The Player: A&E Networks
The Date: May 15, 2009
The Venue: The Rainbow Room, New York
Key Execs: Abbe Raven, president-CEO, A&E Networks; Mel Berning, exec VP-national ad sales, A&E Networks; Bob DiBitetto, president-general manager, A&E; Nancy Dubuc, general manager, History; Peter Olsen, senior VP-ad sales, A&E Networks; Amy Baker, senior VP-ad sales, History
The Food: An entire banquet room filled with every cuisine imaginable -- roast beef, all-you-can-eat sushi, mushroom risotto, tuna tartare and so much more, all catered by Cipriani.
The Drinks: Multiple, fully-staffed open bars that accommodated drink requests in a matter of seconds, an extreme rarity during upfront season. Champagne was the drink of choice to toast A&E's 25th anniversary.
The Celebs: A&E reality stars Gene Simmons, MC Hammer and Tony Danza, and pop singer Natasha Bedingfield, who performed a 30-minute set, including her hit "Unwritten."
Last Year's Take: A&E $402.8 million in measured ad spending, a 3.8% increase from 2007, while History grossed $338.8 million in ad dollars, a 5.4% boost, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
The Ratings Game: A&E has touted its status as the fourth-largest network in basic cable, based on ratings data from Dec. 28 to March 31 among adults 25 to 54. But full cable season-to-date, or Sept. 22 to May 10, it's actually ranked fifth in the demo, still up an impressive 7% over 2007. History also saw a 2% gain in adults 25 to 54 this season, ranking ninth among all cable networks.
The Pitch: How do you celebrate 25 successful years as a cable network at the tail-end of upfront season? Put the party before the sales pitches, of course.
A&E Networks rang in its silver anniversary Thursday night with a party at New York's Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, where the company screened a brief film spanning AETN's 25-year evolution and previewing A&E, History and Bio's upcoming schedules. Clocking in around 12 minutes, the presentation may have set a record for shortest upfront presentation of the year.
But among the quick highlights included news that A&E's Benjamin Bratt-starring series "The Cleaner" will return for a second season June 23, in addition to renewals of popular unscripted fare like "Intervention," "Gene Simmons' Family Jewels," and "Dog The Bounty Hunter."
New to the network for 2010 is Kevin Costner's first made-for-TV project, an untitled two-part Western mini-series. Also in the works are new reality series featuring Tony Danza (who will become a certified teacher in his native state of New York), Steven Seagal and MC Hammer, cementing the network's status as the go-to for stars well into their career's second (or third) acts.
History, for its part, also had a star-studded programming slate to unveil, toplined by "The People Speak," a two-hour special featuring dramatic readings of historic documents from the likes of Matt Damon, Josh Brolin and Viggo Mortensen and musical cameos from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder. Jon Stewart is also producing a two-hour documentary, "The Naturalized," for the network, along with "Daily Show" cohort Lewis Black, who will host "Surviving the Holidays With Lewis Black" in December.
For a network like History to have a surprisingly A-list lineup of talent is a testament to the growth its seen under the leadership of Ms. Dubuc, who has developed all 10 of the network's top 10 highest-rated series ever, including "Ax Men" and "Ice Road Truckers," all within the last two years.
"Just being able to say the word 'entertaining' is refreshing," Ms. Dubuc recently told Ad Age. "It's not like we were going to do wrestling, but it's our duty to make what we do entertaining. Because we faced the elephant in the room, we were able to tackle it head on."
On the original series front, History will roll out its biggest reality series to date, Mark Burnett's "Expedition" on May 31. The rest of the network's original reality slate follows the show's epic scope, including "America: The Story of Us," from former Discovery Channel president Jane Root; "World War II in HD" and "MysteryQuest," in which scientists attempt to solve some of the most unexplained urban myths from the Bermuda Triangle to lost city of Atlantis.