A+E Networks is looking to liven up its traditional cable TV channels with live cut-ins during primetime.
Last month, A+E’s A&E Network started airing live Thursday night cut-ins during Crack the Case featuring Tony Harris, the journalist and host of History’s The Proof Is Out There. The segments are designed to appeal to fans of A&E’s crime and investigative programming.
This week, Harris will also begin appearing in UnXplained Now segments on Fridays that tie into History Channel’s programming about paranormal phenomena.
Starting October 4, Keshia Knight Pulliam will appear in special segments with live polling Wednesday nights tied to Lifetime’s Married at First Sight, a show with a devoted following. Knight Pulliam has already been appearing in Married at First Sight: After Party, which recaps the series and returns next month (October 18) after the season premiere of Married at First Sight on October 11.
“We really value the linear platform and we want to keep it as fresh and healthy as possible,” Rob Sharenow, president of programming at A+E Networks, told Broadcasting+Cable.
“We were looking for creative ways to engage the audience,” Sharenow said. “We all kind of fell in love with this as a way to super-serve fans and really differentiate us in the marketplace by doing something that others aren’t.”
The segments are shot at A+E’s studios by its production unit, which enabled the company to get the segments up and running quickly. Most are televised live, but some of Knight Pulliam’s segments are recorded when she has other commitments.
The segments air live to give viewers a reason to tune in real time rather than watching on-demand or playing the show back on a DVR, creating an experience that you’ll have to be there for or you’ll miss it.
“That’s one of the things that has been challenging for all broadcast platforms and this is one of the ways we’re sweetening the pot for our core fans,” he said.
The segments are also designed to boost length of tune, keep viewers during commercial breaks and build community among A+E audiences.
“People have responded to it right out of the gate,” Sharehow said. “We’ve seen great retention and growth out of the segments on A&E, something we weren’t expecting to see so quickly.”
Tailored for Each Network
Each network has its own unique approach to the live cut-in idea, tailored to genres in which their viewers are already interested.
“It’s making our linear unique and fresh,“ Sharenow said. ”It’s also a great fan engagement tool.”
The segments can be interactive. They have polls, ask viewers to help solve cases and urge them to send in evidence of supernatural activity to UnXplained Now.
“The timing couldn’t be better because there are so many stories breaking about UFO investigations,” Sharenow said. “The segments keep the viewer and lover of that content current while they’re consumer the shows they love in and around that subject.”
The timing also couldn’t be better for A+E’s distributor partners, who have watched most programmers remove their best content from their linear channels in order to grow their direct-to-consumer streaming services.
“We’re very careful about making sure that our premier content is first and foremost for our linear audiences,” Sharenow said. ”That’s where we are all very aligned with our affiliate and advertising partners in this mission.
“Making this kind of effort harmonizes with what they want to see,” he said. “We want to make sure they’re valuing our platform and this is viewed a positive, something that is really unique to their environment.”
Eventually, the live segments could be sponsored, but A+E hasn’t gone down that road yet. “We see this as content and I wouldn't shut the door on them becoming their own pieces of content,” Sharenow said.
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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.