Once artsy A&E is chasing younger viewers at Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts and promoting its new show “Dog the Bounty Hunter” in toilets.
“A&E is not your father’s A&E,” said Artie Scheff, senior VP, marketing. “We’ve been working very hard not only to change our perceptions but to change our programming on the air.”
Since hiring Bob DiBitetto as senior VP, programming, in 2003, A&E has launched a series of reality shows, including “Airline,” “Family Plots” and, most recently, “Growing Up Gotti” and topical specials. That’s very different from the BBC-inspired programming the network once featured, and it has succeeded in raising its ratings among its target 25 to 54 demographic and lowering its average age.
For the summer, A&E is up 23 percent from a year ago among 25- to 54-year-old viewers and one of the top-rated networks in that demo. The new programming has even boosted the ratings of its longtime franchise “Biography,” which has been featuring more pop-culture subjects. “We’ve made amazing strides,” Mr. Scheff said, noting that the median age was down to 51 from 60 a year ago.
Some of A&E’s older viewers are undoubtedly being scared away, Mr. Scheff admitted. “Some will come along and some will join someone else’s bus,” he said. “We are really going after an 25 to 54 adult demographic. That’s our target. We’re getting a lot more of them, and if we lose some of our older viewers, then that’s the price we have to pay. … We’re getting a lot more new [viewers] than are leaving us.”
A&E’s new series “Dog the Bounty Hunter” premieres Aug. 30. The show features Duane “Dog” Chapman, who made 6,000 captures over a 27-year career.
To promote the show, A&E became the sponsor of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 40-city concert tour. While fans are waiting for the band to appear, an A&E spot is among the promos that appear on big screens in the arenas. Then just before the spot, a short animated film appears that doesn’t mention A&E but features members of the band and Mr. Chapman fishing.
“We thought the rock ‘n’ roll audience was the right audience for this show,” Mr. Scheff said, and Mr. Chapman is a huge Lynyrd Skynyrd fan, having named his Denver office Free as a Bird Bail Bonds after the band’s most famous song. “It was just a perfect match.”
The short film grew out of an idea from A&E Director of Special Services Colleen Conway. When the band couldn’t get together, FlickerLab, a New York production company, was hired to animate it.
“It was a real instant cartoon,” said Harold Moss, creative director at FlickerLab, whose credits range from the opening of Bravo’s “Celebrity Poker” to a cartoon sequence in Michael Moore’s Academy Award-winning “Bowling for Columbine.” “We did everything in [Macromedia] Flash. That allowed us to reuse a lot of the artwork.”
“A lot of people have sponsored tours. This is the first television show to ever sponsor a rock tour,” Mr. Scheff said. “No one has incorporated in a noncommercial message into the opening. It just happens that our product is a person, and that made it a little bit easier.”
In addition to the animated film, A&E and “Dog” are promoted on the tour bus and the trucks that haul the band’s equipment.
Dog went onstage at recent concerts in St. Louis and Detroit. “The crowd went wild,” Mr. Scheff said. If just one-half the people who see the tour tune in for the premiere, we’ll have a pretty good premiere.”
Of course, up until now, it was a pretty good bet that most Skynyrd concertgoers wouldn’t be tuning into A&E, he admitted. But now, “People are tuning in to A&E who never would have, because A&E is becoming more of a pop culture phenomenon.”
A&E is doing some normal things to promote “Dog,” such as radio, billboard, broadcast and cable spots and print ads. But it’s also doing ads in the men’s rooms in bars and health clubs in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
On the inside of doors in men’s room stalls, A&E has posters of Mr. Chapman that say, “He’s not going to take any of your crap.” And above urinals are signs that say, “Unlike you, he never misses.”
“Last year we made a commitment to bring new viewers to the network,” Mr. Scheff said. “That raises the awareness in new and different places.”