As millions of consumers turn to streaming and apps for video entertainment, A+E Networks (A+E) is embracing digital platforms its fans love while, at the same time, continuing to prioritize its powerful linear brands. The company, which operates A&E, HISTORY, Lifetime, LMN and other networks in its portfolio, recognizes that digital and social are key to deepening ties with existing fans, as well as courting new ones. By partnering with new platforms, creating compelling digital content that complements linear titles, and burnishing its own robust apps and web sites, A+E aims to create multi-platform super fans.
To accomplish this, the company is writing its own script. In this age of media consolidation, A+E Networks -- a joint venture between Walt Disney Co. and Hearst -- is a rare standalone company. It isn't wholly owned by a media conglomerate with a massive network portfolio, broadcast network, or cable and satellite provider (or all of the above). The upside, according to Paul Cabana (pictured below), executive vice president of multiplatform programming and digital media, is that A+E can partner with new platforms, from Roku to Snapchat, then super-serve those new fans on its own digital platforms with content they love, and that enhances its hit linear series.
"A+E Networks works nimbly across all platforms, whether it's a linear experience or a complementary digital one," Cabana said. "As well, we work hand in hand with many of the SVODs to provide quality premium content from our deep library. Because we're an independent and agile company, we can partner based on how particular viewers of a genre are consuming that content."
So, A+E's digital strategy starts with the viewer, bringing their successful franchises to fans wherever they consume A+E Networks' content. When they do, users respond. For instance, Lifetime's hit reality show Dance Moms has been a YouTube fan favorite, prompting A+E to add bonus content and promotions for its apps, web sites and linear channel.
Another example: HISTORY's documentaries perform well on the network's owned and operated sites and have a huge fan base on Roku, so the company promoted its deep library there which, in turn, bolstered viewership on its linear channel. Also, when Roku owners started binge-watching survival reality show Alone, A+E partnered with the streaming service to deliver promos for the newest season and past installments, which are available -- once again -- on A+E's owned channels.
"We can work with these partners to find the people looking for this kind of content, and then bring them back to our platforms," Cabana explained.
A+E is leveraging digital to connect digital video users with the content they crave. Digital is particularly important to reach younger consumers.
To that end, Cabana said A+E is having success distributing library programming on young-skewing platforms, such as YouTube and Snapchat. The networks are also adapting their content for social users' appetites for bite-size videos. For instance, A+E and Snapchat have partnered to distribute five-to-eight-minute new versions of some of A+E's most popular series on the social platform. Hit linear shows like The HISTORY Channel's Forged in Fire and Lifetime's Bring It have been hits with Snap users, attracting millions of views and increased engagement. The beauty in this equation is that these younger viewers then gravitate to premieres of their new favorite series on the A+E linear channels, making the experience not only promotional but full 360-degrees.
To further entice fans across demos, A+E is ramping up original digital content. For example, its networks are creating short-form content, which are then deployed across digital, social, audio and even Amazon's Alexa -- in addition to its linear channels. HISTORY will offer "This Day in HISTORY," a daily dose of compelling historical perspective, on linear TV, its website, social channels and podcasts. You can even wake up to daily Alexa briefings.
Similarly, to augment LMN's popular originals, A+E created shorts featuring the real-life families that inspired the films, and those are distributed across digital and social -- in addition to being telecast on the network.
"These efforts allow us to expand some of A+E's iconic franchises everywhere," Cabana said.
Advertisers are buying into the effectiveness of the digital push with the understanding that the viewing experience is enhanced across all branded platforms, digital and linear. A+E's sales teams coordinate cross-platform, allowing brands to customize campaigns and amplify messages across linear, digital and social. "It is really effective in helping our clients -- extending their messaging across platforms at just the time they need it," Cabana noted.
Much like linear TV, A+E monitors its digital performance through Nielsen ratings, number of viewers, and minutes spent watching. "Then it creates an incentive for us to be really nimble in digital and linear across our solutions," he said.
In another sign of digital's growing importance, Cabana, who spent nearly a decade as a programming executive for HISTORY, said digital extensions for any new show are now hashed out in the earliest stages of content development, rather than as an afterthought once a show finds an audience on-air. "When we greenlight a show, we're looking for digital exclusive, audio components, the podcast version, the YouTube version, the host read for our clients, and the integrations," Cabana explained. "This is proving to be an incredible extension of our content."
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