A&E’s "Biography" Reboot Serves Modern Audiences and Advertisers

By A+E Networks InSites Archives
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Between video on demand, YouTube and cord-cutters, can today’s advertisers and viewers get behind a reboot of a cable classic?  When it comes to the venerable Biography franchise, A+E Networks is demonstrating what’s old can, indeed, adapt.  The company’s revived Biography features fresh TV specials, new micro series videos, and digital and social content that offers more ways than ever to interact with the Emmy-winning franchise.  “Biography is this mega brand that is bigger than just one network or platform,” said Paul Cabana, A+E’s Executive Vice President of Multiplatform Programming.  “The beauty of Biography is that you never have to explain what it is.  It's self-descriptive, and it is trusted.”

To meet marketers’ demands, A&E offers expansive Biography extensions and creative packaging.  “Brands are demanding digital marketing, flexibility in scheduling and custom content,” said Brian Joyce, Senior Vice President of A+E’s Ad Sales Investment Team. While TV ads remain the centerpiece, the wider menu of programming can meet the needs of brands both large and small. “From a sales perspective, this is a 52-week, always-on strategy,” Joyce added.

Resurrecting one of cable’s best-known series is not an easy task. The show first launched on A&E in 1987 and inspired copycats across cable, from VH1’s Behind the Music to TV Land’s TV Confidential. The company built a media empire on the back of the show, with books, spinoff series and even a board game. The Biography library grew so large it spawned a standalone cable network titled The Biography Channel (now FYI). However, after so much expansion ratings stagnated and, in 2012, A&E telecast the last original episode.

To revive the show, A+E executives said they needed to balance its heritage with modern media consumption.  New, long-form episodes and micro series content run on A&E and sister networks Lifetime and HISTORY, as well as on Biography.com, A+E’s YouTube channels and across social media via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. To attract like-minded fans and create events, A&E is curating new Biography fare by genre, such as country music stars, pro wrestlers and comedians.

The new Bio Shorts series expands the show’s reach across linear TV, digital and social. These one-minute pieces -- which are produced in-house and are Nielsen rated -- can run alongside TV specials or stand alone. “This content provides an opportunity for Biography to be on air all the time, not just for our audience, but for our advertising partners too,” Cabana explained.

Indeed, the shorts and other digital extensions create significantly more ad inventory. While the tent-pole TV specials are sold and scheduled months in advance and adhere to traditional ad breaks, short-form content can be produced or packaged quickly and run across multiple platforms.

Cabana’s team can create contextually relevant pieces in partnership with brands or organize a theme of premium shorts. When the Diamond Producers Association recently wanted to run ads in content that matched the glamor of its baubles, there weren’t any TV episodes that aligned. To solve the dilemma, A+E curated a batch of like-minded Biography pieces on Hollywood icons like Marilyn Monroe and Katharine Hepburn; the content ran in concert with DPA’s ads across TV and digital.

A&E is extending Biography -- albeit carefully -- into custom sponsored content that will spotlight brands. These stories look and feel like editorial Biography pieces, allowing partners to borrow the brand’s equity while customizing the message and schedule. In one recent example, to support Lionsgate’s recent release of Hellboy, A&E produced a “Bio-branded” video voiced by David Harbour, the star of the movie. “This type of solution could work for many brands and categories,” Joyce said.

“Scheduling flexibility for custom biography stunts is key for our partners,” he noted.

Of course, being everywhere isn’t enough. Users want quality, entertaining content and they want it fast.  Since Biography went dormant, audiences have been able to binge on celebrity news online 24-7 and gather info from Wikipedia, YouTube and dozens of other informational sites. A&E executives say Biography’s tradition of premium quality and exclusivity set it apart. “Our approach was to highlight newsworthy personalities or events from a time that everybody remembers, but take a point of view from a filmmaker, and we also have access and footage that people can't get anywhere else,” Elaine Frontain Bryant, A&E’s Executive Vice President and Head of Programming.

Biography’s expansion will continue as the team explores new platforms, including podcasting. To support upcoming TV episodes on actress Farrah Fawcett (pictured at top) and political scion John F. Kennedy Jr., for example, A&E producers used exclusive audio interviews to create podcast specials. It’s just one example of Biography’s longevity.

“We can deploy this brand in so many clever ways,” Cabana said. “The fact that a brand is so flexible is unique. It is something that is just too special to pass up.”

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