, its own policy on advertising - what it accepts and rejects and why.

Pivot will present an original half-hour documentary, "Eyes Wide Open," premiering Sept. 11.

The campaign will be the focus of the first episode of "Raising McCain," while those issues will be examined in at least a half-dozen editions of ABC News' "Nightline" produced in the coming year in partnership with Pivot.

"We think the stories we tell and how we tell them are uniquely suited to the mission at Participant and at Pivot," said "Nightline" executive producer Jeanmarie Condon, "as we work together to write the next chapter in the history of these two powerful brands."

That next chapter, said Shapiro, calls for the audience to get more savvy about producing and consuming media content.

"We want to create the most literate audience in digital media on Earth," he said.

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