This year, A+E is celebrating its 20th year in the international TV business — and will do so at a party in Cannes on the Sunday before MIPCOM. The company’s first international channel, History, launched in the U.K. a few months after it first rolled out in the U.S.
And since then, A+E has significantly expanded its channel portfolio and its reach. Now there’s a History channel in over 190 countries and 39 languages.
When Sean Cohan, executive vice present, International, at A+E Networks, joined the company over 11 years ago, there were 19 channel feeds. Now they’ve got 75, not including the U.S., he said.
Many territories now have between two and six A+E-branded networks, which include HISTORY, A&E, LIFETIME, H2, FYI and Crime + Investigation.
There are seven channels in Canada, for example; four in Poland.
Originally, A+E networks were partnerships, but they’re increasingly becoming wholly owned subsidiaries. When A+E Networks launched its international channel distribution business, the company would enter a new market in partnership with local platforms, channel operators or media companies either through joint ventures or licensing partnerships. The company has begun transitioning some of these partnerships to wholly-owned subsidiaries, including A+E Networks Asia (formed in July 2013) and A+E Networks Italy (formed in December 2013).
And when it comes to content sales, the same is true. A+E launched A+E Studios in June 2013 and A+E Studios International, the banner under which they distribute scripted content, in October 2014, turning their attention to producing their own scripted content in addition to the reality content for which they’ve been known in the past. (UnREAL, which has a second season order in the U.S. is an example of a successful scripted show the company recently rolled out.)
“We’ve really evolved as content distributors,” said Cohan. They’ve tripled their staff sized and more than quadrupled their sales since he started over a decade ago, said Cohan.
The focus now: Driving format sales. So far, shows like Pawn Stars and Dance Moms have produced successful local adaptations around the world.
Among the biggest challenges for a company like A+E Networks in the current environment is competition. “The number of channel offerings has multiplied significantly over the years,” said Cohan. As such, there’s more competition for channel “real estate,” says Cohan.
The trick to standing out, he said, is all in branding, and having each channel stand as its own unique entity. “We don’t share a whole lot of content between channels,” he said. “In a world where there’s so much content out there, and viewers need to navigate, strong brands are like signposts. They help you navigate.”
“I think local pay-TV platforms see the value of us bringing new content-laden brands to the market,” he said. The most recent network the company rolled out was FYI, a lifestyle brand that launched in the U.S. in July 2014 and in Canada and Southeast Asia in the fall of 2014.
When Cohan started at A+E the big technology buzz, he said was launching channels in HD. “Now it’s all about the moves to on-demand viewing, time-shifting, and mobile viewing, and there are a lot of things that are uncertain.”
But Cohan is convinced that quality content insulates companies a bit. “The other thing is that you need to make sure you own the content. That’s always been central to our strategy,” he said. “The more platforms proliferate, the more important it is.”
Another challenge: Measuring this new type of viewing. “We work with vendors and advertisers to understand who’s watching and how they’re watching.”
Asked what he expects to happen in the next few years, Cohan said: “Content will continue to be polished and well made, but it’ll also come from all different places, so it’ll be democratized in some ways. I also don’t think you’re going to have 700 channels to choose from. I think there’ll be a shakeout a little bit,” he said.