When Steve Ronson, A+E Networks executive vice president for enterprises, first met Sean Cohan in 2004, he remembers being immediately impressed with Cohan’s intensity, energy and passion for the business.
“I knew I wanted to hire him after the first 60 seconds,” Ronson recalls, even though “he came with virtually no international experience…. He was very sharp, and I felt he could help me develop that business.”
Those instincts quickly proved correct. After being hired in 2004 for international business development, Cohan proved to be a quick study of global markets, spearheading a number of new channel launches and businesses. In 2007, he was put in charge of all of A+E’s international channels, program sales and digital efforts.
“In the last seven years, Sean has really helped supercharge our international business, which is critical to the growth of the company,” notes Ronson.
Since 2006, the division has launched 25 channels; sold content to more than 300 broadcasters globally; forged more than 75 digital partnerships around the globe; dramatically expanded its HD channels; launched its fi rst international mobile, broadband and VOD services; and put together a number of key joint ventures for channel launches in India, Southeast Asia and German-speaking Europe.
Currently, the company has 46 channels internationally, with channels and programming blocks available in more than 150 territories reaching 250 million homes.
A+E also assembled an international team of executives that both Ronson and Cohan stress has played a key role in the division’s growth. “We’ve bolstered our team with very strong local talent and that has been very important in our success,” Cohan notes.
While Cohan admits his move into international media wasn’t an early career objective, his own background as well as the energy and passion he brings to his work have been crucial to the division’s success, Ronson says.
After getting his undergraduate degree from Harvard, Cohan decided to pursue a career in media and entertainment, but ended up joining A.T. Kearney as a business analyst to hone his basic skills.
His next job, at NBC, confirmed his desire to make a career in media. But after going back to school to get his MBA, he decided to join the investment bank Morgan Stanley. “I felt that M&A was such an important part of the media business,” he says.
This combination of management, ad sales and deal making would prove particularly helpful on the international side of A+E, which has launched international channels in joint ventures with local partners as a way of localizing its channels and reducing risks.
One early focus at A+E was to both expand the reach of its channels into newer territories and increase the number of channels in each market. “Since 2006, we’ve effectively doubled the channel portfolio,” Cohan notes.
Cohan’s division has also worked to take advantage of the fact that the company has invested in digital rights to its programming and has started producing all its content in HD to expand its digital efforts and HD channels.
A+E currently offers high-definition channels— along with HD content—in the U.K., Scandinavia, Benelux, Germany, Eastern Europe, Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia. More launches are expected as operators are only now beginning to launch HD services in many international markets, providing A+E with another way to expand its bouquets of channels in many markets.
Localization is another cornerstone of the division’s strategy. “Our brands—History [Channel], Bio, Crime [& Investigation Network]— are by definition very straightforward, which is a real advantage,” Cohan notes. “But they also cry out for localization. We don’t want to be viewed as that international channel talking about someone else’s history, and we’ve gone out of our way from the beginning to work with local partners to make sure we have locally acquired or produced content.”
Currently, A+E’s biggest international brands are History, Bio and Crime & Investigation Network. They have also launched Military History in some markets, A&E in Latin America and Canada and are eyeing the possibility of expanding Lifetime in international markets. “We think there is a very strong women’s market out there for Lifetime,” Cohan notes.
Such launches will be increasingly important to A+E networks’ future.
“While A+E is doing very, very well domestically, the reality is that the domestic environment is growing but growing as a mature business,” Cohan says. “You can contrast that with international, where there are more things to worry about—whether regulatory, or geopolitical— but the underlying fundamentals are very strong. Every morning you wake up and there are a lot more pay TV subs.”
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