NEW YORK — A&E Networks is changing presidents for the first time in its 21-year history, with Abbe Raven succeeding Nick Davatzes.
“I think it’s time for a change, for a new voice at the head of the company,” said Davatzes, 63. He’s retiring but will stay on for a number of months as CEO emeritus to smooth the transition to Raven, 52, who shifts from president of A&E Network USA to prexy-CEO of all seven A&E nets, including the History Channel, on April 1. A&E Networks has never had a chairman.
Raven’s promotion reflects the cable industry’s comfort with women in top jobs. Among the most notable examples: Anne Sweeney is the head of the Disney/ABC TV Group; Judy McGrath is chair-CEO of the MTV Networks; and Bonnie Hammer is president of USA Network and the Sci Fi Channel.
Raven said “The Sopranos,” which A&E will start airing in fall 2006, will draw lots of younger viewers to the network, as will two other recent rerun purchases, “CSI: Miami” and “24.”
As late as December 2003, A&E was the fourth-oldest cable network in the industry, with its average audience age of 58.8 exceeded only by that of CNBC, Fox News and CNN.
Reality shows like “Growing Up Gotti,” “Cold Case Files” and “Dog the Bounty Hunter” have lowered A&E’s median age to 51, and in the first quarter to date, A&E is up 20% in its core demo of adults 25-54 compared with the full first quarter of 2004. In adults 18-49, A&E is up by 32%; in 18-34, the increase is 64%.
Raven joined A&E in 1984 and served in a variety of executive jobs at both A&E and the History Channel.
The five other cable networks under her portfolio are the Military History Channel, Biography Channel, History Intl., History Channel en Espanol and the still-developing Crime & Investigation Network. She’ll also oversee the consumer-products division and the international division.
Commenting on all the women who are taking over the big cable networks, Court TV chairman-CEO Henry Schleiff said, “This is a long- overdue recognition of some very talented women — I know we’re certainly reaching equality, if not reparations.”