Content Is King at A&E Nets

Feb 20, 2006  •  Post A Comment

A&E Television Networks gave iPods to all of its 650 employees in December. The move was a sign that the company that owns History Channel is looking toward the future.

Since taking the reins as CEO a year ago, Abbe Raven said, her mission has been to transform AETN from a television company to one that delivers “content, networks and brands to consumers wherever, however, and whenever they want it.”

Late last year AETN formed a new content development and production unit. Its job is to take the thousands of hours of programming the company owns and produce short-term content that can be used on the company’s Web sites, on broadband and on mobile platforms.

Ms. Raven said she expects to announce deals to distribute that content in time for the company’s upfront presentation to advertisers in April.

Advertisers are keenly interested in digital video sponsorship opportunities and “This really helps us to start selling across multiple platforms in this upfront,” Ms. Raven said.

The company’s “Biography” franchise is one that will lend itself to broadband. Early next month, more than 400 short-form biographies will begin streaming on Biography.com. “Biography,” once A&E’s flagship program, will continue to have a presence on the network, Ms. Raven said, and the Biography Channel, in 32 million homes, will continue to be offered via digital cable.

The company also acquired Elevator Moods, a company that has produced 13 short programs and will produce 13 more that will run on A&E Network and its new media offshoots. Those programs will be available to sponsors during the upfront, as will “This Day in History,” a short feature from History Channel. A&E is also developing a one-hour pilot for a show called “A Guy Walked Into a Bar” that can be cut up into short-form pieces as well.

AETN is relaunching its Web sites, including History.com, a URL acquired from Getty Images. Historychannel.com was the network’s old Web location.

Next-Generation Leader

The company has also launched a search for a new head of digital media.

“We have some very smart people already in-house,” Ms. Raven said. “We do believe we could use another smart person at the top in this space.”

The new digital chief will work with an internal “next-generation team” Ms. Raven established that comprises up-and-coming executives from various divisions of the company. The group has been brainstorming and has created an innovation blog to disseminate ideas and a gadget school to put new technology in the hands of a broader cross-section of AETN employees.

“What this group has done is help set up some infrastructure for some deals we’ll be able to announce in a few weeks,” Ms. Raven said.

Despite the attention given to new media, Ms. Raven said, the company can’t take its eye off the ball.

“Our core business is making great television shows, and we’ll continue to have that be a focus of what we do. It’s really just how we are going to deliver these shows that’s changing,” she said.

Over the past year, both A&E and History Channel have shown growth. A&E is averaging record delivery of 18- to 49-year-olds, and History posted its best-ever yearly prime-time delivery among total viewers and adults and among men 25 to 54 and 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Ms. Raven said the plunge into new media has been aided by A&E’s ability to bring younger viewers to the television network. Once seen as a highbrow but stodgy network, A&E is now known for reality dramas such as “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” “Criss Angel Mindfreak” and “Dallas SWAT.” The new shows and new viewers have attracted new advertising categories, and those advertisers are clamoring for multiplatform advertising opportunities, she said.

The company will be able to further promote its new media ventures with programming that’s joining the A&E schedule next season, including “The Sopranos” and “CSI: Miami.”

The company has already embraced some new media opportunities. It was an early contributor to cable operators’ efforts to market video-on-demand. The company has also been licensing some of its short-form product for radio and gaming and to Yahoo for broadband. Internationally, A&E and History Channel have programming deals with MobiTV in Latin America, and there is History Channel and Biography Channel programming on Sky Mobile in the United Kingdom.

Ms. Raven said AETN learned a lot from those experiments and is now ready to take it to the next level.