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A&E Says Good-bye Granny

Retirees and those still climbing the corporate ladder are almost two separate species: they have different banking needs, different hobbies (only seniors proudly bind their furniture in plastic), and they watch different tv shows. After acknowledging the discrepancies between these two audiences - and the fact that its viewers were grayer on top than those it wanted to attract - us cablecaster A&E Network changed its scheduling tactics to target younger viewers, not Nonnas.
March 1, 2006

Retirees and those still climbing the corporate ladder are almost two separate species: they have different banking needs, different hobbies (only seniors proudly bind their furniture in plastic), and they watch different TV shows. After acknowledging the discrepancies between these two audiences – and the fact that its viewers were grayer on top than those it wanted to attract – us cablecaster A&E Network changed its scheduling tactics to target younger viewers, not Nonnas.

Many broadcasters are trying to do the same, but A&E’s results were enviable. Back in July and August 2003, A&E’s average viewer was 61 – its oldest months ever. But by September, 2005, that had dropped to 46 – its lowest ever median age, says A&E Network SVP of non-fiction and alternative programming Nancy Dubuc. It’s an even greater accomplishment considering that when A&E began making programming and scheduling transitions in late 2003, Dubuc says it was the second oldest-skewing network in cable [after Hallmark] – ‘not a great claim to fame.’

A&E used to try and win both households and the 25 to 54 demo, but VP of program planning Tom Moody says those missions often conflicted since an older audience – one that isn’t necessarily compatible with the 25 to 54s – can drive the household. When the network changed its strategy in October 2003, it set its sights on the 25 to 54 and 18 to 49 groups ‘and households be damned’ says Moody. Surprisingly, since the new programs were a success, household numbers hardly suffered.

Moody fueled the schedule with programs that would resonate with younger viewers. Since using an older-skewing show like Cold Case Files as a lead-in to youth-targeted series like Inked or Airline is incompatible programming, Moody rebuilt the network out night by night [see his explanation in sidebar] so he could construct a vertical night while keeping older nights intact. He knew a Biography profile on Jayne Mansfield could do huge household numbers, but Moody would instead air one on Simon Cowell (and throw in Paula Abdul to build a vertical night) because it would draw and keep much younger viewers (sorry, Nonna).

He says Biography was once A&E’s number one show – ‘our Rock of Gibraltar’ – but it’s slowly being shifted entirely onto the Biography Channel because it can’t compete with shows like Dog The Bounty Hunter, Criss Angel Mindfreak and Inked when it comes to attracting 18- to 49-year-olds. Whereas Biography used to inhabit five hours in the primetime sked, it’s now down to three.

Not to be forgotten, A&E’s daytime and weekend lineup also received a facelift: Family Plots and Airline are successful daytime staples that replaced older hours of programming. As the network continues to produce younger shows, Moody hopes to continue to ‘young down’ daytime and weekend. ‘Slowly but surely,’ he says, ‘the rest of the day parts will catch up with prime and we’ll have a network that can promote to itself on a more vertical level, night by night or day by day.’ A&E’s vertical daytime broadcast of an acquired syndicated strip like 24, for example, helps feed the younger Monday night audience, meeting Moody’s goal for daytime to speak to prime.

The programming and scheduling transformations naturally alienated a sizeable amount of the over-60 crowd, but Moody says that particular audience simply isn’t in A&E’s sales demo. An elderly couple settling in for a cozy night in front of the tube just isn’t going to watch teenyboppers get their asses tattooed on Inked. ‘Not that you want to turn viewers away, but we knew they weren’t going to come for this ride,’ he acknowledges.

The upside is A&E is all that much closer to reaching its goal of a mean age in the young to mid 40s. ‘Now when we talk about an ‘older’ audience, it’s 51 and 52; three years ago it was 65, 66,’ boasts Moody. Similarly, while Cold Case Files was the network’s youngest show in October 2003, it’s now one of its oldest. It airs on Saturday nights, which are programmed slightly older. It seems age truly is relative, and A&E keeps getting younger.

MONDAY
Airing: Flip This House, Rollergirls
56% female-skewing reality night. Says Moody: ‘We’re doing that so in 4Q when you have Monday Night Football, it’s counter programming – we’re going after the females available.’

TUESDAY
Airing: Dog The Bounty Hunter, King of Cars
An action-oriented reality night for both male and female viewers. ‘It takes advantage of a dearth of strong programs on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox – our biggest competitors on a night-by-night basis.’

WEDNESDAY
Airing: Dog, Inked, Criss Angel Mindfreak
The youngest, most male-skewing night in the schedule; all three shows skew 53% male. ‘You get a nice flow of young men on that night on a vertical reality play.’

THURSDAY
Airing: The First 48, Dallas SWAT
Median age is 43. ‘This is a strong drama night for networks like NBC and CBS, and we’ve counter-programmed that with hard-hitting, non-fiction crime series.’

FRIDAY
Airing: Biography, movies
Median age 51. ‘There’s not a lot of younger viewers to be had then… Biography is generally older, but now we’re not commissioning all titles on old, dead movie stars.’

SATURDAY
Airing: American Justice, Cold Case Files
Median age 53. ‘It’s one night we schedule a little older because it’s harder to get an audience with a young vehicle on Saturday. We take what we can get.’

SUNDAY
Airing: Intervention, CSI Miami (part of a syndicated deal)
Moody admits he rode fox’s marketing bandwagon for the return of 24, which he’s added to A&E’s primetime.

About The Author
Selina Chignall joins the realscreen team as a staff writer. Prior to working with rs, she covered lobbying activity at Hill Times Publishing. She also spent a year covering the Hill as a journalist with iPolitics. Her beat focused on youth, education, democratic reform, innovation and infrastructure. She holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from Western University and a Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto.

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