Despite its modest beginnings in 1983 as a company with only two cable channels in the U.S., A+E Networks has evolved through the decades into a global content creator.
It is home to some of the best-known brands in the U.S. and around the world, including A&E, HISTORY and Lifetime. It offers scripted and unscripted programming on linear and digital platforms, which cumulatively reach 335 million people worldwide.
Telling compelling stories, whether factual or fictional, has been the lifeblood of A+E Networks. Consequently, owning IP and working with A-list creators have been top priorities for the company.
Paul Buccieri, who first joined the company in 2015 to head up A&E and HISTORY and then took charge of A+E Studios and management of the entire portfolio of brands, was named the president of A+E Networks in July of this year. He now oversees all of the company’s divisions, including ad sales, distribution, digital media, consumer products, A+E Ventures, A+E Studios, the unscripted label A+E Originals and A+E Networks International, which sells finished programs and formats around the world and operates 80 channel feeds in 200-plus territories, including A&E, HISTORY, Lifetime, H2, Crime+Investigation, FYI and the new entertainment channel BLAZE.
Among the many successful shows across the company’s brands are the critically acclaimed Intervention, this year’s hit Live PD—which takes viewers inside police departments and patrol cars in real time—The Curse of Oak Island and the drama Knightfall. A+E Networks has also updated and redefined the TV movie. Recent acclaimed movies were Flint, about the toxic water crisis in Michigan, and Cocaine Godmother, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Buccieri and his teams have also forged relationships with a varied group of creatives who offer different voices and perspectives on storytelling. Director Robert Zemeckis is executive producer of the upcoming series Project Blue Book, which looks at investigations into UFO phenomena. Robin Roberts, an anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America, is working on a series of TV movies and documentaries. Dick Wolf, of Law & Order fame, is collaborating on the nonfiction series Nightwatch Nation. Greg Berlanti is behind the suspense thriller YOU, and Jenji Kohan is working on the drama American Princess.
As Buccieri tells World Screen, super-serving viewers with innovative shows and growing the international and digital businesses are the keys to A+E Networks’ future success.
WS: What is A+E Networks’ strategy for keeping its brands relevant and fresh for viewers?
BUCCIERI: First, I’d like to say that I am very honored to have taken the helm of A+E Networks and to lead such an incredibly talented team of creatives. Through their efforts, they have built A+E Networks into one of the most powerful global media companies. Also, A+E Networks has long been home to pioneering brands that invent and redefine genres. We constantly evolve the viewing experience across all our brands and platforms. A+E Networks has never shied away from trailblazing storytelling.
As you noted, it’s critical to continually evolve and break new ground, as demonstrated by recent successes such as the factual hit Live PD, scripted series such as Knightfall, successful TV movies such as Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance and our U.S. hit The Rap Game, now in its fifth season, which BBC [Three] just announced as a format. We are concentrating on bringing quality content to our viewers and the market—content that spans multiple genres: factual, scripted, movies and formats.
Above all, it’s extremely important to me, as I take the reins of A+E Networks, to ensure that our brands continue to lead in the media landscape; that we continue to develop groundbreaking, sometimes forward-leaning series and experiences; and that we focus on international and digital growth. All of this will ensure that we continue to deeply engage viewers and satisfy our clients.
WS: Which shows best represent the A&E brand?
BUCCIERI: A&E has led the cultural conversation with Emmy-winning documentary programming that shines a light on the most pressing issues facing the world today, yielding global hits like Born This Way, Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath and Intervention. Those shows, along with Live PD and the recently relaunched Biography franchise, are great examples of the type of brave storytelling viewers have come to expect from us.
WS: How do you explain the runaway success of Live PD?
BUCCIERI: As the debate over the policing of America continues to be a part of the daily conversation, Live PD offers viewers unfettered and unfiltered live access to the country’s busiest police forces and the communities they patrol. It answers the call on all sides for transparency in policing. But I feel that Live PD truly succeeds because it allows viewers to see exceptional people and exceptional stories that are hidden in plain sight as they are unfolding in real time, and it gives viewers context from experts in the field. It also bears mentioning that with Live PD, A+E Networks has led a resurgence of live TV and revolutionized the genre. The result is a weekly technical and production achievement of which we are very proud.
WS: How do you decide to extend a program like Live PD to Live PD Presents: Women on Patrol?
BUCCIERI: Live PD has been very successful in giving communities an inside look at police departments and sheriff’s offices across the nation. With Women on Patrol we saw an opportunity to do the same, but with a focus on female officers on the front lines. In addition, Women on Patrol is the centerpiece of our unscripted “Justice for Women” night in the U.S. and fits perfectly into our larger Lifetime strategy of showcasing strong women in all our genres: movies, scripted series or, in this case, an unscripted docu-follow series.
WS: Tell us about the Dick Wolf nonfiction series Nightwatch Nation.
BUCCIERI: We had great success with Nightwatch, which follows the heroic work being done at night by the fearless first responders with the police, fire and EMT [emergency medical technicians] teams in a single city. Dick Wolf and his team, along with our partners at 44 Blue Productions, came to us with a great idea to supersize the franchise. In Nightwatch Nation, we expanded on the most engaging element of Nightwatch—our EMT first responders. In this evolved format, we are embedded with EMTs in four cities across America during the most dangerous and harrowing hours of 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. We also have access to 9-1-1 call centers in each city, which creates faster-paced and more comprehensive storytelling. We are extremely pleased with the results. The recent U.S. premiere of the new series is among our best launches across all key demos, achieving 40-percent growth over the final season of the original A&E series.
WS: Which shows best represent the HISTORY brand?
BUCCIERI: The HISTORY brand is a ubiquitous, always-on, multidimensional and, of course, cross-platform experience. We look at history past and present and endeavor to do so through a contemporary lens. Our signature slate of nonfiction series resonates around the world. We share stories of those who are inspired by history or intent on making history themselves—series like The Curse of Civil War Gold, Forged in Fire, The Men Who Built America, Alone, In Search Of and cable’s number one nonfiction series, The Curse of Oak Island.
This spring, we were also proud to bring History of Football to over 160 global HISTORY channels as a two-week roadblock of wall-to-wall football-themed programming leading into the FIFA World Cup.
Finally, we’ve had tremendous success with our scripted series such as Vikings and Knightfall; we are highly anticipating the upcoming Project Blue Book.
WS: Tell us about Project Blue Book.
BUCCIERI: We are thrilled to work with one of the world’s most talented and prolific filmmakers, Robert Zemeckis, who made Forrest Gump, Back to the Future and Contact, among many others. We love the vision he is bringing to Project Blue Book. The scripted series chronicles the true top-secret United States Air Force-sponsored investigations into UFO-related phenomena in the 1950s and ’60s. The series follows Dr. Allen Hynek—played by Aidan Gillen of Game of Thrones—a brilliant college professor recruited by the U.S. Air Force to spearhead this clandestine operation that researched thousands of cases, many of which were never solved. Each episode will draw from the actual files, blending UFO theories with authentic historical events from one of the most mysterious eras in United States history. The ten-episode first season of Project Blue Book comes to us from our own A+E Studios and will premiere this winter. Of course, we are very excited to roll out this series to the global market this MIPCOM.
WS: Which are the signature shows of the Lifetime brand?
BUCCIERI: With Lifetime, we’re focused on high-quality movies and scripted and factual series. We’ve had great success with our recent slate, such as the Emmy-nominated movie Flint, as well as Cocaine Godmother, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Faith Under Fire and Harry & Meghan. In 2019, we will premiere 75 original movies, some of which will be based on beloved book series from Jane Green, Victoria Christopher Murray and V.C. Andrews, among others, and will feature such renowned talent as Alyssa Milano and Kim Raver.
New scripted series include YOU from Greg Berlanti and Sera Gamble, and we are currently in production on a Jenji Kohan and Jamie Denbo series, American Princess.
Brand-definitional unscripted hits include Married at First Sight, Seven Year Switch and Married at First Sight: Honeymoon Island, which anchor a Real Love Tuesdays block in the U.S. Our big-character, big-talent wheelhouse is headlined by franchises including Dance Moms, The Rap Game and Little Women.
WS: How is Lifetime evolving the made-for-television movie?
BUCCIERI: We have evolved this valuable genre over the last few years to reflect even more what’s happening with women today. We are at such an important time in our history as it relates to women, and we want to make sure we are the ones to tell these powerful stories as only Lifetime can.
WS: Why do movies remain such an important staple for the network?
BUCCIERI: We have found that our movies resonate all over the world. Our movies reflect pop culture—real stories, real women, no holds barred. It’s important for us to tell these stories with great care and quality. We are among the top producers of TV movies, with nearly 35 years of making them, and we do not take this for granted. A+E has created an iconic space with which very few companies can compare. Above all, we know our audiences love them and are fully engaged. At the end of the day, we aim to continue to super-serve our audience.
WS: Tell us about the deal with Robin Roberts.
BUCCIERI: Robin is such an inspiring person with an incredible story of her own. We have partnered with her on a series of movies and documentaries centered on women who have made a significant impact in the world, and whose stories inspire and educate audiences. One project will center on Mahalia Jackson, a civil rights activist and gospel singer, and another on Kamiyah Mobley, a young girl who discovered she was kidnapped as a baby from a hospital in Jacksonville, Florida.
WS: Which other A+E Networks brands would you like to highlight?
BUCCIERI: We are excited about the great things happening at BLAZE, a new non-U.S. global media brand, which we have thus far launched in the U.K., Spain, Portugal, Italy and Africa. BLAZE reaches an upscale, primarily male audience with factual-entertainment programs. We aim to provide content that explores the extraordinary every day, elevating and celebrating real people and their stories—often big characters living remarkable lives on their terms. With BLAZE, we took a big swing. In a short time, we have seen solid growth in every market. BLAZE has been quick to cut through with a unique, strong brand, a clear programming proposition and a dedicated audience.
WS: How is A+E Networks reaching consumers directly, either with its digital services or through third-party skinny bundles?
BUCCIERI: We have been pleased with the progress of our OTT products and digital auspices overall. Through our strong digital team, we currently have two OTT products: Lifetime Movie Club, which super-serves our passionate fan base of Lifetime Movie enthusiasts; and HISTORY Vault, which opens our library of content to our fans, teachers, students, parents and history lovers overall. We have seen promising adoption of these offerings and are looking at different ways to grow them. Not as a replacement for the core linear and carriage business, but as a way to diversify and grow our reach while experimenting with addressing our fans differently.
WS: A+E Networks was among the first media companies to understand the value and growth potential of owning its IP. How does A+E Studios further that commitment to owning and controlling IP?
BUCCIERI: Owning our own destiny is part of A+E’s DNA. Since our inception, we have been resolute in owning our factual IP. In 2014, we launched A+E Studios to take ownership of scripted programming. We’ve had strong global success with our scripted projects out of the gate, from the epic retelling of Roots to the critically acclaimed UnREAL and the recent launch of Knightfall—greenlit for season two with the award-winning actor Jeremy Renner as an executive producer—as well as the upcoming Project Blue Book and American Princess. There will be many more great projects on the way.
We have been so pleased by the results at A+E Studios that we recently launched a similar studio to focus on unscripted content production. A+E Originals will develop and produce premium unscripted long-form content—series, specials and documentaries.
WS: Who are some of the creators and writers who have come to work with A+E? What creative freedom do you offer them?
BUCCIERI: We are proud to be in business with top-tier talent, such as Jenji Kohan, Robert Zemeckis, Jon Favreau, David E. Kelley, Warren Littlefield, Queen Latifah, Mark Hamill, Aidan Gillen, Michael Malarkey, Neal McDonough, Alyssa Milano, Kim Raver, Christina Ricci and Judith Light, among many, many others. A+E Networks emphasizes a talent-friendly, entrepreneurial spirit, which enables great collaboration, creativity and flexibility to filmmakers. We offer creative freedom to work on unique projects where content entertains, enthralls, connects with audiences on an emotional level, transports them to new worlds and makes them feel and think.
WS: What message does the studio want to send the creative community?
BUCCIERI: A+E Studios is in the premium-scripted business. We are highly selective in the projects we choose to develop and greenlight. We are in the business of establishing long-term relationships with top creative talent in front of and behind the camera by building consistency and trust with them and paying relentless attention to detailed execution. We work with our partners to deliver content for our A+E brands, as well as for outside networks and streaming services. We are extremely flexible; every deal is different and is structured to optimize the value of the project for all partners.
WS: Are you casting the studio’s net beyond English-language territories?
BUCCIERI: Opportunity is everywhere, and as a global company, we consider every option. There are wonderful, talented storytellers from all over the world whom we want to be in business with. There are so many places that are exciting to work with. We are currently in the thick of season two of Knightfall, a series with a multinational cast now filming in Prague. We are always looking to mine great stories from all over the world, and we are proud to consistently produce the type of quality television that contributes to the global prominence of A+E Networks.
WS: And speaking of international, how important are program sales and channel distribution to the financial health and growth of A+E Networks?
BUCCIERI: Every part of the portfolio is bringing something different, but, as one of the key growth areas for our business, international is critically important to the success of our company. In addition to our ever-expanding slate of quality content, we have also been pushing toward more wholly owned and operated channels so that we can invest in our brands globally and make those critical business decisions for our brands.
In the last few years, we have taken full or majority ownership and/or launched wholly-owned entities in Italy, Germany, South Korea and Japan. HISTORY is in every country around the world where local law allows and is one of the strongest global brands in the media landscape. Additionally, we launched a whole new brand to super-serve our male viewers, BLAZE.
We are constantly looking at viewing and technology trends. We are increasing our local productions, rolling out formats across the globe with a wide array of third-party channel partners and growing our digital footprint. All will help us accelerate growth.
Of course, our ties back to A+E Studios and A+E Originals remain strong as an integral part of our mission to own our content and control our destiny; one of the biggest manifestations for that is frankly to drive international growth.