Rainbow Media is beefing up the joint IFC-Sundance Channel ad sales unit, tapping former MTV executive Vanessa Benfield to oversee branded-content initiatives across both networks’ linear and digital platforms.
In her new role as svp of partnership sales and integrated solutions, Benfield will manage the integrated-sales teams and work with marketers to develop partnerships for IFC and Sundance Channel. She joins IFC-Sundance from MTV Networks Entertainment Group, where she most recently served as vp, east coast sales for Comedy Central, Spike, TV Land and CMT. She has also put in time at the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, iVillage and Saatchi & Saatchi.
Benfield reports to Alan Klein, evp of partnerships and operations.
“Vanessa’s strong background in the agency, television and online arenas make her a perfect fit for this position,” Klein said. “She’ll play a key role in developing and delivering our upfront and ongoing sales strategies, allowing sponsors to tap into the highly desirable audiences of IFC and Sundance Channel.”
Also new to IFC-Sundance is Tony Song, who’s been appointed to the newly created position of vp, sales and partnerships, east coast; and Ilene Danuff, who joins as vp, branded content & integrated solutions. Song was previously director of east coast national media sales for BET Networks, while Danuff was most recently the marketing and creative services director for Plum Television.
Based in New York, Song and Danuff report to Benfield.
The new hires come as both networks look to expand branded-content opportunities  across their respective TV and digital platforms, including online, mobile and video-on-demand. At the same time, the development and acquisition of scripted series has opened the door for more traditional ad sales efforts.
IFC and Sundance have been leaders in the branded-entertainment space, establishing their own in-house units in 2005 and 2006, respectively. The two rivals became partners in June 2008, when Cablevision acquired Sundance Channel from NBC Universal, CBS Corp.’s Showtime Networks and the actor/director Robert Redford, in a deal valued at $496 million.
“I’m thrilled to join these networks at such an exciting time as both channels offer more of the distinct, fresh programming for which they’re known,” Benfield said. “More than ever before, marketers are looking for new and interesting ways to reach viewers and are seeking destinations that deliver high value and targeted audiences.”
IFC is available in approximately 50.1 million U.S. households, up 3 percent from a year ago. Sundance Channel reaches 37.9 million homes, up 23 percent versus the 30.8 million subs the channel counted at the end of 2008. Neither make guarantees against Nielsen ratings.
“The bigger we get and the more structured we become, the more things will start to fall into focus,” said Benfield. “Right now our size plays to our advantage, because it allows us to be nimble.”
Per SNL Kagan data, IFC in 2009 took in $18.2 million in net ad sales revenue, an increase of 9 percent from its year-ago take ($16.7 million). The researcher does not provide estimates for Sundance Channel.