Realscreen’s “Real Deal” Q&A: Nancy Dubuc of A+E Networks

In 1997, realscreen published its first issue. Over the past two decades, we’ve charted the evolution of the non-fiction content industry, chronicled the rise of reality, and explored the emergence of new ...
November 10, 2017

In 1997, realscreen published its first issue. Over the past two decades, we’ve charted the evolution of the non-fiction content industry, chronicled the rise of reality, and explored the emergence of new platforms aplenty. In honor of 20 years of realscreen, we’ve rounded up several top producers and network execs to discuss the evolution of your industry, from their perspectives, in our Real Deal Q&A series.

Nancy Dubuc
President and CEO, A+E Networks

It’s a time of flux for the content industry with the advent of SVOD, and more platforms entering the original content space. What is the biggest challenge for network executives such as yourself in this new paradigm?
There are myriad answers to that. The biggest challenge is making sure we’re embracing the change, walking the tightrope of the paradigm shifting, and managing current business with balancing a lot of the adoption and investment we’re making in digital. By no stretch do any of us have our heads in the sand. It’s about figuring out which new areas of growth to embrace and how to deploy capital around those areas, while managing the core business which remains very healthy and profitable.

As someone with roots in the production world, and who has been greatly involved with it as a network partner for two decades, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing the unscripted production community today? And what’s the biggest opportunity?
If I were in the production community right now, I’d really be pushing for a greater understanding of executing different formats and different genres — meaning some of the originals that we’re seeing in OTT and some of the originals distributed via some of the social platforms. That said, the monetization capability for the content on those platforms is not going to look like the old cable model. So the challenge for production companies is not: “How do I take my cable production expertise and apply it to these platforms?” It’s: “How do I rethink my organization and the talent that I have within it, to adapt to those platforms where it’s appropriate?” There will be a greater need for production companies to be multi-faceted. It’s also challenging from a data standpoint: the more data that’s out there and available to bigger companies, the more challenging it gets for the people downstream who are actually creating the product.

What do you think the cable TV industry will look like in three to five years?
It’s probably going to look much the same. No one is denying that some change is coming. You’re going to have a “rightsizing” of an industry — it remains to be seen what that means. Obviously, brands with little value or relevance to consumers are going to have a hard time, and brands that can be seen as a very clearly defined category owner will benefit from a certain element of curating skills. If you’re a fan of history, you’re going to love what we offer up whether it’s a linear show, a podcast, or a social media feed. There’s a certain acceptance of brands as curators.

What has been the best unscripted or non-fiction program of the past two decades?
If I can say my own series, I think Intervention was one of the most personally satisfying shows we’ve ever done. It took incredible creative risk to do that; it took real support from the corporation to get behind it. And it was for the right reasons, as we can see with the show still being on and recognized by Emmy nominations and wins consistently.

As for one of the shows that changed the landscape and blew the doors off what could be considered reality, The Osbournes has to be referenced. That was the show that made everyone sit up and take notice of an out of the box way to execute documentary-style storytelling. I’d say the same about Laguna Beach… it was the simple act of slowing things down and absorbing the moment that brought viewers closer to the story. I think we’re ripe now for the same kind of reinvention: how do we get back to story? We’ve been in an era of outrageous characters and while sometimes they can deliver great story, they’re not always essential to it.

You’ve been with A+E since 1999. What words of wisdom would 2017′s Nancy Dubuc give to 1999′s Nancy Dubuc, about the industry and the opportunities and challenges inherent in working in it?

My flip answer would be “Take the job,” because I took the History job in 1999. But more importantly, everyone looks for answers — what’s everything going to look like in five years? The reality is there’s an awful lot of speculation and strategizing but you never really know. You have to appreciate the journey you’re on and be flexible enough to pivot. Especially in this business, whatever moment that you’re in, is only going to be a moment — it isn’t going to last forever. It’s an ebb and flow.

  • Our “Real Deal” Q&A feature first appeared in the September/October 2017 issue of realscreen magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.
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