Upfronts 2013: A+E Takes Aim At 'Broadcast Ancestors'

Ad Sales Chief Berning Cites Competitors’ 'Failure Tax' in Pitch for Upfront Increases
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New York – A+E Networks is hungry for a piece of the $1 billion that may be up for grabs in this year’s upfront due to the continued viewership erosion on the broadcast networks.

At its upfront presentation on Wednesday evening, AEN ad sales president Mel Berning took aim at “our broadcast ancestors” asking advertisers to pay increases for declining audiences.

“We're not doing that. Their business model problems shouldn’t be your problem,” he said. “If you’re tired of paying a failure tax, we have lots of successful programs for you to invest in,” citing hits like History’s The Bible and Vikings, A&E’s Duck Dynasty and Lifetime’s Dance Moms.

“In most businesses, you reward success with more investment,” Berning continued.“Because we’ve enjoyed more success again this year, our fair share of your upfront budget is bigger this year than last. And I’m sure that you can find that money at a lot of networks that aren’t doing quite as well as we are.” (Separately, Berning announced a re-alignment of A+E Networks ad sales forces that included some promotions, new hires and an overall re-engineering.)

Indeed, AEN did see all three of its flagship network post year-over-year growth in 2012: History was up 4%, A&E up 3% and Lifetime was up 9% among adults 25 to 54 in primetime. Later in the presentation, newly-elevated president and CEO Nancy Dubuc said the goal for the next year is to grow second-tier networks H2, Bio and LMN into more powerful platforms. “You’ll be hearing more from us on that over the coming months,” she said.

Dubuc also previewed some new programming, including A&E’s Those Who Kill starring Chloe Sevigny as a police detective tracking down serial killers, the History two-part miniseries Houdini starring Adrien Brody and Lifetime’s unscripted country music series Hillbetties.

Lifetime also developed the movie event Bonnie and Clyde, which AEN will simulcast on all three of its networks. The project about the famous couple that went on a two-year crime spree during the Great Depression stars Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Emile Hirsch and Holliday Granger.

A+E held its upfront at the Tent at Lincoln Center on New York’s Upper West Side where guests were entertained with a set by the band fun and posed for pictures at photo booths with the cast of the networks’ shows like Duck Dynasty and Pawn Stars.