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A&E Lets Out the Digital Dogs

The cable network pursues the young and hip with Web-only series and new broadband sites 4/27/2007 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Dog, the mullet-coiffed bounty hunter and A&E reality star, will soon appear in animated form on the network's Website. Dog 2.0, based on the long-running Dog the Bounty Hunter, is one of several new digital properties A&E is offering advertisers this year, including two broadband Websites devoted to genres the cable network is trying to corner: crime and the paranormal.

A&E has greatly lowered its median age in recent years (from 61 in 2003 to a current 47, according to Nielsen Media Research and increased its ratings in the 18-49 demo with reality series like Dog and Gene Simmons Family Jewels. Now, it is hoping to attract young, hip viewers—and advertisers—to its digital outlets.

“This is a very good and appropriate time for us to take our franchises and brands and push them out onto other platforms to serve the fan bases,” says A&E Executive VP/General Manager Bob DeBitetto. “We're trying to amortize and extrapolate some of the success we've enjoyed over the last couple of years and get busy in this arena as well.”

Along with Dog 2.0, A&E will unveil another Web-only spinoff in development at its upfront presentation in New York on May 1. Nick's World, a live-action video blog, will follow the life of Nick Tweed-Simmons, son of rock musician Gene Simmons, both of whom star in Gene Simmons Family Jewels.

Turning viewers into investigators

A&E is also readying two broadband Websites. The first, as yet unnamed, is an online version of Crime & Investigation, the digital-cable network owned by parent company A&E Television Networks and available mainly abroad.

Heavy on video and personalization, the site will likely use library footage from justice shows on A&E, such as The First 48 and American Justice, and from shows on sister networks History Channel and Biography Channel to make visitors in the target 25-49 demo feel as if they are investigating a case. Links will guide users to information on forensics and investigation techniques, and a partnership with a news site (to be determined) will yield crime headlines.

The second, ParanormalState.com, is a supernatural-oriented site tied to an A&E TV series of the same name set to launch next year. The site could feature live Webcams in allegedly haunted areas of the country as well as forums for consumer video, photos and stories on paranormal phenomena.

The properties, still in development, are being shopped to targeted groups of advertisers during the upfront for sponsorship and integration.

Although he acknowledges that no one yet knows the economic model behind such ventures, DeBitetto says A&E aims to meet advertiser interest in buying comprehensive packages across platforms. Plus, the sites take advantage of the company's vault of existing video content.

Media buyers briefed on the digital offerings were impressed, applauding the network's move to capitalize on passionate audiences with exclusive Web content and stand-alone Websites.

“There are genres where people are just gaga about this stuff, and if they're gaga, it makes sense to extend, add to and enhance the viewing experience of that show,” says Zenith Media Senior VP/Account Manager Kris Magel, praising both the planned Webisodes and new sites.

(Comcast and Sony similarly targeted horror fans, launching broadband/video-on-demand network FearNet last year.)

Several buyers say their clients would be interested in integration in such projects, especially if the sites were promoted on TV or turned into TV properties. Others praise A&E for continuing to redefine itself in the market as a hipper brand.

“This continues to show that the new A&E is distancing itself from the arts-and-entertainment network because they're continuing to press forward and be innovative,” says Scott Haugenes, senior VP/group director at Initiative. “They've done a good job in becoming more contemporary so this should help resonate with the audience with which they're getting a very solid toehold.”

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