A+E Networks Upbeat On Upfront Given Less Exposure To Sports, Scripted

Peter Olsen, president, Ad Sales, A+E Networks, is optimistic about the company’s prospects and progress in the advertising market given its programming mix and a continued belief in the potency of television.

“We’re seeing that a lot of our partners still are very much believers in the power of television as a platform, and we like our positioning relative to others in the marketplace,” he told Deadline in a brief interview.

A+E made a series of upfront announcements Thursday about its programming plans across networks including A&E, History and Lifetime, ordering 160 new episodes of the juggernaut Live PD. The company’s customary upfront presentation, planned for March, was wiped out by COVID-19.

The privately held company, a joint venture of Hearst and Disney-ABC Television Group, has seen its networks’ linear ratings rise during the spring’s coronavirus lockdowns. Outside of this period, though, ratings have been eroding in keeping with the overall trends of time-shifting and cord-cutting hitting all pay-TV programmers. Unlike other companies trying to sell ads during the pandemic, though, the company’s programming emphasis on unscripted fare and not sports or costly scripted titles, is an advantage in Olsen’s view.

Olsen did not want to address results in specific ad categories. Across the industry, areas that have remained steady with marketers across many TV networks, despite the impact of COVID-19, have included insurance, financial services and packaged goods. Other large chunks of the marketplace, including travel and hospitality, have seen a major pullback. Given the absence of live sports and production, many analysts see a hole as big as $10 billion or more opening up in the $70 billion overall ad business.

Olsen sees upfront selling remaining an industry custom, though it may look different moving forward. “I think there will still be a summer and fall upfront,” he said. “Buyers are still looking for ways to secure their messages and that’s something that television delivers.”

A+E Networks’ sales strategy remains focused on audience targeting, Olsen noted, and the company was the first in the TV industry to offer advertisers guarantees on business outcomes from their spots.

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