A&E Television Networks CEO
Abbe Raven is on a roll. Three of
the 10 AETN owned-and-operated
networks finished 2009 among the
20 most-watched networks on basic
cable. A&E Network and History
were among the top 10 in reaching
the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demo
during the first quarter of 2010.
Raven, who took over the reigns
of AETN in 2005, has successfully
made veteran brands A&E and History
cool to younger viewers.
The trick: a mix of smart shows
geared to younger audiences and
reality series such as History’s
Pawn Stars and A&E’s Intervention.
Raven, who started at AETN
28 years ago as a secretary, now
faces one her biggest challenges
in turning around a struggling Lifetime
brand, which AETN merged
into the portfolio last year. AETN
is owned by The Walt Disney Co.,
Hearst Corp. and NBC Universal.
The top-rated network in cable
in 2002, female-targeted Lifetime
was barely a top 20 viewed network
in 2009, having dropped 20%
of its primetime audience from a
The former high-school teacher
shared her lesson plan for Lifetime
and for the rest of of the AETN
network portfolio with Multichannel
News programming editor R.
MCN: How would you characterize
the A&E Television Networks
portfolio’s strength and position
within the cable industry?
Abbe Raven: W ith the addition of
Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network,
we are clearly the leaders in
delivering to key demographic audiences
— women, men and a dual
audience. It’s exciting for us to be the
company that houses three of the
top-tier networks in A&E [Network],
History and Lifetime.
If you look at other network groups,
they don’t necessarily have three networks
that are performing in the way
that those networks are. We’ve had
a very strategic operation for many
years in terms of planning how we
were going to continue to grow our
networks and it’s been very exciting
to see it come to fruition.
MCN: History had its best first quarter
ever recently. What’s driving the
AR: We’ve been able to keep our core
audience engaged by dealing with
topics that we’ve refreshed in a more
contemporary fashion, as well as attracting
new and younger viewers to
We’ve done it with a mix of programming
that is what I would call
traditional — it’s the kind of historical
programming that we’ve been doing
since the very beginning, but taking
those concepts and putting them in a
more contemporary context.
Shows like Pawn Stars have captured
people’s enthusiasm about historical
objects and put it into a more
personal context. Then you have programs
like World War II in HD, which
takes a topic that we’ve covered for
many years and shows it in a more
contemporary way through technology
HD and color images.
We’re also continuing to develop
programming that really speaks to
the essence of history. We have America:
The Story of Us, which is an epic,
12-hour television event and takes an
extraordinary look at how our country
was invented, how it was created and
at how Americans have harnessed
technology to advance new progress.
It also talks about the confl icts that
we’ve had — it’s really about how our
nation has been shaped and it is absolutely,
purely in the essence of who we
are as the channel.
MCN: With reality-driven shows
like Pawn Stars you’ve moved away
from documentary-based, historical
programming on which History was
founded. While it certainly hasn’t
hurt your ratings, do you think the
new programming strategy has hurt
the brand at all?
AR: Not at all. I think the critics are
really those who haven’t really experienced
the programming or are
our competitors. I look at it as evolving
the brand and becoming more
contemporary. What I love about
a show like [PawnStars] is that it
brings millions of people to our network;
it absolutely covers historical
information; and yet it introduces a
new generation and new people to
our network to watch programs like
America: The Story of Us and World
War II in HD.
And we have a very robust portfolio
of programming that we’re working
on. We’ve announced our first
original dramatic, historical miniseby ries, The Kennedys, which
will be for 2011 and will
be a major, high-quality
undertaking. This is really
the kind of quality that
you would see on HBO,
the way they’ve done with
John Adams or The Pacific
and it is absolutely the
right thing for History to
be doing. As a result, we’re
seeing younger viewers
come to the network and
what I think that’s done is
expanded History’s reach
to be more engaging to a
broader audience who absolutely
love history. And
we are not going to deviate
This will continue to
be a network that is entrenched
in the creative
ways of telling historical
MCN: Are you finding
that younger viewers are
tuning into A&E, as well, as the network
offers more reality and dramatic original
AR: Yes, absolutely. A&E has increased its
adult 18-to-49 viewers by 5%. Also, A&E
finished its best quarter in its history and
also substantial growth from last year.
We’re now the No. 4 network in our 18-to-
49 demo. A few years ago, we said that we
would be a top-five network, and we are
well there now.
We have found a niche in telling great stories
about real life in a very unique way that
has really resonated with viewers. A&E has
always been a trailblazer in creating new
genres on television — from Biography, to
our justice programming and our historical
documentaries. In each of these genres, what
we have always tried to do is to be the leader
in that genre.
And if you look at our ratings today, we are.
We have the highest-rated justice programs
on television. And with programs like Intervention,
which won an Emmy Award this
past year, we broke new ground in how to
deal with a difficult topic.
Now, we’re seeing people copy us all over
the place with many of our programs. We absolutely
believe in original programming and
we have one of the highest, if not the highest,
percentage of original programming on our
network [60%] compared to other networks.
MCN: Lifetime, the newest network in the
portfolio, is struggling. What’s the future
for that network?
AR: Well, I’m very excited that Lifetime is
now part of our portfolio. As you know, I’m
a veteran of the cable industry and I was
there the day that Lifetime launched 26
years ago, so it’s really interesting for me
to now have it be part of our company. But
both Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Network
are such perfect fits for AETN because of
the strength of their brands.
The Lifetime brand is such a strong brand
and it is the No. 1 network for women. What
is very exciting for me is that Lifetime joins
us at a time in which they’ve developed so
many wonderful new programs, like Drop
Dead Diva, another season of Army Wives,
and it’s also a great success with their movies and with Project Runway.
And where I see us going
with Lifetime is to continue
that and introduce
more original programming
to the network.
And Lifetime Movie
Network has broken multiple
records. Amish Grace,
which just aired recently, is
the highest-rated and most
watched original movie in
all our demographics on
Lifetime Movie Network.
I’m working very closely
with the Lifetime programming
team about the development
of new shows, not
only for the upfront but
for the future.
MCN: While Lifetime is
No. 1 among women,
the network was down
double digits in total
viewers last year. Do
you foresee any major
changes in the format?
AR: No, I think the balance is right and we’re
extremely committed to drama both in series
and in movies on Lifetime. We’ve begun
this transition period in which we’re looking
at more development and that will continue.
But I don’t see the mix of programming
change any time in the near future.
But to your point, I absolutely am confi dent
that we will, with an infusion of original programming
and great cross-promotion, be able
to reverse any kind of [ratings] trend. You will
start to see ratings growth as we evolve Lifetime
to be a little bit more contemporary in style.
I think there are minor tweaks that we can
make to continue to grow the Lifetime ratings.
Right now, we’re flat, but that will change and
I am absolutely confident that you will see that
evolution of Lifetime. Lifetime at one time was
the No. 1 network in all of cable, and we can
absolutely reclaim that title.
MCN: Any sense as to who will lead that
charge for Lifetime?
AR: At this point I’m working intimately
with the group and when we’re ready to
make any kind of announcement you’ll be
one of the first to know.
MCN: During Lifetime’s transition to AETN,
there were a number of layoffs. Should
we expect to see any more employment
AR: We’ve very much completed our integration process, and what’s wonderful is
right now we’re focused on building our
teams and we’re well on our way on that.
MCN: Given the ratings success are you
seeking license-fee increases for the overall
AR: Let me put it this way: As we’re approaching
the advertising upfront, we
are very much out there talking about the
strength of our portfolio. And the beauty of
what we have now to offer is that we are a
leader in delivery of adult men and women
in all the target demos that advertisers are
MCN: Are you satisfied with the number of
networks you have there or will AETN go
shopping for other network acquisitions?
AR: Right now, we have a very robust portfolio,
but I think our owners are always
looking at other opportunities. We are very
much expanding internationally and we’ve
had huge international success with Crime
& Investigation Network and Bio and Military
History Channel around the world.
And so we are talking to operators domestically
on the value of those, as we have seen
the value that they have brought to our international
MCN: Have you given any thought to the
next generation of networks, including the
potential of 3D services?
AR: Sure. Yes, we’ve had many meetings in
development on 3D programming. Right
now we’re looking at specific programming
events that we can do. Just picture History
in 3D — it would be absolutely amazing.
We’re absolutely entertaining that and
looking at the possibilities.
MCN: Where do you stand on the TV Everywhere
issue and offering your content on
AR: Basically we work very closely with our
affiliates providing full-length episodes for
VOD. As you know, we were one of the leaders
in VOD and we still think that it’s a very
I think what we’re focused on using the
Web for promotional purposes to encourage
people to come back to the network, as well
as to find other creative opportunities that
doesn’t cannibalize the programming that
we’re offering exclusively for our partners.
When there is a very clear model for this —
and I don’t think it’s there yet in the industry
— obviously, we will be looking closely
at that. But right now, we’re focused on other
types of Web activities such as gaming and
other things that are right in the sweet spot of
our audience but that doesn’t take them away
from the television set or, in actuality, helps
promote them to our programming.
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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.