By Jeanine Poggi
A&E Networks held nothing back in its upfront presentation to advertisers Wednesday evening, taking jabs at everyone from Discovery to YouTube and chastising cable networks for being copycats.
"We are creating genres on TV; we don’t copy others," said President and CEO Abbe Raven. "We don’t want the 25th generation of pawn or storage shows like TLC, Discovery or TruTV."
"A&E is about blazing a trail," she added, "not following someone else’s."
A&E has achieved healthy ratings growth at its top three networks in the TV season to date, with its namesake channel up 5.5% in prime time among adults 18 to 49 years old, History gaining 2.7% and Lifetime growing 8.3%, according to Nielsen.
"A&E is still growing at a time when many top-20 cable networks are experiencing year-over-year erosion," said Bob Debitetto, president and general manager of the A&E network.
"We are doing it without a basketball hoop, baseball diamond … or off-network shows," said Nancy Dubuc, president of History and Lifetime networks.
The success of reality fare like History’s "Pawn Stars" and "Swamp People" has led to similar shows at other cable networks. But A&E relentlessly reminded advertisers and media buyers who started the trend in auctioning and other niche genres.
"Though often imitated, our originals need no introduction," Ms. Dubuc said before playing a sizzle reel featuring its top reality series. The video called "Ice Road Truckers" the one that started it all, "Swamp People" the first of its kind and "American Restoration" a show that defined a genre.
While A&E Networks blasted competitors for copying its programming, however, it never said it wouldn’t keep riffing on now-familiar themes. New shows on History include "Outback Hunters," which won’t stray too far from its previous series set in the outdoors, while A&E will premiere "Barter Kings," the latest in a line of bartering/auction/pawn shows.
Executives also said the company’s portfolio of networks are nearing 100% original content in prime time, something other competitors couldn’t match.
"We are not following the ‘Big Bang’ strategy," Ms. Raven said, referring to TBS’s success with syndicated content that originally aired elsewhere.
And the presentation took on the recent NewFront presentations by online players like AOL and Hulu seeking to win some TV dollars. "A&E will beat any content YouTube can dream up," Ms. Raven said.
A&E stars like Jennifer Love Hewitt from "The Client List" and Abby Lee Miller of "Dance Moms," as well as the "Duck Dynasty" family, came out to support the network. The presentation was followed by a performance from Florence and the Machine.