Strategy shift: A&E focuses on entertainment

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Heading back to its roots, A&E Network will attempt to revive itself as a lighter arts-and-entertainment network.

Since last fall, the 20-year-old cable network has experienced a 10% to 15% decline in ratings and key demographics. To counter that, it will launch a marketing campaign this month with the theme line, "Art of Entertainment." Famed photographer Annie Leibowitz will shoot its print campaign.

A&E will focus the effort in three areas: biographies, documentaries and drama, with help from its agency of record, Omnicom Group's TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York. Horizon Media, New York, handles the network's media buying.

"They are getting a wee bit less stuffy," said Gary Carr, director-national broadcast for media agency Media First International, New York. "They are going to focus more on entertainment. It looks like they are tweaking and getting a little lighter."

A&E will eschew more serious crime and investigative shows to instead launch a number of series. Documentaries include "The Letters," a series of written stories voiced by celebrities, and "The Royals," a behind-the-scenes look at the British royal family.

In addition, the network and the British Broadcasting Corp. have co-produced an original series, "MI5," about the British intelligence agency.

"One could argue that we should have done this sooner," said Whitney Goit, exec VP, A&E. "We were probably not responsive to the market."

Fortifying its high-art TV roots, A&E struck a deal with Miramax Films to show 45 mostly art-house movies, including "In the Bedroom," "Iris," "The Shipping News," "Chocolat" and "Reservoir Dogs." A&E also plans a weekend programming block, "The Art of the Everyday." Key to this is "All Year Round with Katie Brown." (Ms. Brown is known as the "Good Martha" because of her self-effacing, less-than-perfect attempts at home crafts.)

right direction

"It shows the direction A&E is heading in," said Abbe Raven, A&E exec VP-general manager. "'Biography"s ratings have turned around since January."

A&E's ratings downfall last year stemmed from losing major franchise "Law & Order" to TNT. The ratings sank from a Nielsen Media Research 1.2 household rating in the second and third quarters to a 0.9 in the fourth quarter-when "Law & Order" left the air. Numbers have since improved to a 1.0 in the first quarter.

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