When A&E Television Networks— which is changing its name to A+E Networks— holds its upfront event on May 4, the star of the show will be History.
The once stodgy network’s ratings have jumped by more than 20% in most demos, and it now ranks among the top 3 cable networks in adults 18-49 and 25-54. That growth is attracting marketers such as Ram Truck, which is doing a big sponsorship of History’s Civil War Week.
AETN runs A&E and Lifetime, but “History Channel is really the amazing growth story, and the amazing thing is they’re up even more against 18-34. You would never think History could begin to compete in the 18-34 category,” says Todd Gordon, senior VP and managing director for national broadcast at media agency Initiative.
The young-demos growth has opened new doors for the network. “They’re able to compete for budgets they never would have had a shot at before,” Gordon says.
In the upfront, History is looking to turn those new viewers into ad dollars. “It’s very hard to monetize ratings points when you’re growing that fast. But with History, we were able pretty much dollar-for-dollar to get the value,” says Mel Berning, executive VP of national ad sales for AETN. “The male skew of History makes us extremely attractive, and all sorts of people discovered History as it moved up the ranks last year.”
Part of the pitch in this year’s upfront to get big advertisers to spend more with History is to convince clients to think of it as the kind of network they want to do major marketing programs with. And History’s more contemporary approach to programming under president Nancy Dubuc is creating a better environment for advertisers looking to reach consumers.
“The goal now is to be more of a marketing partner and have them see the power of the brand on the scale of a Nickelodeon or ESPN, some of the networks clients like to do much bigger initiatives with,” says Peter Olsen, senior VP, ad sales for History.
Ram Truck is doing that kind of marketing deal in May during History’s Civil War Week. Ram is sponsoring Gettysburg, produced by Ridley and Tony Scott, and a Civil War-themed episode of Pawn Stars. As part of a multi-layered effort, History is creating a series of custom vignettes that will run in the shows that connect Ram’s “Guts & Glory” marketing message to the life of John Burns, a civil war soldier who showed perseverance and personal conviction.
With Gettysburg told from the soldiers’ point of view, “it’s going to be much more emotional and the stakes are going to be higher….Seeing it from this very gritty perspective is what really appeals to their campaign,” Olsen says.
“The brand is resonating more than ever with viewers, and I think clients are beginning to understand there’s a much more contemporary take on the history programming now,” Olsen adds. “That’s a big reason why more and more clients are coming on board. They’re seeing a much better environment for them to run their campaigns.”
“Creating content around the Civil War is a bit of a prototype of where we’re going with our upcoming bigger events and the way we’re handling some of our franchise series,” adds Jamie Cutburth, VP, History Partnerships. Big events next season revolve around 9/11 and the Vietnam War.
A&E has also been doing well, following up its best year with the best first quarter in its history. And Lifetime, which has struggled, will be announcing plans to increase its original programming, doubling the number of scripted shows next season to four, growing its unscripted roster and doubling the number of movies between Lifetime and Lifetime Movie Channel.
“We even have a couple of advertisers who are looking at us this year to buy across the three networks, kind of reviving the old concept of roadblocking on particular nights, and generating the same kind of audience mass and reach as you can generate on the broadcast networks,” Berning says.
Advertisers say AETN has a good track record revitalizing A&E and History. As for Lifetime, “I think we’re going to have the proper skepticism til we see results,” says Initiative’s Gordon. But with History’s Dubuc now running Lifetime, “there’s a lot of reason to believe they’ll figure out that puzzle, too.”
Berning adds that AETN is looking to program LMN, History International and Bio. “We’ve got the big nets staked out. Now we’re calling out the cavalry,” he says.