Step Into AETN’s Digital Lounge

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With devices capable of transmitting video continuing to proliferate, A&E Television Networks is giving its employees a chance to look at the latest technology that is reconstituting media habits.

Since late last month, AETN executives and staffers have been able to see how 20 devices -- ranging from broadband video-on-demand service Akimbo and Sony’s Blu-ray Disc Player and Xbox 360 to Archos’ AV700 Mobile DVR, Apple Computers’ iPod and the Palm Treo 700p smart phone/personal digital assistant -- function in the Digital Lounge on the 14th floor of the headquarters offices in New York.

Thus far, 250 of the company’s 600 employees have taken a tour, according to a spokesman.

But this isn’t just a place where someone can come in and catch up on a favorite show or the latest video on YouTube. Assembled at a cost of some $200,000, the Digital Lounge is a working laboratory of sorts, where employees can get a sense for how content looks on different screens and develop ideas about how AETN fare, both archival and new, can be adapted accordingly.

“We want to see how product can look on each screen. The general idea is that you see everything in a wide shot and cut down the long shots, but that’s not necessarily the case,” AETN CEO Abbe Raven said. “This is helping us to assess things creatively and with production decisions.”
With feeds coming into the control room and the use of Slingbox -- which lets cable and satellite subscribers access their home pay TV lineups from anywhere in the world via an Internet connection -- the Digital Lounge is also providing views of how programming and promotions look remotely in domestic and international markets.

“We can get a look at how A&E and other channels look on a cable system in Ohio. I think it will give our affiliate and marketing teams an edge when they try to help an operator with local ad sales,” Raven said, adding that there’s also value in “seeing what we’re doing interstitially in the U.K. The more ideas we can generate, the smarter we’re going to be as a company.”

The Digital Lounge, in conjunction with a theater on the same floor, is also a place where AETN will work with ad agencies and advertisers.

“Our ad-sales group can bring in sponsor and show what the content looks like,” she said. “We could run mock vignettes to get a sense for how messages could be conveyed on different platforms, or give an advertiser a better visual sense of how they could partner with us on a video-on-demand project.”

Raven said the Digital Lounge grew out of an idea sparked from Next Generation Group, which features a young member from each of the company’s departments. “Yes, they represent a slightly different demo from senior management,” she quipped, noting that the initial idea was to send executives to “gadget school” to become more familiar with all of the technology on the scene.

“Originally, it was being discussed as an off-site thing, before we figured that it made more sense to have something here that everyone could get a chance to get a feel for,” she said. “This exemplifies the vision we have for AETN as a content-based entertainment company of the future.”

To that end, AETN has expanded beyond linear lines with VOD programming and broadband fare. Earlier this week, it announced a deal with iTunes Music Store for programming from A&E Network, The History Channel and The Biography Channel. It is scheduled to launch an HD service on Labor Day. And the company anticipates being part of Amazon.com’s upcoming video play before summer’s end.

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