×

DeBitetto puts A&E in growth mode

Showman of the Year 2012: A+E Networks - A&E

A&E’s race to the top of the cable charts over the past decade is strong proof that Americans prefer Dumpster-diving to ballet and frog hunting to opera.

Scoring with blue-collar reality hits such as “Storage Wars” and “Duck Dynasty,” A&E, which once built its brand on high-brow but little-watched programming, is giving several top-rated cable nets a run for their money.

Much of that growth can be credited to Bob DeBitetto, the network’s president-g.m. who was hired away from Turner to become A&E’s head of programming, strategy and scheduling in 2003.

When he got to A&E, “It was no secret that A&E was a network that was pretty significantly challenged,” DeBitetto says. “Everything was going in the wrong direction — ratings, revenue, everything. A&E was the 17th-ranked network in delivery of adults 25-54 and 23rd among adults 18-49. The median age of the A&E audience at that time was 61 years old.”

Today, A&E is ranked fifth among adults 18-49, 25-54 and viewers among all entertainment cable networks so far this season, and the network’s median age is 47.

“We’ve become a solid perennial top-10 network,” says DeBitetto. “We are nearly complete in the transformation of the network from what it once was — high-brow, elevated and niche — to what it is today. If our competitors a decade ago included the likes of PBS and Bravo, today our competitive set is absolutely the other top entertainment networks in cable, including TNT, USA, FX and TBS.”

“Storage Wars,” which performs very well in its Tuesday 10 p.m. timeslot, can claim much of the credit for that strong performance.

“What I love about Bob is that he comes from programming. He communicates his vision well,” says Thom Beers, who exec produces “Storage Wars.” “He knows exactly what the show needs and what the network needs from the show.”

” ‘Storage Wars’ is fun, but it’s also high quality,” says David McKillop, A&E’s exec vice president of programming. “The characters are fantastic. There are so many reality shows out there, but what people want to invest in is other people.”

But “Storage Wars,” high-rated as it is, has gotten some strong assists. Newcomer “Duck Dynasty” averaged 1.1 million adults 18-49 and 25-54 in season one, growing more than 50% in both demographics from the beginning to the end of its first season.

“Keeping the comedy intact is the challenge with that show,” says Dierdre Gurney, one of the exec producers of “Duck Dynasty,” along with her husband, Scott. “That’s why A&E has been the best network for the show. On any other network, it would have been a very different. It would have been a process show about making duck calls, but A&E was really looking for something different. They give their producers an opportunity to take risks and try something new.”

On the scripted front, A&E saw a steady performance from the third season of “The Glades,” and gained ground with “Longmire,” starring Robert Taylor as a cowboy sheriff looking to avenge his wife’s murder. “Longmire” premiered in June to big numbers, becoming A&E’s best scripted premiere with an audience of 4.1 million viewers, and growing over the course of its first season to close with an audience of 4.3 million viewers.

“Bob has been a key player in A&E’s success, developing a clear and thoughtful plan to grow the brand, which has resulted in A&E’s position as a top-tier entertainment network,” says Abbe Raven, A&E’s CEO.

Though DeBitetto is focused on the network 24/7, he does find time for outside activities. When not at the office, DeBitetto has a passion for architecture and painting, and actually trained as an artist. A graduate of Stony Brook U. on Long Island and UCLA law school, the exec enjoys a nice bottle of red wine along with a night at the movies. For that reason he relishes having the A&E Indie Films banner under his domain.

When at work, though, and thinking how to grow the network, DeBitetto aims to have A&E move into all-originals in primetime by sometime next year. Already, the only offnet that A&E still airs in primetime is CBS Television Distribution’s “Criminal Minds.” Prior to that, A&E leaned on such offnets as HBO’s “The Sopranos” and CTD’s “CSI: Miami,” but now DeBitetto wants to take the network in another direction.

“Considering how much these off-network shows are selling for, we’ve made a decision to invest those hundreds of millions of dollars into original programming, most of which we own,” he says. “That makes us masters of our own destiny and provides us with branded environments all of the time. I don’t care how many people watch a great off-network series on a cable network, you aren’t going to brand that network based on somebody else’s show.”

Moreover, the future will belong to those who own their content, he says.

“When it comes time to control the nonlinear distribution, if you own the content you will have some control over your destiny and if you don’t, you won’t. We all know that nonlinear consumption of our content is going to continue to grow through DVR usage and second-screen viewing,” says DeBitetto. “Whatever companies and networks control this premium content will benefit the most from all of this nonlinear viewing.”

That’s bad news for studios selling dramas and fans of procedural crime repeats, but great news for the 5 million or so people each week who want to watch the “Storage Wars” gang bid on unclaimed storage lockers, truckers fight over unorthodox loads or the hirsute members of the “Duck Dynasty” clan try to build a million-dollar business in between hunting trips.

Says DeBitetto: “Whether it’s ‘Pawn Stars’ on History or ‘Storage Wars’ on A&E, I’d rather be investing in finding the next one of those.”

More TV

  • MAKING IT -- Season: 1 --

    TV News Roundup: NBC Announces 'Making It' Season 2 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, NBC announced the “Making It” Season 2 premiere date and HBO Max greenlit a new docuseries from Brad Goreski and Gary Janetti. DATES Hosts Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman will return with the second season of “Making It” on NBC Dec. 2. After the show’s holiday season premiere, the show [...]

  • Luis Fonsi Erika Ender Latin Grammys

    The Second Latin Explosion: How 'Despacito' Ushered in a New Generation of Stars

    Music is an ever-evolving art, and for the Latin Recording Academy, that’s meant riding multiple waves of attention. The most recent arrived with the stratospheric success of “Despacito,” which kicked off a second Latin Explosion with full force in 2017. The Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee hit, later featuring verses by Justin Bieber, made Latin [...]

  • TV Review: 'Catherine the Great' Starring

    TV Review: 'Catherine the Great' Starring Helen Mirren

    For some, “Dame Helen Mirren playing the Catherine the Great” is all the convincing they’ll need to watch this new biographical limited series, which is perfectly understandable. The casting of Mirren in the role, which follows the Russian empress in the embattled latter years of her life, is a smart choice that proves its worth [...]

  • Ricky Martin Celia Cruz Gloria Estefan

    From Idea to Legacy: Latin Grammy Awards Mark 20 Years of Global Recognition

    The idea of creating a separate organization to honor the diversity of Latin music was a discussion that took place for years before it actually happened, but an event driven by one of pop music’s most important crossover artists solidified it. During the 41st Grammy Awards ceremony, a young Ricky Martin was scheduled to perform [...]

  • Science Fair

    Disney Plus Fleshes Out Nonfiction Slate, Including 'Howard,' 'Science Fair,' Mickey Mouse Docu

    Disney Plus further fleshed out its nonfiction content slate at an International Documentary Association showcase event Friday, as the streamer, preparing for its Nov. 12 launch, continues to flesh out its programming strategy. Among the announcements: The streamer has acquired the global distribution rights to “Howard,” the Don Hahn-directed documentary about “Aladdin” and “Beauty and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content