A+E Networks, making its upfront presentation Wednesday, is telling advertisers it will have lots of new content and that those new shows will be premiering on the linear networks on which they can buy commercials.
The pitch comes at a time when advertisers are finding it harder to find mass audiences as viewers cut the cord and turn to streaming. At the same time, most media companies are using their best content to attract subscribers to their streaming services, only some of which are ad supported.
A+E said it has more than 2,500 hours in new programming in its pipeline for the 2021-22 broadcast year, up 50% than this year, including 70 hours of documentaries and 221 movies, with many of the films ticketed for Lifetime.
History Channel will have a series with President Bill Clinton in 2022 and A&E and Lifetime will have a cross-network limited series event on the life and career of Janet Jackson.
Other talent on the A+E roster include Leonardo DiCaprio, Laurence Fishburne, Robin Roberts, Jamie Lee Curtis, Angela Basset, Tim Allen, Morgan Freeman, Russell Westbrook, Stanley Nelson, Rachael Ray, Lance Reddick, William Shatner, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Last year’s upfront was delayed because of COVID-19, but this year, A+E is making its virtual presentation earlier than ever.
“We want to make sure the marketplace knows our commitment to original content,” said Peter Olsen, president of ad sales at A+E, told B+C. “I think what will come across in the video is not only original content, but that we’re going to premiere it all on linear TV first. It won’t premiere on streamers. We still believe in that part of the ecosystem.”
The early pitch will also help A+E in its efforts to base its upfront deals on total viewers rather than the traditional age and sex based demographics that essentially don’t count viewers 55 and up at all.
A+E has been talking to clients and buyers about total audience and about its advanced targeting ad products.They’re not talking pricing yet but the “conversations are pretty real, around details, constructs and frameworks, way earlier than ever in the past.”
Olsen said A+E's focus on making programming its linear networks a priority should help it increase its share of linear impressions. And while ad budgets may be moving to streaming, “for the coming upfront cycle, we do think that the shift of dollars will happen, but probably at a slower pace than the headlines report.”
A+E does have arrangements to put its content on ad-supported and subscription streaming services, but it has a windowing philosophy that protects distributors and protects the core business, he said.
“Look, we believe in evolving, but we believe it has to be done at somewhat of a measured pace,” Olsen said. “I think that’s going to come across in the conversations we’re having.”
This year, A+E’s virtual upfront pitch is just 34 minutes long. “We have learned this year that brevity is a good thing in this world we’re living in,” Olsen said. “We’re making our point, we think, clearly and distinctly and relatively quickly.”
The presentation showcases the talent A+E is working with both in front of and behind the camera. “You’ll see a lot of diversity, which we are quite proud of," he said. "So, yeah, we’re excited.”
“Our brands have clear identities with a strong foundation of hit series. Across our entire portfolio and in a variety of genres, we continue to have an incredible roster of A-list, diverse talent in-front of and behind the camera,” said A+E Networks Group President Paul Buccieri. “Our ongoing efforts to launch and invest in best-in-class original programming for our linear properties, as well as further expanding our 360-experiences, demonstrates a deep commitment to being available wherever and however viewers want to be entertained, whether through high-performing podcasts, virtual experiences and digital multiplatform content.”
Among the projects highlighted during the upfront:
Lifetime has a two-picture deal with Reba McEntire to star in and produce two movies. The first project is Christmas in Tune (working title), which will be tentpole during the network’s holiday programming stunt It’s a Wonderful Lifetime. The second film won’t be a holiday movie and is in development for 2022.
History Channel will extend its “That Built” franchise with The Titans That Built America, with Leonardo DiCaprio among the executive producers. The Titans That Built America will appear as a three-night miniseries event, premiering May 31.
History Channel also greelit Fight The Power: The Protests that Changed America, a one-hour documentary from executive producers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Deborah Morales.
A&E Network is going forward with Right to Offend, a two-part event tracing the history of Black comedy as social commentary, and the eight part Secret Origins of Hip Hop, featuring Busta Rhymes, Eve, Fat Joe, Grandmaster Flash and Ice-T.
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