A&E Networks' upfront on Thursday night was all about immersing media buyers and advertisers in its programs, offering custom gifs and selfies with "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson to deliver one of the more engaging events of the upfront season so far.
The network group filled the Park Avenue Armory in New York City with experiences and sets for each of its six networks: A&E, Lifetime, LMN, History, H2 and FYI Network, which will replace Bio this summer.
There was an arcade-style claw game promoting History's "American Pickers"; a "Bates Motel" vending machine dispersing brownies with labels warning of side effects such as the Oedipal complex; and a model house for FYI.
There were plenty of celebrities on hand for photo ops, including Mr. Roberston; Tim Gunn from "Project Runway"; Mark Wahlberg, whose series across the networks include A&E's "Wahlburgers"; and Nick and Drew Lachey, members of 98 Degrees who have an upcoming show on FYI Network. (FYI also said earlier on Thursday that it was planning a home design series involving Pinterest.)
Attendees were encouraged to join A&E's "social media response lab" to get images superimposing their handles or faces on A&E images.
That's not to say executives skipped the upfront pitch. "We're not reliant on one critical darling, one vertical genre or someone else's licensed content," said Nancy Dubuc, president and CEO, A&E Networks.
Ms. Dubuc reminisced about A&E upfronts not that long ago that barely drew 400 people, "with a bounty hunter, specialty documentaries and syndicated programming as our calling card."
"Today we require the largest event space in Manhattan and have a bouquet of some of the most enviable brands in media," she said.
In her introduction, Ms. Dubuc responded to an AOL ad that ran last week amid the NewFronts asking, "Is TV dead? No, It's connected."
"It seems to be the new favorite storyline at the NewFronts, Out Fronts and whatever other upfront wannabes are out there. I am here to tell you, TV is not dead," she said.
"If AOL, Google, Netflix, Amazon and Yahoo … Yoo-Hoo and whomever else felt TV was dying, they would not be so eager to play in our sandbox," she added. "It is -- after all -- TV content that's driving their business."
Each network highlighted some upcoming new programming, including the History miniseries "Texas Rising," starring Bill Paxton; Lifetime's dystopian thriller "The Lottery"; the dramedy "Unreal," also on Lifetime; and A&E's reality show, "Dog Wars," about dogs that are paired with veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
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