A+E Makes "History/Her Story" the Path to More Culturally Relevant Moments

By WomenAdvancing Archives
Cover image for  article: A+E Makes "History/Her Story" the Path to More Culturally Relevant Moments

The title of Editor in Chief is fairly unusual in the cable world.  But A+E Networks has capitalized on the role to help shepherd fresh content across its channels.  Tiffanie Darke (pictured above), who most recently helmed creative content for publisher News U.K., has been overseeing that effort for History, A&E and Biography for the past year, and is about to up the ante with History/Her Story -- a multi-platform, cross-network series launching today (March 1) to coincide with Women's History Month.  We recently discussed both her vision for the initiative and her approach to delivering culturally relevant content to grow audience and partnerships.

Jane Cavalier:  Can you provide the evolution and overview of History/Her Story for Women's History Month?

Tiffanie Darke:  I have a Co-Editor-in-Chief at Lifetime, named Lea Goldman.  Following the Weinstein revelations at the end of last year when the whole cultural zeitgeist seemed to get completely upended and go into overdrive, we were thinking, what contribution can our brands give to this current moment?  The answer to that is information and education.  That's something that History and Lifetime can do together as information and education needs to be entertaining for it to be consumed.

So, as an innovative first, the History, Lifetime and Biography brands are working together to raise the profile of women in history.  We asked celebrities like Kristin Davis, Julianna Margulies and Shiri Appleby to nominate the women in history that they would like to see talked about.  We thought, we'll do 31 of these women, one for each day in March, and distribute their biographies as presented by our celebrities across our three brands.

Cavalier:  We know that socially relevant opportunities like these are valuable to advertisers.  How have you worked together to make History/Her Story culturally important?

Darke:  We have been given a patriarchal view of history.  Over 70% of history textbooks are written about men and 70% of history textbooks are written by men.  If you ask somebody to name five women in history, there's always a bit of a struggle after the third or fourth name.  They'll say Hillary Clinton, Florence Nightingale, Harriett Tubman, and then there'll be a pause while trying to think of someone else.  We aim to eliminate that pause, and we're enabling sponsors to go along with that educational content in everything from custom curriculum and school magazines to interactive digital maps that catalog every women's monument in the US.  We feel it's groundbreaking.

Cavalier:  How so?

Darke:  The sheer commitment to this subject in terms of content and media time is unprecedented.  We are also creating what may become the definitive information archive on women in history.  The historical figures are women that women have told us they want to hear about and the stories are being told by celebrity women in entertaining ways.  This is a multi-brand, multi-platform effort.  It's rare to find content that can do that.

Cavalier:  As Editor-in-Chief at A+E Networks, you're taking a "brand-driven" approach to content.  How is that a break from the past?

Darke: With cable brands there has been a legacy focus on making shows.  We've got to make a hit show and we've got to get as much audience as possible.  That's absolutely still the case, but we need to have a really strong brand in order to drive tune-in and to drive audience and engagement across all of our different platforms.  Once you start thinking about these channels as brands, you have to think what does this brand stand for and what sort of content should it be making beyond just the shows.

Cavalier:  You have brands that have actually become top reference sources right next to Wikipedia.  How did that happen?

Darke:  When it comes to historical events and people, we've got two of the strongest brands in the world.  If you go to Wikipedia, you've got no guarantee of authority or fact checking [and] you've got no multimedia format, whereas on biography.com you'll have a multitude of video, of audio, of short form and of long form.

Cavalier:  Why is your historical content resonating with people today?

Darke:  History is not just about the past, it's about the present and the future.  We're seeing much more of an uptick in interest around history.  I think it's because of the time that we're living in, which is very confusing.  People are searching for understanding around it, and there's nothing that provides that better than the context of what's gone before.

Cavalier:  Can you give me an example of how you link history with today?

Darke:  It's a mixture of what can you tell me about the past that helps me understand what is going on right now.  We find that when our content fits around a news agenda we garner huge amounts of audience and discussion.  At the end of January, we had a documentary on the Challenger disaster, because we knew that it was an anniversary and an event that resonates with our audience.  We produced a lot of digital content that was heavily engaged and used that to drive everyone to watch the show.

Cavalier:  You also highlight modern figures to make history more relevant.  Can you tell me about that?

Darke:  With Biography, we provide multimedia experiences around some of the most culturally resonant figures today.  For example, we launched a show titled The Life of Notorious B.I.G., told through the eyes of his mother, Mrs. Wallace, who is a fabulous character.  It was an intimate portrait of him in a way that no one had ever heard.  We also had a Tupac biopic several months later.  Digitally, we super-charged all the content on the website around hip-hop.  We commissioned 100 new hip-hop profiles, produced content on the best rapper ever, the best DJ, and the many unsung heroes of hip-hop.  We got some great, imaginative and inspirational short forms: Steve Stoute, past President of Interscope, wrote a letter to Biggie.  Kevin Powell, the journalist that interviewed Tupac three times, wrote an open letter to Tupac.  If you were a fan of Tupac and Biggie, that really super-served you in terms of content.

Cavalier:  Are there more new cultural initiatives coming up?

Darke:  I think one of the biggest anniversaries in history wherever you are in the world is Armistice Day.  This year will be the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I.  On History, we have a huge veteran's audience that is really engaged, so we have a special project planned for Armistice Day in partnership with Google.  I'm very excited by it.

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