April 05, 2006
Smithsonian Agreement with Showtime
A New York Times article describes the reaction of documentary filmmakers to Smithsonian Networks, the recently announced joint venture between the Smithsonian Institution and Showtime Networks, Inc. Filmmakers are worried because, under the agreement, the joint venture has the right to first refusal to commercial documentaries that rely on Smithsonian collections or staff. Those works would first have to be offered to Smithsonian on Demand, the cable channel that is expected to be the venture's first programming service.
Ken Burns, maker of documentaries like "Baseball" and "The Civil War" said in an interview that he believes such an arrangement would have kept him from making some of his recent works, like "Jazz", available to public television stations because they relied so heavily on Smithsonian curators and collections.
I find this deal terrifying," Mr. Burns said in a telephone interview from San Francisco, where he is filming interviews for a documentary on the history of the national parks. "It feels like the Smithsonian has essentially optioned America's attic to one company, and to have access to that attic, we would have to be signed off with, and perhaps co-opted by, that entity