The Date: April 28, 2008
The Venue: The Morgan Library & Museum, New York
Key Execs: Abbe Raven, president, A&E Television Networks; Bob DeBitetto, exec VP-general manager, A&E; Nancy Dubuc, exec VP-general manager, History
The Special Guest: Uber-producer Mark Burnett, eagerly talking up a new History show that re-creates the trek of Henry Stanley to find 19th-century explorer David Livingstone. Why is the producer of "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" taking his expertise to cable? "The difference between network and cable is slipping very, very quickly," Mr. Burnett told the assemblage. "My job is to be at the forefront of this."
The Food: Dinner is served! Green salad with a candied pear and filet mignon with sweet potatoes and haricots verts.
The Drinks: A crisp Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches chardonnay was among the wines available.
The Pitch: A&E and History used to be known as channels for, well, the more studious among us (read: older adults). So AETN has taken steps to get more young and hip in the last few years. At A&E, we've seen repeats of "The Sopranos" and "CSI: Miami" added to the schedule, not to mention reality fare featuring Gene Simmons and the "two Coreys," former teen movie stars Corey Feldman and Corey Haim. Over at History, gritty roll-up-your-sleeves fare including "Ax Men" and "Ice Road Truckers" have become the order of the day.
A&E has been hard at work transitioning itself from a channel best known for arts and performances to an outlet full of real-life programming and scripted drama, said Mr. DeBitetto. As a result, the channels have seen upticks in ratings among audiences that hit those "sweet spot" advertiser demographics, 18-39 and 25-54, AETV executives told the audience Monday night. A new branding campaign is set to start Memorial Day, Mr. DeBitetto said, burnishing the new A&E slogan, "Real Life. Drama," which should set the matter straight.
A&E devoted much of its time to its new scripted drama series "The Cleaner," which features actor Benjamin Bratt as a former addict who tries to save others from their tragic attachments to drugs, alcohol, gambling and sex. The audience was -- um, treated? forced? -- to watch two segments of the program, which involves pretty harrowing stuff, and was also offered a sneak peek at a remake of the sci-fi drama "The Andromeda Strain," set to air Memorial Day weekend. "The Cleaner" is the first original drama from A&E in several years.
Meanwhile, History previewed not only its Mark Burnett program, but "Sandhogs," which looks at the guys who dig hundreds of feet below Manhattan's sidewalks to bring the island's residents fresh water.
Last Year's Take: A&E saw 2007 ad dollars rise to about $388.2 million, up from approximately $320.8 million in the previous year, according to TNS Media Intelligence. History took in about $321.3 million in 2007, TNS said, compared with about $297 million in 2006.
The Ratings Game: Prime time on A&E and History is showing ratings momentum. While A&E prime time reached an average of 1.3 million viewers who watched shows either live or same day, first-quarter 2008 prime-time programming reached approximately 1.43 million, according to Nielsen. History's prime-time offerings reached an average of about 1.08 million live or same-day viewers in 2007, and increased to reach an average audience of about 1.31 million in the first quarter of 2008.
The Digital Play: Executives were light on digital chatter during their presentation, but History.com will showcase each of the cable outlet's series with exclusive destination mini-sites featuring interactive broadband and short-form content, games, video logs and timelines, among other features. Ms. Dubuc said the site would see "an explosion" of video and interactive content this year.