While A+E’s History Channel sets out to tell the story of Abraham Lincoln in a documentary over three nights it will also tell the stories of formerly enslaved people who were also an important part of that era in a mini-series backed by one of its advertisers.
Ancestry is sponsoring a three-part miniseries that will accompany the Lincoln work, which debuts February 20, the latest in A+E’s efforts to craft bespoke programming segments that burnish ad messages while at the same time keeping viewers tuned to the programing for which they originally came.
“To me, this is not a commercial break, this is not a ‘brought to you by,’” says David DeSocio, executive vice president of ad sales marketing and partnerships at A+E Networks, in a recent interview. “It’s a continuation of the story, but on a very personal level.”
Each of the content segments accompanying the “Lincoln” project will be introduced by Christy Coleman, executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation in Williamsburg, VA, and a contributor to the documentary. In each vignette, descendants of formerly enslaved people in the U.S. discover family connections using recently added Freedman’s Bureau records on Ancestry. They discuss these findings with Nicka Sewell-Smith, a professional genealogist.
“More than 100 years have passed,” since Lincoln was U.S. President says Sewell-Smith, in an interview,. “But there are still relatives of people living who have been affected by the decisions that were made” during his time.
A+E pursues new commercial-and-content hybrids as traditional TV networks try to offer new kinds of advertising to an audience that is increasingly wary of traditional promotional formats. Streaming-video venues like Netflix, Disney Plus and Hulu allow subscribers to watch their favorites with fewer ads – and in many cases none. If advertisers can come up with commercial concepts that are as compelling as the programming they barge in upon, so the thinking goes, they might get consumers to pay more attention than has become the norm.
A+E hopes viewers will see the Ancestry-backed segment as “more of the story,” says DeSocio, “as another angle to the story that talks about what it means today.”
One of the segments will explore formerly enslaved people who chose “Lincoln” as a surname after winning emancipation. Another will examine formerly enslaved people who decided to enlist in U.S. armed forces, beginning with the 1862 first Kansas Colored Infantry. Ancestry’s Freedmen’s Bureau records help bring their stories to life. A third will look at legislation that freed people living in Washington, D.C. months before the Emancipation Proclamation.
The Ancestry vignettes will also be made available in digital and social venues, says Melanie Harris, director of ad sales partnerships and production for A+E Networks, in an interview.
This isn’t the first time A+E has teamed up with an advertiser to develop programming, of a sort. In 2020, the company’s Lifetime cable network showcased a 15 minute “mini-movie” that starred actor Mario Lopez as KFC scion Col. Harland Sanders. The steamy short poked fun at Lifetime’s famous soapy dramas. Last year, Lifetime unveiled a new short film devoted to showcasing Procter & Gamble’s Olay. “A Merry & Bright Makeover” featured Monique Coleman, who has starred in Disney’s “High School Musical” and appeared during the premiere of Lifetime’s “A Christmas Dance Reunion.”
A+E and Ancestry have been in discussions on the project since June, and spent three to four months in actual production, says Harris
The Ancestry segments will also appear during the premiere of a one-hour documentary, “Black Patriots: Heroes of the Civil War” on Monday, February 21 on History..
Ancestry worked with The Content Collective, the entertainment and content marketing division of Omnicom Media Group.. A+E partnered with production team HollandWestProductions, LLC to bring the mini-series to life.