Whether it’s integrating recently acquired Lifetime into its fold or just driving ratings at its portfolio of branded nets, AETN has become a powerhouse programmer within cable. So we asked pres/CEO Abbe Raven to point out the challenges and opportunities for content as technology and viewership evolves. Raven will be inducted into the CableFAX Programming Hall of Fame at our Oct. 18 luncheon at the Hollywood Renaissance in L.A.
In general, where do you see your biggest challenge over the next year considering what’s going on with authentication, over-the-top content and some of the uncertainty around those issues?
As a global media company, AETN has always been at the forefront of partnering with our distribution partners on all of their new technologies. We have the most popular brands with consumers, and we are always looking at the latest platforms and technology to deliver content to consumers whenever they want it. We want to ensure Nielsen is able measure it into our C3 viewership in order for us to monetize it. We see these technologies as opportunities to promote our networks and programming.
The Lifetime acquisition was obviously a big deal for AETN. Now that Nancy Dubuc has overseen the net for more than a year, what’s your report card so far?
Over the last year, Nancy has put together a great team and has green-lighted a number of projects in the scripted and non-scripted arena. She also really tapped into the creative community. In the first year alone, she had Jennifer Anniston, Alicia Keys and Demi Moore direct a movie on breast cancer called Five which is premiering this October. Our Lifetime programming strategy has a three pronged approach of great scripted dramas, groundbreaking nonfiction series and original movies that Lifetime is know for. The team already has a non-fiction hit in Dance Moms and Project Runway, Army Wives and Drop Dead Diva are having their best seasons ever. They have an incredible development slate, and I am excited for what’s ahead for Lifetime in the coming months.
Now that you’ve integrated Lifetime, do you think AETN would look at other acquisitions? Why or why not?
We have an strong portfolio of brands – the top male network in History, one of the top female brands in Lifetime and a top adult brand in A&E. To have two of the top five brands in adults (A&E and History) is an amazing accomplishment. We also have a great portfolio of emerging brands, but of course we are always looking for new opportunities.
From a strategic standpoint, what are the advantages and disadvantages of scripted vs. non-scripted content in terms of monetization?
Our strategy varies across our portfolio depending on the brand, but for the most part we have a mix of scripted and non-scripted programming. In success, both bring great advantages. Obviously, non-scripted is more cost effective to produce and the return is higher, but smart investments in scripted programming brings incredible value to brands like Lifetime and A&E and is essential to their DNA. It is all about having the right mix for our viewers, advertisers and distributors.
AETN has pretty wide distribution across all platforms. But where’s the growth? What areas of the business do you view as undercapitalized or ready to explode in the next few years?
Our emerging brands are where we see incredible growth potential. LMN (Lifetime Movie Network), H2, Crime & Investigation and Bio all have strong ratings potential, and we are investing in more content for each. Cultivating our next generation of brands has always been a key part of our growth strategy as well as international expansion.
Let’s talk about that international strategy. How much growth do you see there? And which nets do you think most resonate globally?
AETN brands and content are now in over 130 countries around the globe in over 300 million households. The numbers are staggering. We have joint ventures where we partner with local distributers in many markets around the globe. I am incredibly proud that History is now the #1 non-fiction brand around the world, and A&E, Bio, Crime & Investigation are also dominating in many foreign pay markets. We are launching History in India this fall, and we are also excited to begin distributing Lifetime content.
Do you worry about the sluggish economy? To what degree has this affected your operations and how you plan the business?
I think everyone is worried about the economy. We have been fortunate because our ratings success has given us strength in the marketplace during some of the instability. We have always been a cost conscience company. When we invest in content, we try to make smart decision that will have a good return. Content is our product – it is the heart of what we do – and it is critical that we keep investing in new programming.
[For more info on the Oct 18 Program Awards/Top Ops event in L.A., click HERE]