A+E Networks' 2020 Mantra: Stability Rules

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Advertisers use various criteria, from viewership and demographics to content quality, when they decide how much commercial time to buy on various networks. What A+E Networks is learning out of its dealings with the ad community this year, heading into the 2020-21 Upfront sales cycle, is there's one criterion increasingly in play—format stability. Here's how Rob Sharenow (pictured top left), A+E's president of programming, defines this trait: "Knowing what you've got in-hand and what you've got coming through the pipeline as it applies to our brands," he says. "It's knowing that you wlll be super-serving a specific audience what they expect to get from your brand."

Sharenow, along with Tom Moody (pictured top right), A+E's executive vice president of program strategy and scheduling, offers confidence that their channels, going into an Upfront season impacted by the most widespread pandemic in a century, have the advantage of stability on two counts. One is deep focus for each brand. The other is a reserve of original exclusive programming set to run in the months ahead. "Our audience knows who we are, but we're also planned out much more aggressively than almost any of our competitors," continues Sharenow. "There's a lot of completed content in our library that we have the ability to roll out steadily, even in this time of COVID-19." "We always plan about 18-24 months out, crafting what we want to be," explains Moody. "It's not a quarter-to-quarter scheduling strategy. Our viewers know where to find our shows and when to find our shows."

Each A+E-owned channel has, over the last year, cemented a stable programming option to its viewers. At A&E, its unscripted series, such as Live PD and its various spinoffs, are emphasizing the work of police and first responders. HISTORY mixes series rooted in actual world events or culture, such as In Search Of, and The Curse Of Oak island, with other scripted series, as well as Washingtonand other semi-scripted miniseries where expert interviews are combined with recreated events. Lifetime's stable pattern consists of hit unscripted series like Married At First Sight and an assortment of original movies ranging from "ripped from the headlines" flicks to bio-pics. A recent entry in the latter category—The Clark Sisters: First Ladies Of Gospel—became the network's most-watched original film in five years when presented this past April. "I think of our networks as premium brands; content with mass appeal," adds Sharenow. "Our specificity of genre and specificity of audience target helps us, particularly in the advertising community, to reach certain audiences in targeted ways." [Lifetime programming executives Amy Winter and Gena McCarthy join Jack Myers for a Virtual Lunch at Michael's Zoom Conversation on Tuesday June 16 at 1PM ET. Register NOW].

Being obsessive about when programs run and remain on specific nights (Live PD plays on Friday and Saturday nights year-round, for example), each channel can deliver or over-deliver performance benchmarks to specific clients. "In this environment, that's key to being dependable these days," believes Moody. "When your schedule is that stable and that predictable, (advertisers) know exactly what they can build around."

So far, coronavirus conditions are having a minimal production impact on unscripted programs throughout A+E's channel lineup. Example: instead of studio origination, Live PD host Dan Abrams, analysts and guests appear from their respective homes. Because of the long lead time, HISTORY's next big miniseries, Grant, will premiere as scheduled over Memorial Day weekend. "Since we own the majority of our content and are creative partners with our producers, we have the ability to shape our content and platforms, which gives us a lot of flexibility for advertisers," adds Moody.

Company executives believe their channels will, in spite of the pandemic, advance their profile with current and new TV ad time buyers alike. "Despite all the hardships felt by many traditional advertisers, coming out of this crisis the industry will see great gains in some areas," Sharenow suggests. "Other advertising opportunities will open up, and our teams will be ready to find them."

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