Upfront 07

Scoring With Syndicated 'Sopranos'

Road to the Upfront: A&E

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The Player: A&E
The Date: May 1, 2007
The Venue: Cipriani, New York
Key Execs: Mel Berning, exec VP-ad sales, A&E Networks; Abbe Raven, president-CEO, A&E; Bob DiBitetto, exec VP-general manager, A&E
The Food: A breakfast buffet of meat, potatoes, bagels and fruit to snack on before the relatively brief presentation.
The Swag: A mini-camcorder from Pure Digital to capture up to 27 minutes of your own user-generated content. With two iPod Shuffles, a Zune and a video camera already handed out by other cable networks, one would expect the broadcast nets to dish out plasma TVs at their upfronts in two weeks. A&E also included a multipurpose keychain with pliers and screwdrivers to accompany Mr. Berning's new online Targeting Toolbox.
The $2.5 million-an-episode gamble on 'The Sopranos' has paid off for A&E.
The $2.5 million-an-episode gamble on 'The Sopranos' has paid off for A&E. Credit: HBO
The Ratings Game: A&E ranked No.5 among adults 18 to 49 in ad-supported cable in first-quarter 2007, the result of its $2.5 million-an-episode acquisition of "The Sopranos." Just two years ago, the older-skewing cabler was barely in the top 20 among that key advertiser demo.
The Digital Play: A&E has two content-rich broadband sites in AETV.com and crimeandinvestigation.com, each of which comes equipped with banner inventory, exclusive video content and program-themed games for "The Sopranos" and "Minority Report"-esque "Solve the Murder."
The Buyer's Verdict: Just before the January syndicated premiere of "The Sopranos," Steve Kalb, senior VP-broadcast at Mullen's Media Hub, told Ad Age it was "nice to get some prime time on cable," a gamble that has since paid off for the network.

In an upfront that's all about efficiency, it's nice to see some networks apply that approach to their presentations. A&E managed to wrap things up in under an hour despite a presentation that encompassed two networks, multiple digital offerings and a ratings comeback it was eager to plug.

"We're feeling like we are at the top of our game," said Abbe Raven, A&E president-CEO. "Our mission is to grab people everywhere with an entertaining take on life."

The price tag for that mission was valued at $500 million, which is how much the company is investing for new content on A&E and History Channel for the coming season. A&E alone will roll out four major new dramas by 2008, including "Andromeda Strain," from author Michael Crichton and executive produced by "Gladiator" director Ridley Scott. Now that A&E has lured a combined 19 million new eyeballs to its programming via its hugely successful acquisitions "The Sopranos" and "CSI: Miami," the network can finally move past its days as the home of "Biography" and "Murder She Wrote."

A new, younger audience also means more options for advertisers, which ad sales honcho Mel Berning addressed by announcing a new Targeting Toolbox. Introduced for this year's upfront, it's a website that will allow clients to get granular with their campaigns via data from proprietary studies the network conducted with the likes of IAG and Nielsen's MPower.

"We don't want to run away from commercial ratings," Mr. Berning said. "[There's a lot we can do] without disrupting your business, our business or the client's business."
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