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A+E Seeks Ratings Turnaround With Big Ticket Items

New York – A+E Networks president & CEO Nancy Dubuc took the upfront stage Thursday night at the Park Avenue Armory fittingly to Jay-Z’s “99 Problems.”

Primetime viewership on A+E’s three main cablers – flagship A&E Network, Lifetime and History – were each down double-digits during the first quarter. Dubuc briefly addressed the ratings struggles at A+E, but with so many buyers in attendance, put a positive spin on it. "Throughout this media evolution, we don't intend to just survive, but we will thrive."

To help stem the tide of viewer erosion, A+E is teaming up its networks for a pair of big event series that will debut next year with the revival of TV classic Roots and an adaption of Leo Tolstoy’s famed War and Peace. Both miniseries, which will air next year, will run across A&E, History and Lifetime.

History executive VP and GM Dirk Hoogstra, who was joined by the original Kunta Kinte LeVar Burton on stage, described the Roots reboot as a “huge responsibility."

Dubuc also touted in-house production company A+E Studios, which produced Lifetime's upcoming drama UnReal (the first from the studio) and History miniseries HoudiniSons of Liberty, and the upcoming Texas Rising.

“My focus, even before becoming CEO – has always been memorable and unique content,” said Dubuc. “And one of the most important things we did, to reinforce that, was create A+E Studios.” Dubuc said A+E Studios has more than 40 projects in development.

“But the bar is always being raised. And we realize more than ever that good isn't enough,” she continued. “We need to create great.”

Rob Sharenow, making his first appearance as head of both Lifetime and A&E, joked that A&E having both Norman Bates (Bates Motel) and Damien Thorn (Damien, which moved from Lifetime to A&E) on the network should scare advertisers into opening their checkbooks.

"You don't want to piss off those guys."

Despite the myriad of announcements, the one that many buyers were probably expecting to hear – the reported rebrand of H2 into Vice – was conspicuously absent; A+E is still negotiating with cable operators for the new channel. As it has done in year’s past, A+E set up separate stations for each network for buyers to check out, though the H2 one had a giant “Vice” logo above it.