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Upfronts 2018: A+E Networks heads to market with portfolio sales approach

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Upfronts 2018: A+E Networks heads to market with portfolio sales approach

A+E Networks is hitting the upfront sales market with a portfolio sales approach for the first time, selling across linear and digital platforms for all of its brands and experimenting with new ways to underscore the role TV plays in inspiring consumer purchases.

The company, whose roster includes networks A&E (US), History (US), Lifetime Television (US) and related holdings, as well as Viceland (US), announced in October that its sales organization would no longer sell inventory by brand via separate linear and digital groups. A+E Networks joins NBCUniversal LLC, 21st Century Fox Inc. and Turner Broadcasting System Inc. among programming groups that position their sales organizations to sell across their full portfolios on various platforms.

Peter Olsen, executive vice president of ad sales at A+E Networks, said in a recent interview that the alignment "makes us more flexible and opens us up to more clients whether linear, digital and/or social."

This year, A+E Networks also is wielding a multitouch attribution system created by analytics company Data Plus Math to show the role TV plays in driving consumer purchases. A+E Networks has completed one attribution test with a client in the first quarter, Olsen said, with three more coming on board in the second quarter.

While attribution will likely be a deal point in some of A+E Networks' upfront negotiations, Olsen said, it won't be used to guarantee buys: at least, not yet. "We're going to learn a lot by category and client this year," he said. "Down the road, I think you're going to see us and other companies do a number of deals based on this."

While big network groups such as NBCU, Fox Networks Group, Turner and Viacom Inc. are committing to reducing ad loads, Olsen noted that Viceland has been selling eight minutes per hour, about half as much as the typical broadcast or cable network. A+E Networks has also been presenting "enthusiast" blocks on weekends. The company has an outdoor block on History, with such shows as "Swamp People" and "Alone" that features short films from cooler maker Yeti, in lieu of traditional spots. Lifetime’s "Self-Made" block emphasizes health, wellness, beauty and fashion tips.

While the A+E network group wants to expand such offerings, they have yet to fully resonate along Madison Avenue. "Experimenting with new formats to enhance the viewing experience is something we encourage and continue to test and implement,” said Olsen. "It has been frustrating that, to date, advertisers have been hesitant to pay any significant premium at scale to better support these initiatives."

Traditionally, A+E Networks has sold some 50% to 60% of its inventory during the upfront, with variances among its three primary networks. History usually moves between 50% and 60% of its inventory, while A&E sells around 60%, according to Olsen. Lifetime, he said, is generally about the 70% level, as female-targeted categories tend to be more active during the upfront.

The company will engage in matrix analysis of pricing in April, as it assesses the market. Although it’s too early to be definitive, Olsen doesn't anticipate veering too much from traditional ratios. "We're not planning [to sell] a lot more or a lot less," he said, "but we’ll see how the market develops."