Posted in

A+E: Cultivating advertising growth within a unified footprint

Cynopsis Media's first morning lecture
Wednesday May 1, 2024
A+E’s ‘Community Garden’ thrives on multi-platform innovation

By EB Moss

There is a rule that to reach consumers in our fragmented media environment, content must be available everywhere. Many media companies have tried to do this by making costly investments in dedicated streaming platforms and exclusive content deals. But one high-profile company is turning heads and boosting sales with a different approach. A+E has created a far-reaching yet unified ‘A+E Everywhere’ ecosystem. Although their content runs across numerous touchpoints – linear, MVPD, vMVPDs, FAST channels and more – they consciously chose to skip their own streaming setup.

Even with this deliberate strategy, the media brand has achieved staggering scale, reaching nearly two-thirds of U.S. TV viewers every quarter. “We took a gamble years ago and it paid off in a big way,” explains Stacie Danzis, Senior Vice President, Digital Ad Sales.

Danzis described their distribution approach as a “common garden” – which runs counter to the way some competitors shield content. For those who have streaming services, she says, “It’s difficult to keep their content pipeline fresh and extensive, stay competitive with subscription prices, push viewership to an advertising level, let alone the cost of buying sports rights. Using the community garden approach, we have seen great success and growth – especially with CTV and FAST – expanding from 10 to 15% across all major demos this year.”

Another plus: Since the company controls the lion’s share of their inventory everywhere, A+E can offer partners the reach and branding of traditional TV, the targeting and measurement capabilities of digital, and increasingly sophisticated results guarantees.

Unique target groups and experiences

Particularly exciting for Danzis is that A+E’s community garden approach also unlocks ‘unique’ possibilities – and unique opportunities for customer activations across the broader video ecosystem. “By putting our content in as many places as possible, we have little audience overlap… almost like a mini aggregator. For example, if you watch vMVPDs, we know that if you’re a Philo lover, you probably don’t also watch Sling or DIRECTV. So when you add up all the different endpoints we’re working on, it’s a lot more than ‘1 + 1 = 2.’ It’s a ‘1 + 1 equals a lot.’”

Combine this ‘Everywhere’ ecosystem with owning over 2,000 hours of custom premium content this year alone and it allows for more flexibility and latitude to be more creative around sponsorships.

She gives an example from last year’s holiday programming about their female-oriented brand Lifetime. Princess Cruise Lines was able to expand its reach through a multi-faceted sponsorship, ranging from a digital vacation hub featuring a custom travel guide with editorial commentary on cruise destinations, to a rich media film playlist of travel-themed holiday films. The media also included prominent integrations, a curtain raiser, credit crunch and even social carousel posts that promoted vacation cruise destinations while being front and center.

FAST innovations

Since A+E launched FAST early, the company has nearly doubled the number of channels since last year, with plans to add up to 50 channels in the coming year. Danzis says: “It was great to see the performance and how the audience found and adapted to all our channels. We really enjoy being able to offer our library content and retro shows, while also offering current shows in a different way that is contextually relevant to our audience’s passion points.”

She gives the example of some shows and verticals that have been successful year after year, season after season, that people can’t get enough of, such as curated channels like Crime360 and Lifetime Movies and even stand-alone series like Mountain Men or Storage Wars. These are all top performers. “They just knock it out of the park. Our curated channels also attract different audiences, whether they are car enthusiasts or crime enthusiasts.”

Taking sponsors along for the A+E Everywhere FAST ride, she describes how Dance Moms is back “in a major way” after a hiatus. The reboot kicked off in April with a new streaming hub, followed by a two-hour reunion special on May 1 and more than 11 hours of new digital content, including in-depth midform exclusives featuring the cast of Dance Moms on the set of the reunion.

The breadth and distribution of the Dance Moms FAST channel on Roku, Samsung TV Plus and Plex were a major deciding factor for Maybelline before signing on as a title sponsor of the fan favorite IP. A+E creatives built a multi-platform experience, including sponsorship of exclusive digital content across Lifetime apps, website and YouTube. Maybelline was also the launch partner for the Dance Moms streaming hub that launched in April; and was featured in custom social videos with talent recreating the looks from the show on Tik Tok, Instagram and Facebook.

For Maybelline and others, Danzis adds, “Our ownership and distribution model allows us to provide diversity, or be as targeted as possible with all those different components.”

Transparency and ownership benefits

In addition to the benefits of being everywhere – and wherever the customer wants to be or doesn’t want to be – A+E’s inventory ownership means they can provide information about where exactly ads are running, on which platform and network, and of course which show. This is especially valuable in a media world full of concerns ranging from brand safety to measurability.

“We know that when customers go to aggregators or even large portfolios, they may not know what percentage of their media is actually running on a particular network publisher, or even running in content rather than just being on a homepage,” says Uit Danzis. “However, if you work with us, it’s not a problem as we own all our content and all the IP associated with our shows. So we are proud that we can offer transparency and that we are open and honest.”

Because KPIs vary from customer to customer, it is also crucial that we can sell efficiently and easily across all touchpoints. So the company is very focused on programmatic advancement – ​​from an agency or partnership perspective and also in their reseller business. “We’ve seen tremendous growth in programmatic purchasing, not only because it’s automated and sometimes simpler, but also because of the audiences people want to reach.”

“But,” she adds emphatically, “we want to make sure that we offer all our clients, especially on the agency side, purchasing paths that make sense for them. So we not only sell direct IO activities, but we also sell programmatic guaranteed deals, biddable guaranteed deals and certainly a lot of growth in PMP: buying their media in the way that suits their customer. We are also not a company that reserves specific inventory available for our programmatic marketplace. It is available to everyone. We welcome every purchasing process.”

Basic reason

In addition to the appeal of transparency and the fact that the purchasing journey is agnostic, A+E Everywhere’s footprint equates to an audience scale that can, as Danzis puts it, “play with the ‘big 4’. We reach two-thirds of U.S. adults through our linear and digital platforms,” Danzis noted. “That is a scale comparable to that of larger partners, but with the agility and customer focus that dwarfs smaller players.” It should also be noted that while ad-supported streaming tiers have generated buzz, their actual video ad impressions to date remain relatively small compared to A+E’s substantial combined audience footprint.

So yes, most major advertisers should and will continue to invest in the biggest media players, but Danzis argues that adding A+E to the mix creates a powerful balance and cost efficiency. “Our scale can compensate for the high prices you encounter with streamers in those mega deals. And our advisory service from specialist teams such as digital, programmatic, precision and performance and advanced analytics adds even more value.”

A+E’s continued goal to be everywhere and offer something for everyone? Make it easy for their advertising partners – from measurement to the ease of understanding new currencies, from frequent innovations to enabling reach and frequency. And to always keep their finger on the pulse of what is going on, so that they can continue to innovate to advance their customers’ businesses.