MIPCOM ’12: Dubuc on ownership, originality and moving into scripted

As part of her MIPCOM Media Mastermind keynote conversation yesterday, A+E Networks' president of entertainment and media Nancy Dubuc discussed her evolving role as an "agent of change" for the network group.
October 9, 2012

As part of her MIPCOM Media Mastermind keynote conversation yesterday, A+E Networks’ president of entertainment and media Nancy Dubuc discussed her role as an “agent of change” for the network group, as seen through the lens of her leadership of the History and Lifetime brands.

Having begun her career at A+E Networks as director of historical programming for History, moving to various programming roles at sister net A&E and for what was then AETN, Dubuc took on the leadership role at History in 2007. Her ascent and that of the network has been well documented since, with one of the more recent feathers in her cap being History’s position as the number one cable network in the key demos of Adults 25-54 and Men 25-54 this past summer.

In her conversation with The Hollywood Reporter‘s contributing editor Elizabeth Guider, she shared some of the basic programming philosophies that she and her teams have employed to propel that upward trajectory. Among those philosophies: a strong desire to be first out of the gate with what’s new, and what’s next.

“I love history –I minored in history,” she said, explaining the move towards reality-oriented non-fiction fare that she oversaw upon taking the reins at History. “But I’m a TV person at heart. If you’re going to cut through… you have to figure out ways to be first. I believe first always wins.”

While programs such as Original Productions’ Ice Road Truckers are still referenced as the turning point for the network, Dubuc was quick to point out that there have been other landmark shows that have cemented its position, ranging from the program that kick-started the artefactual sub-genre, Pawn Stars, to the net’s first foray into scripted, the Thinkfactory Media-produced smash Hatfields & McCoys.

The choice to take on Pawn Stars, and “parallel develop” it with the Cineflix-produced artefactual hit American Pickers, was an example of another History programming team maxim, according to Dubuc.

“We spend more time asking ourselves, ‘Why not,’ than ‘Why?’” she said.

With Lifetime, the second A+E net she took on as president and GM at prior to her new position, all eyes will be on an upcoming scripted project, Liz & Dick, starring relentless headline-grabber Lindsay Lohan. Dubuc said the actress did “an incredible job stepping up” to the rigors of shooting a made for TV movie, and that the project, airing over the Thanksgiving weekend in the U.S., points towards Lifetime’s goals for the immediate future.

“Lifetime is a work in progress right now,” she admitted. “We need to welcome the Hollywood community both in front and behind the camera.”

But while drama has always been a staple of the Lifetime brand, and to some degree sister net A&E, its big, bold move into the schedules at History has had some wondering how many more scripted projects will make their way onto the net that made its name in non-fiction, with its next scripted project, Vikings, getting a nod during the discussion with the airing of a loud, suitably intense clip. “It’s important to note that drama is a part of what we do,” she emphasized, admitting that the genre can be a “compelling driver in the international community.”

Indeed, as the A+E Networks group continues its international push, with Lifetime said to be the next brand in line for more roll-outs across the globe, the question of the company’s stance on rights ownership takes on an added dimension. “Our goal is ownership,” Dubuc stated up front, while maintaining that the company makes it a point to be more “progressive” in its terms and relationships with producers, and highlighting another internal mantra – “producers [should] feel so good about working with us that we’re the first stop.”

On a related note, she also highlighted what she feels to be one of the industry’s current challenges.

“Somehow, we seem to be spending more time talking about the transaction that the creative,” she offered. “When that conversation comes before what’s a great show, the scales seem to be tipping in the wrong direction.

“Successful shows will always generate great business deals,” she reasoned, “because there’s leverage.”

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