A+E Networks Touts Deep Content Pipeline, Bill Clinton Docuseries, Ahead of Upfront Talks

Company said it has 1,000 hours of programming ready to air amid pandemic uncertainty

Bill Clinton, who participated in February's HistoryTalks alongside fellow former President George W. Bush, will executive produce a new docuseries for History. - Credit by Getty Images
Headshot of Jason Lynch

Key insights:

Two months ago, when A+E Networks became one of the first media companies to cancel its upfront event, which had been planned for late March, it shifted its initial upfront messaging from content to Covid-19 social initiatives, putting its new content announcements on the backburner.

But now, as early upfront talks heat up and buyers and sellers alike worry about how the continued Covid-19 shutdown of production will affect on-air offerings, A+E Network is back to promoting its new slate. The company is touting a deep content pipeline of 1,000 hours of programming, ready to go, that it says gives it an advantage over rivals who are scrambling to fill their respective schedules with cobbled-together alternatives.

With its shows in production year-round, the company currently has 1,000 hours of new content ready for air, with another 1,000 hours and 50 new movies in the works. “We have 50-plus series right now that are in post production,” said Paul Buccieri, president of A+E Networks Group. “We’re well positioned. The goal was always to have thousands upon thousands of original hours a year for our audience, for our clients—[that plan] looks quite good right now.”

The new slate for A+E Networks—which includes A&E, History and Lifetime—features projects with President Bill Clinton, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robin Roberts and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Clinton is executive producing a new History docuseries that will look at the history of the American presidency. According to Buccieri, the company’s conversations with Clinton “solidified” after he participated in its HistoryTalks event in February alongside another former president, George W. Bush. “We’re breaking the episodes with him. He is a fully hands-on executive producer.”

With its new lineup, “we’re able to give clients visibility all the way out to third quarter of next year, with a pretty stable schedule,” said Peter Olsen, evp of ad sales for A+E Networks. “In the sea of unknown, we’re a bit of a known, and that’s a pretty big alternative to what a lot of our competitors now are facing.”

‘Some version of normalcy’ already returning

A+E Networks had quietly shared programming news with advertisers as part of its Upfront Showcase portal, which rolled out in March, and is now going public as the marketplace has picked up in the last two weeks, after many advertisers canceled or postponed spend in the immediate wake of the pandemic.

Olsen said more money is coming in, and clients are taking a smaller cut of their third-quarter cancellation options (negotiated during last year’s upfront) than the company had initially feared.

Upfront dialogue has increased “dramatically” in that time, said Olsen, as clients finally start to think about long-term buying and not just short-term triage as the pandemic shut down the country. “I wouldn’t call it ‘normal,’ but it’s some version of normalcy.”

Echoing other media companies, Olsen said A+E Networks will be “very flexible” working on deals with clients in what will be a staggered upfront marketplace, with some brands operating on a more traditional upfront timetable while others shift to a calendar upfront.

This year, nothing will be “set in stone,” said Olsen. “As we look forward, there’s still a lot of unknowns out there from the economy and our clients’ businesses, so we’re happy to put that flexibility out there along with our content stability from an ad deal standpoint.”

While the company is seeing interest in “audience discovery” offerings using Precision, its audience-based targeting platform, Olsen said performance outcome-based talks (centered around its attribution platform, Performance) will likely be on the backburner this upfront, given the economic uncertainty of what will happen as the country emerges from the pandemic.

For now, “I think clients are looking more now to, ‘I just want to get my business back on solid footing,’” Olsen said. “That’s why we’re stressing this stability and being a trusted value partner.”

New content slate

In addition to the Clinton docuseries, History ordered two more presidential miniseries executive produced by presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, following Washington, which aired in February, and Grant, which will debut May 25. Next up is Lincoln, then Theodore Roosevelt, the latter of which is being executive produced by Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way production company.

The network picked up a second installment of its The Men Who Built America miniseries. Also executive produced by DiCaprio, this will look at the rise of industrial titans such as Walter Chrysler, William Boeing and Howard Hughes.

History is working with food author and TV personality Adam Richman on Season 2 of its nonfiction series The Food That Built America, and also signed him to host its new show American Made, about how various noteworthy U.S. inventions were created.

Lifetime has 50 new movies on tap for the rest of 2020, and has new projects with Jamie Lee Curtis, who will star in and direct How We Sleep at Night: The Sara Cunningham Story, about a devout Christian coming to terms with her son’s homosexuality; Robin Roberts, producing A Home of Their Own, the latest movie under her Robin Roberts Presents banner; and Betty White, who will star in an untitled holiday movie as a Christmas bootcamp drill sergeant who may or may not be Mrs. Claus.

Lifetime is in preproduction on another 50-60 movies, said Buccieri, and the company has also acquired more 20 other movies that will make their premieres on Lifetime.

A&E has ordered 160 more episodes of its hit unscripted series Live PD and picked up a new live series, What’s It Worth? Live, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, in which people learn the value of their personal treasures.

Live PD, which is already back in production, has adapted to the pandemic “because it’s live, because we can be very nimble with the show,” said Buccieri. Recent episodes have featured guests such as Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who spoke about the Covid-19 crisis.


@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV/Media Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.