AETN Spending Half a Billion on Programming

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Between A&E and the History Channel--plus other smaller cable nets under the A&E Television Networks (AETN) umbrella--the company plans to spend more than $500 million on programming this year.

That was the message to advertisers from AETN President & CEO Abbe Raven at A&E's New York upfront presentation Tuesday evening, a star-studded event held in conjunction with co-owned the History Channel at Lincoln Center.

There is also an iTunes deal in the offing for A&E and History programming, the company promised advertisers.

A&E pushed itself as a personality-driven network. Posters flanking the stage bore pictures of the network's current and upcoming series and read "personalities: experience it."

Before previewing clips of upcoming originals, A&E Executive VP/General Manager Robert DeBitetto trumpeted the channel as the "premier entertainment network in basic cable," saying its shows were united by "compelling characters."

USA, currently the top-rated cable network recently rebranded with a "Characters Welcome" tagline, but DeBitetto suggested to B&C that A&E was an even more targeted stage for personality-based drama since, unlike USA, those shows did not have to share the spotlight with sports programming.

In addition to off-CBS hit CSI: Miami, which joins A&E's schedule on Labor Day, the network will debut Sopranos on basic cable in January. In fact, it tailored much of its presentation to that big-ticket show.

The network recruited Sopranos stars Lorraine Bracco and Edie Falco to sit in the audience and mingle at the party, along with other network stars.

A&E recruited ad industry execs to star in a Sopranos spoof to introduce the presentation and spliced in clips of Bracco's psychologist character Dr. Melfi with the characters from its upcoming reality shows to intro clips from those series.

New reality shows on the network include Gene Simmons' Family Jewels, featuring the KISS frontman and his family; Driving Force, about champion drag racer John Force and his brood; and Sons of Hollywood, about second-generation Hollywood sons also looking to rise, including Randy Spelling (Aaron's son), and Rod Stewart's son, Sean.

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