Upfront Notebook: A+E’s Women Tell Their Stories

For an event held inside a library, A+E Networks’ upfront sales pitch Thursday night was appropriately low key.

The company put the focus on the storytelling by having its talent tell stories. The names were impressive, including Olivia Munn, Kristin Davis, Leah Remini, Marcia Clark, Toni Braxton and Queen Latifah. And the theme was strong, inspiring women at a time when the entertainment business is pushing back against workplace harassment and embracing movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp  and #SeeHer.

Another woman telling her story was Abbe Raven, who this week was named interim chairman of A+E Networks, returning to run the company after her successor Nancy Dubuc ran off to play Bonnie & Clyde with Shane Smith at Vice Media

Raven’s story began at the New York Public Library, where she worked in the periodicals room before becoming one of A+E’s first employees. As a production assistant she answered phones and Xeroxed scripts. She rose to become CEO.

“For 34 years, I have been proud to be part of creating and growing this great company into one of the most powerful portfolios in all of cable,” she said.

Now she’s back at a time when cable and TV are going through challenging times.

“Right now there is this arms’ race for content with technology companies spending billions of dollars. But we have something they don’t, which is the ingenuity and imagination of our employees who are committed to a standard that is nothing short of excellence,” she said.

Between the stories, A+E briefly screened highlights of upcoming program on each of its networks.

Some of the projects include the History 100, a series of documentaries from award-winning filmmakers on compelling historical events from the last 100 years.

History also highlighted Evel Live, a three-hour event in which daredevil Travis Pastrana will attempt to three of Evel Knievel’s iconic motorcycle stunts.

Lifetime in September will be premiering scripted series You  and the movie The Bad Seed, part of a more ambitious film slate at the network. Lifetime also has production deals with Toni Braxton and Queen Latifah. In one project, Queen Latifah will be remaking her hit song U.N.I.T.Y. and another will highlight the female pioneers of the hip hop world.

A+E’s head of ad sales, Peter Olsen, closed the show. At a time when other programmers are announcing plans to change the way they sell advertising and the number of commercials they air, Olsen says A+E is focusing on growth, quality brands, a safe environment and full transparency with its clients.

“Our goal is not to lead the industry in press releases, but to lead in creating solutions for you our advertising partners. No gimmicks, just results,” he said.

Olsen said that A+E was working with analytics company Data Plus Math on a new attribution model that measures the impact of TV advertising on purchase behavior. It was once called “Project Thor,” but Disney, which owns the Marvel comic book character turned movie hero, objected.

“In the weeks ahead, we ask that you challenge us to help you achieve your goals,” he said, clearing the path to  drinks and desert, “Whether your need is reach, targeting or even help in telling your stories - we are poised to help.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.