A+E Networks Leans Into Linear

Danielle Brooks in Lifetime's 'The Mahalia Jackson Story'
Danielle Brooks in Lifetime's 'The Mahalia Jackson Story' (Image credit: A+E Networks)

 A+E Networks says it continues to mine the traditional linear cable platform, bucking the trend of media companies diving into the emerging subscription video on demand (SVOD) pool.

With SVOD services such as Discovery Plus, Disney Plus, HBO Max and the soon to launch Paramount Plus (currently CBS All-Access) offering new, original programming in an effort to court a growing digital viewer base, A+E Networks is looking to super serve targeted cable viewers as well as to cultivate advertising revenue on the struggling but still formidable traditional linear cable platform, senior executives at the programmer say.

Also Read: Report: Pay-TV to Lose Most Subscribers Ever in 2020

A+E Networks' Paul Buccieri

A+E Networks' Paul Buccieri  (Image credit: A+E Networks)

“As more and more media companies put their resources behind their own streaming services, our number one priority is creating the best possible content pipeline and programming for consumers and partners across all platforms,” A+E Networks group president Paul Buccieri told Multichannel News. “This includes our linear networks which, of course, remain a huge priority.”

A+E Networks linear channels History, Lifetime and A&E in 2020 finished among the top 20 most-watched cable networks in primetime, propelled by several popular, unscripted series and scripted movies, including Lifetime's Married at First Sight and History’s The Curse of Oak Island, according to Nielsen.

On the scripted front, Lifetime continues to delve into original scripted fare with the rollout of new original movies, including bio films on the lives of television personality Wendy Williams and gospel legend Mahalia Jackson

“Every year, we create over 1,400 hours of fresh premium content for our portfolio and the ecosystem; and we remain laser-focused on adding more,” added Buccieri. “Our relationships with distribution partners are essential to us – and we are energized and inspired by the variety of ways we can collaborate to bring our shared consumers best-in-class content from the brands they love and trust.”

A+E Networks programming president Rob Sharenow spoke about the company’s linear business strategy to Multichannel News. An edited version of the interview appears below.

Why do you feel that the A+E Networks commitment to linear gives the company an advantage in reaching viewers?

I do think we distinguish ourselves as a portfolio because of our commitment to linear.  We have an incredible depth and breadth of upcoming stuff that is premiering on linear brands and have one of the most robust offerings of original content. We have 1,400 hours planned of original content between our brands that’s going to be premiering on linear, which is really something we take a lot of pride in.

Does it concern you that your networks' competitors are potentially reaching new viewers and cord cutters on the digital front with their respective SVOD services?

Clearly we're in a moment of disruption. For us, we really value our linear ecosystem -- that’s where a huge portion of our bread is buttered. We are really pleased with our linear audiences and our brands. As to what our competitors are doing in the streaming world, I do think there is obviously a shifting landscape, and clearly we have done library deals with some [streaming] companies. It really shows the strength of our content that it is so desired by a lot of our direct competitors and that they want to be in business with us in that way. 

A+E Networks' Robert Sharenow

A+E Networks' Robert Sharenow  (Image credit: A+E Networks)

Where do you see the upside in the linear business going forward?

I think broadcasting in general still works, and we have a big, ad-supported model that is very lucrative for us. A lot of our advertising clients like to have scale delivered at a certain time and in certain ways. That’s something that linear does do better than any other platform. Viewers binging content whenever they want doesn't serve the purposes of a lot of people in the advertising community. I also still believe there is incredible value in the communal experience for viewers. I think we have brands that feature must-watch shows that people like to watch live through a linear experience, like [History’s] The Curse of Oak Island and like [Lifetime’s] Married At First Sight. These are shows that are still getting big [ratings] numbers because there is something to the community of viewership that can't be replicated on another platform. There’s something very special about a show that everyone's watching at the same time.

How have you been able to maintain strong advertising revenue in a declining cable subscriber marketplace?

The market right now from what I hear is very good. I think COVID and the economy have affected everyone and everything including the ad market, but in general right now we're experiencing what I see to be a very strong market. I think there is something that linear provides advertisers that they really can't get anywhere else. It’s about audience scale and the sense of timing that’s really unique to the linear experience.

Would you consider a digital SVOD service in the future?

We have some really successful, direct to consumer products that are relatively new. We have Lifetime Movie Club (subscription price $3.99 per month), which super serves the Lifetime movie viewer. We have the History Vault ($4.99 per month), which has an incredible depth of the history library available, and we also have Crime Central ($4.99 per month.) So we do have products in that space that are doing very well and growing. I think we have to be very strategic and targeted about how we're approaching those businesses. Those are two examples of how we've managed to swim with the giants because those are the really targeted opportunities that are working for us.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.