Vanguard Awards: Distinguished leadership: Gifted Brand Builder

A+E’S NANCY DUBUC HAS SPREAD HER MIDAS TOUCH THROUGHOUT THE COMPANY
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Nancy Dubuc’s career trajectory closely mimics that of the networks she has overseen at A+E Networks. As ratings at A&E, History Channel and Lifetime have shot up, so Dubuc has ascended the corporate ladder.

Dubuc, who serves as president and CEO, Entertainment & Media, for A&E Networks, has the honor of receiving a Vanguard Award for Leadership. She oversees content creation, brand development and marketing for A&E Network, Lifetime, History and their affiliated brands.

Dubuc, who is only the third CEO in A+E Networks’ 30- year history, is also in charge of the company’s international and digital divisions.

Her latest promotion came in September 2012. Before that, she was president and GM of History and Lifetime Networks. Under her watchful eye, History has gone from a mostly obscure cable channel with average ratings to one of the mostviewed networks on TV, improving profits and ratings for six consecutive years.

History’s Hatfields & McCoys broke viewing records and even reinvigorated tourism in West Virginia and Kentucky. The three-part miniseries received 16 Emmy nominations in 2012, the most since the History Channel began operations. The show walked away with five statuettes.

TACKLED ‘THE BIBLE’

Likewise, the network’s undertaking of The Bible as a 10-hour miniseries was not only daring in its scope, but the idea that viewers would stick with the show week after week was a gamble. In the end, 95 million viewers watched the miniseries.

“Nancy deserves this recognition,” Pat Esser, Cox Communications’ CEO and also a recipient of this year’s Vanguard for Leadership, said. “She is a risk-taker but she has vision … I mean, who has the guts to do the whole Bible and then actually pull it off successfully?”

Under Dubuc’s leadership, Lifetime’s ratings and demos have grown by double digits with the launch of such new nonfiction and drama series as Dance Moms and The Client List. In addition to the high-profile Liz and Dick, which was panned by critics but generated buzz, the network has reinvigorated its original movie lineup with films such as Steel Magnolias, Drew Peterson: Untouchable and Prosecuting Casey Anthony.

A programmer and marketer at heart, Dubuc joined thethen History Channel in 1999 as director of historical programming after stints at NBC, The Christian Science Monitor and Boston’s WGBH-TV. She was tapped to run History in 2007, transforming the network from a lackluster documentary- centric programmer into a reality-focused powerhouse with top shows including Ice Road Truckers, Ax Men and Swamp People. She took some heat for those moves from diehard history fans, but the rest of the TV viewing audience ate the programming up.

In six years, she took History from No. 11 to No. 4 with viewers 25 to 54. In March, History ranked No. 1 among total viewers, A+E Networks said.

Dubuc is known as a risk-taker and the tactic has paid off time and again. Yet that doesn’t mean she blindly bounds off into perilous territory at any given moment.

“We weigh the risks and the brand opportunities for outreach and [how] it might further other businesses,” she said. “First and foremost, we listen to our audience. We can’t have a business without that. We look at ratings and trend analysis, knowing those are tools we can use to assess risks. But you have to have the passion to pull the trigger.”

The A+E Networks culture celebrates failure because it also fosters creativity and that often turns into success, Dubuc said. “No one has a home run every time they get to bat. Our culture creates an environment where people aren’t afraid to take a risk. There is pressure to succeed. But they feel supported and protected.”

Still, Dubuc’s stats at bat are impressive. A&E’s Duck Dynasty, on A&E and History’s Pawn Stars have been colossal successes. The season-three finale of Duck Dynasty, about a family of duck-decoy manufacturers who sprinkle their dialogue with liberal amounts of biblical evangelism, was the most-watched show in A&E’s history and beat out Fox’s powerhouse American Idol with the influential 18-49 crowd.

Scripted fare under Dubuc’s watch has also been successful. A&E’s Bates Motel, a prequel of sorts to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic Psycho, has been a critical and ratings success, while Vikings, History’s first scripted series, posted strong ratings in its first season. A&E’s Longmire, a modern-day Western cop drama, is another established hit headed into season two.

Esser said Dubuc and A+E chairman Abbe Raven (Dubuc’s predecessor as CEO) take a very calculated and disciplined approach to programming their networks. They also share their plans and ideas with distributors, which helps keep affiliates in the loop and gets them excited about what’s ahead.

‘WINNING COMBINATION’

“Nancy has a vision of what she sees for A+E’s family of networks and she has surrounded herself with really good people who know how to execute that vision well,” Esser said. “Nancy approaches the business with a fresh set of eyes every day and brings a youthful enthusiasm to the job. But she is also very focused. She’s tough and knows what she wants. It’s a winning combination.”

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