You may never watch IFC again. Any other network might be concerned about that, but IFC is cool with it.
The AMC-owned cable channel is pursuing a novel strategy as it continues the process of remaking itself from a sponsorship-supported cable network outlet for indie films into an ad-supported network with a new focus on original prime-time programming. Where other channels try to go as broad as possible, IFC is choosing to focus on what it does best, hoping that no one else will be able to capture its target audience the way it can.
The channel's strategy will be on display in January when the second seasons of two popular but intensely quirky shows–Portlandia, with SNL vet Fred Armisen and Sleater-Kinney lead singer Carrie Brownstein, and The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, a star vehicle for cult favorite/hipster hero David Cross. Though network executives won't really say it directly, it's that hipster audience they're gunning for.
"IFC is about an 'indie' perspective on what's worth watching and doing. An alternative culture," says Jennifer Caserta, general manager in charge of programming at IFC. "Hipster is not always seen as a positive term. It's not about how you dress or whether you're wearing thick glasses." She prefers to think of the network's target viewer as "someone who has a job but DJs on the weekends or loves to go see rock bands." And if you don't fit that description? That's OK. "We're not going to be the widest possible reach mainstream network–that's not what cable does," Caserta says. "But it doesn't concern me."
IFC has had some success in growing its audience since it began its revamp a little more than a year ago. Between October 2010–just before it became an ad-supported network–and this past September, IFC's viewership rose 38 percent overall and 33 percent among its target 18-49 demographic. And there is a precedent for this kind of strategy. IFC is following the lead of FX, which has attracted a rush of younger men with comedies like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Cartoon Network's late night Adult Swim programming.
But that willingness to alienate some viewers does have risks. "There are so many channels out there, you have to, by nature, be niche," says Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media. "But it's not like IFC is doing huge ratings numbers. There's room for growth. They don't have that much to lose by putting on different types of shows in different genres that might appeal to a wider base while keeping their core audience."