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A+E Networks Starts TV’s Long Road to a New Upfront Market

A+E Networks Starts TV's Long Road
Courtesy of A+E Networks

In a world focused on streaming, A+E Networks isn’t turning off the traditional TV.

The company, jointly owned by Walt Disney Co. and Hearst, is placing emphasis on original TV series aimed first at linear TV, with a vow to increase original hour of programming by 50%. “Our commitment is to original content and, for us, continuing to put all of that content on linear TV first,” says Peter Olsen, executive vice president of ad sales, in an interview.

The owner of the A&E, History and Lifetime cable networks, among others, is planning more than 2500 hours of new programming for the 2021-2022 TV season, including 221 original TV movies and 70 hours of documentaries. Among the new offerings are a miniseries on Janet Jackson to be shown across A&E and Lifetime and two movies from Reba McEntire, one focused on the holidays and one slated for release in 2022.

A+E is the first of the bigger TV companies to make a broad portfolio presentation to advertisers (WarnerMedia’s youth-skewing properties recently made a pitch as part of the industry’s “kids upfront”), and, as such, has a chance to set the tone for this year’s regular haggle between U.S. TV networks and the sponsors whose support they crave.

And while the company has its eye on its best-known line of business, it is also cognizant of producing content for digital venues, says Paul Buccieri, group president of A+E Networks. The new lineup “demonstrates a deep commitment to being available wherever and however viewers want to be entertained, whether through high-performing podcasts, virtual experiences or digital multiplatform content,” he says in a prepared statement.

A+E’s Olsen believes the TV industry faces “a transition year on a number of levels,” with advertisers who had grappled with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic expected to return to spending. At the same time, he says, marketers working to figure out how to put their ads in streaming venues may come to appreciate some of TV’s features. “The ad loads are different. The pricing is different, “ he adds. “A lot of that stuff is changing the ecosystem.”

A+E has already positioned itself for a big change. In February, the company said it intends to do ad deals based on “a total audience metric,” rather than on the industry’s current currency, which for entertainment programs is viewers between the ages of 18 and 49. As more consumers sign up for streaming, they have become difficult to reach through traditional means, including the primetime TV schedule — prompting new discussions about how to “target” customers and whether media companies should be able to seek a “premium” when they help their clients find important audience niches.

“So far we have been very impressed with the receptivity to the message that there needs to be an environment toward shifting the viewpoint of what TV is and what it should be and how every customer matters,” says Olsen. “There has been no big pushback.”