A&E looks to woo direct-to-consumer and smaller brands to TV

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A&E Networks is looking to woo brands that don't typically advertise on TV with a new tool that lowers the cost of entry and offers enhanced digital-style metrics. Dubbed "P1," the tool will allow small and mid-size clients to target audiences and optimize their commercial buys on a single network, and receive reports that are more akin to those they would get from a Facebook or Google.

Since the tool allows for optimization on one network as opposed to the full A&E portfolio, which is how these types of deals are typically constructed, the cost of entry is significantly lower at under $500,000, says Peter Olsen, exec VP, ad sales, A&E Networks. That's at least 50 percent lower than what it would cost for a marketer to do something similar across A&E's portfolio. Aside from the flagship channel, A&E's networks also include History and Lifetime.

The tool is meant to target a brand that wants to dip its toe in TV and see if it works, Olsen says. This applies to direct-to-consumer brands that have historically spent the majority of their marketing dollars on digital channels, as well as smaller brands that are part of larger companies that don't tend to get funding for TV campaigns.

Unilever, for example, has 100 brands, Olsen says, but only about 30 or so of them actually advertise on TV. P1 is meant to help these smaller brands test commercials and learn if TV can work for them as well.

The goal is to create awareness that TV is feasible, Olsen says.

A&E will work with clients to establish an audience target, identify proper placement for creative and assess the effectiveness of the campaign with metrics that matter to each client. It will also offer smaller clients attribution-based guarantees and in-campaign optimization; this means they will be able to strike deals on specific business outcomes like driving foot traffic or website visits, and alter the campaign based on real-time results.

A&E will bring P1 to the marketplace during the upfronts, when networks look to secure a bulk of their ad commitments for the following season.

The company will host its formal pitch to agencies and clients at Jazz at Lincoln Center on Wednesday night, where talent from each of the networks will appeal to media buyers for their ad dollars.

A&E says it wants brands to know it's listening to their concerns. The presentation will include a video interview with several CMOs, asking them what their biggest concerns are for media.

A&E, which was one of the first network groups to experiment with offering marketers guarantees based on business outcomes during last year's upfronts, will continue to lean into proving TV commercials drive results.

While last year A&E made some efforts to reduce commercial clutter on History, with plans to cut betwen two and two-and-a-half minutes of commercials from its premium scripted dramas and event documentaries, Olsen says demand from advertisers was soft.

"What we are starting to learn is those reduced commercial load things are very specific to specific properties," he says, adding that what might work in a broadcast drama won't necessarily have the same impact in an unscripted cable show.

It's worth noting that A&E Networks has the second-most onerous commercial loads of any cable networks group, averaging 13.7 minutes of ads per hour in the fourth quarter of 2018, up from 12.8 minutes the year prior.

A&E will continue to explore different ad formats and ad loads, but Olsen says "I don't think this is the be-all and end-all. The economics still don't add up to do this at scale and across the board."

Heading into the upfront selling season, A&E's viewership is up 7 percent year-to-date, averaging 992,000 viewers in prime time. It's top-rated show, "Live PD," is averaging just under 2 million total viewers and a 0.8 rating in the 25-54 demo. Lifetime has also seen its audience grow 3 percent in the same time frame, averaging 624,000 viewers. While History's viewership is down 3 percent year-to-date, averaging 1.15 million viewers in prime time.