A+E Networks Chief Takes Swipe at Digital Players Crowding Into Upfront Season

Nancy Dubuc and Mark Wahlberg
Nancy Dubuc and Mark Wahlberg
 Larry Busacca/Getty Images for A+E Networks/Courtesy of A+E Networks

"If AOL, Google, Netflix, Amazon and Yahoo felt TV was dying, they would not be so eager to play in our sandbox," said CEO Nancy Dubuc. "It is, after all, TV content that's driving their business."

NEW YORK -- A+E Networks executives stressed their commitment to original content -- they spend more than $1 billion a year on programming -- at the company's annual star-packed upfront presentation in New York on Thursday evening. And CEO Nancy Dubuc took a pointed swipe at all the digital players with original content crowding into the upfront selling season this year.

Pointing to AOL's "Is TV Dead?" spot, Dubuc noted: "It seems to be the new favorite storyline at the NewFronts, OutFronts and whatever other Upfront wannabes are out there.

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"I am here to tell you, TV is not dead. Rather, it is constantly evolving as we are. My view is that we are in the next Golden Age of content. If AOL, Google, Netflix, Amazon and Yahoo felt TV was dying, they would not be so eager to play in our sandbox," continued Dubuc. "It is, after all, TV content that's driving their business."

With flagship networks A&E, History and Lifetime boasting 14 series averaging more than a million viewers in the 25-54 demo, the goal is to grow still nascent H2, LMN (Lifetime Movie Network) and FYI, which launches in July and replaces BIO.

"My vision for a distinct, powerful and premium six-network portfolio is driven by our continued investment in original programming," said Dubuc.

To that end, History is doubling down on scripted content. The network recently picked up a third season of Vikings and will bow the Adrien Brody miniseries Houdini this fall. Other projects in the pipeline include the eight-hour Revolutionary War miniseries Sons of Liberty; the World War II limited series The Liberator; Texas Rising, about the formation of the Texas Rangers lawmen; and an adaptation of author Nathaniel Philbrick's The Last Stand, about the battle for the Little Bighorn.

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Meanwhile A&E, home to the still top-rated Duck Dynasty, earlier this week announced a slate of unscripted series that includes Love Prison, an extreme online dating show; Dogs of War, which follows a couple who run a nonprofit that pairs military veterans suffering from PTSD with dogs; and Godfather of Pittsburgh, about an Italian-American night club impresario.

At the presentation at the cavernous Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan, Imagine Vampire Weekend played a lengthy set and many of the networks' stars were in attendance, including Mark Wahlberg, Katheryn Winnick, Heather Graham, Vera Farmiga, Willie Robertson, Tim Gunn, Brendan Fraser and Susan Lucci.

Wahlberg, who is an executive producer on A&E's The Wahlburgers, about his family in Boston, introduced Dubuc by showing a clip from the show featuring his mother dressing down her sons.

"As you can see from our relationship with our mother, Alma, my brothers and I are used to getting bossed around by a strong, opinionated woman who likes to be the center of attention," said Wahlberg, before adding, "That is why it is my great pleasure to introduce another one of those women."

Dubuc cracked: "I love it when a man knows his place."

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