Davatzes Leaving A&E Networks; Raven Upped

After 21 years leading A&E Television Networks, Nickolas Davatzes is stepping down as head of the company April 1.

Abbe Raven -- currently the head of A&E Network and previously an architect of the rise of sister network The History Channel -- will succeed Davatzes in becoming the second president and CEO in AETN history.

Davatzes, the longest-tenured leader in the history of cable, will become CEO emeritus, serving as an advisor from the company’s offices in Stamford, Conn.

Raven’s ascension follows a rebound period for A&E, which has improved its Nielsen Media Research positioning and significantly lowered its median age with a move toward nonscripted series like Airline, Growing Up Gotti and Dog the Bounty Hunter.

The network has also been quite active in the syndication market, picking up the cable rights to CSI: Miami, 24 and The Sopranos, which together will form a significant portion of the service’s primetime lineup in 2006.

Davatzes said he will attend the National Show in San Francisco early next month. From there, he will spend some time with his newborn grandson, who shares his March 14 birthday. “My wife told me that we haven’t had a two-week vacation in 20 years,” he said. “We want to take some time to do things.”

As for his new role with AETN, Davatzes said, “I will clearly do whatever Abbe needs me to do,” adding that he will remain engaged in the industry through “some things in Washington and diversity issues, reflecting the changing face of America.”

While noting the value creation for owners ABC, NBC and Hearst Corp -- he pegged AETN as a billion-dollar company -- Davatzes said what made him proudest during his tenure is that “we always did things the right way by our customers. We have high ethical standards. It’s not an accident that we increased value for our investors.”

Raven said finding a replacement for her current position is not an immediate priority. “We will look at things over time,” she said, before later conceding that there “most likely will be” a successor.

“In my AETN career, I’ve held tight to three big dreams: to turn A&E Television Networks into a billion-dollar company, to develop a leadership plan for the future and to bow out at the top of my game,” Davatzes said in a prepared statement.

“I’m incredibly fortunate today to say that those dreams have come true, thanks to the aid of an incredible staff of gifted professionals and also to the support of Hearst, ABC and NBC, which believed in A&E Television Networks from the very beginning,” he added.

“I’m excited to lead A&E Television Networks into the future,” Raven said in a prepared statement. “There couldn’t have been any better preparation than having Nick Davatzes as a role model. He has set the standard for excellence in programming, integrity in business and strong leadership. Our dedication to being a top entertainment company with the leading brands in television is resolute, and I am privileged to lead AETN in our next stage of growth.”