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AETN Elevates DeBitetto

For helping the programmer ascend, A&E Television Networks has elevated Bob DeBitetto.

DeBitetto, who joined the programmer five years ago, has been promoted to president and general manager of A& E Network and Bio Channel.  

In his new role, DeBitetto has oversight for content across all platforms for the flagship A&E service, Bio and the Crime & Investigation Network, plus their brand extensions. Continuing to report to AETN president and CEO Abbe Raven, DeBitetto will oversee programming, strategic planning, acquisitions, consumer marketing, brand development, public relations and on-air promotions for all three of the services.

“Bob has enjoyed tremendous success. He’s been the architect of a multi-layered strategy to boost the network’s ratings and attract younger viewers,” said Raven.

The game plan for DeBitetto, who joined A&E as senior vice president of programming in January 2003, before becoming executive vice president and general manager in 2005, called for A&E to invest heavily in real-life and docu-drama series such as Dog The Bounty Hunter, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, Criss Angel Mindfreak, First 48 and Intervention to appeal to younger adult viewers.

“These shows keep coming back and continue to perform stronger than ever,” said Raven.

From there, DeBitetto set out on an off-network acquisition buying spree that netted A&E CSI: Miami, The Sopranos and Criminal Minds as platforms to build audience and sampling for the original series.

Next up: A&E will reenter the original drama series July 15 with Benjamin Bratt in the lead role ofThe Cleaner. The series following Bratt as William Banks, an ex-con and addict, who becomes an extreme interventionist. He makes a deal with God to go straight and to help others “clean” their addictions, processes that often take precedence over his family and their needs and feelings.

The network has also ordered The Beast, starring Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing, Ghost), who is battling real-life pancreatic cancer, as a tough and unorthodox FBI agent. The show, production of which begins in August, will bow early next year.

“Returning to original series is something we promised to our affiliates and the advertising community has embraced as well,” said Raven, noting that The Cleaner and The Beast both have attracted a lot of upfront commitments.

The original dramas also underline the rebranding initiative A&E and DeBitetto have ushered in, centering on the tag line, “Real Life. Drama.” The multimedia campaign, which debuted during the Memorial Day weekend launch of The Andromeda Strain, which became cable’s top miniseries so far in 2008, is scheduled to extend through the early episodes of The Cleaner.

“We stuck to the plan and it has paid off,” said Raven, noting improved top tier ratings among adults 18 to 49 and 25 to 54 and a shaving of the network’s median age viewer to 46 from 62 a few years back.

Raven also credits DeBitetto and has development team for attracting such top talent as Bratt, Swayze and Tony and Ridley Scott, who teamed on the Andromeda Strain to A&E. Moreover, she has every confidence that DeBitetto’s keen creative eye and business acumen will bolster the 50-million-subscriber Bio and Crime & Investigation Network’s distribution status in the States.

She said there are new installments of signature Biography series on the way and is looking forward to the upcoming William Shatner’s celebrity interview/talk show Shatner’s Raw Nerve.

As for Crime & Investigation, Raven noted that it has gained a presence in 87 nations and “we’re looking for digital distribution” in the U.S. “You’re going to start to see that next.”

She said that with AETN no longer organized into channel silos, DeBitetto and his teams will be able to tap from a wide range of ideas/concepts to see which ones best fit the networks.