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A&E's Three-Network 'Bonnie & Clyde' Simulcast Guns for Extra Ratings

Miniseries to Run on Lifetime, A&E and History

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Why attract just one audience when you can aggregate three? That's what A&E Networks is gunning for when it simulcasts its "Bonnie & Clyde" miniseries across three of its channels next month.

The move is designed to create event-driven TV on the order of "Hatfields & McCoys," the highly successful series that ran 18 months ago on A&E-owned History. "We aren't in sports, we aren't in live, so for us, events need to be self-made," said Nancy Dubuc, president and CEO of A&E Networks.

Will three be a charm for this outlaw couple?
Will three be a charm for this outlaw couple? Credit: A+E

Aside from a few series and National Football League games, it's hard to get big reach and even tougher to do so across three owned channels, said Mel Berning, president–ad sales, A&E Networks. Even so, the company is shooting for that by spreading the miniseries about the infamous outlaw couple around A&E, History and Lifetime on Dec. 8 and Dec. 9.

Will this draw viewership akin to "Hatfields & McCoys"? Or are there only so many people who will tune in regardless of on how many networks the show airs?

There are few examples from which to draw a conclusion. While simulcasts have been employed with telethons, some awards shows and sporting events -- and Discovery recently ran "The Challenger Disaster" on both its Discovery and Science channels -- there's not a lot of history of simulcasting scripted programming.

If "Bonnie & Clyde" was only airing on History, Billie Gold, VP-director of buying and programming research at Carat, estimated it would deliver about a 20% smaller total audience and 18-to-49 rating than the feuding families did when they aired in 2012, especially since it is up against football on both nights. "Hatfields & McCoys" averaged about 14 million total viewers and a 3.8 rating in the key 18-to-49 demographic across three nights.

But given "Bonnie & Clyde" will run on all three channels, Ms. Gold expects it will draw a bigger total audience than, and an 18-to-49 rating on par with, "Hatfields & McCoys."

It helps that there's little duplication across History and Lifetime; the former skews about 60% male while the latter is about 77% female. A&E is almost evenly split between the two.

To capture the different audiences, A&E has tailored its messaging to each. It's promoting the romance elements of "Bonnie & Clyde" to the Lifetime viewer; the historical gangster elements to History audience; and the action elements to core A&E viewers.

The combined reach of a simulcast is appealing for advertisers, but even more so is the ability to get greater reach along with a targeted audience, said Dani Benowitz, exec VP-managing partner, integrated investment at Universal McCann.

This allows marketers like Geico, Jeep Cherokee, 20th Century Fox and GlaxoSmithKline, which will air spots across all three networks, to present one consistent message tailored to specific audiences. Geico, for example, has created individual commercials to air on each channel customized to speak in the voice of and to the audience of each network.

If the "Bonnie & Clyde" simulcast is successful, A&E will look to do more where there is a strategic fit, and you can be sure other networks will follow. But simulcasts won't become a regular element of A&E's strategy. "We don't want it to lose its novelty," Ms. Dubuc said.

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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said "Bonnie & Clyde" will air opposite AMC's "The Walking Dead."

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