Q&A: Abbe Raven
The TV exec has boosted her cable network portfolio -- and her influenceWhen Disney, Hearst and NBC Universal announced last month that Abbe Raven would run a new entity combining the assets of the A&E Television Networks with Lifetime, she instantly became one of the most powerful women in cable television. The 25-year A&E veteran, who is credited with turning around the network, oversees 10 channels in 145 countries, three of the top 12 cable brands and 15 Web sites.
The Hollywood Reporter: What did you take away from working with Patrick Swayze on "The Beast"?
Abbe Raven: I think there are times in your career, or in the life of a corporation, when you make decisions that are not just based on the bottom line. The decision that we came to when we knew that Patrick was ill was because we believed not only in the product but that his commitment to do this series was so important to him. While this might have been a risk for us if we went ahead, this became such an inspiration to everyone else who faces difficult times, still goes to work every day and gives it their all. Patrick really exemplified that, and the last year of his life, making this series, was indeed an inspiration to everyone.
THR: Where will the headquarters of the combined Lifetime/A&E be and how quickly will the unification happen?
Raven: How should I say this? We have always operated in both New York and California -- both companies. We will continue to operate in both for now. I think more importantly is how all of us communicate with one another. Different parts of the business are more New York-centric -- ad sales and such -- programming more in L.A. There's a mix of activities, and we have not made any plans yet in terms of location.
THR: Are there positions or functions that might become redundant or need to be restructured?
Raven: This is all a little premature, because literally the deal's just closed, so we're looking at how the integration will work. Our focus is on how we grow this business, so we will be looking at that and how we come together as one.
THR: Is there specific programming that you would like to see enhanced or changed?
Raven: We're committed to staying on-brand for each of the core services. If you look at the kind of creative energy that exists in each of the flagship networks -- A&E, History and Lifetime -- we are producing some of the most powerful hits in cable, whether it's "Army Wives" and "Project Runway" on Lifetime, "Ice Road Truckers" and "Pawn Stars" on History or "Gene Simmons Family Jewels" and "The First 48 Hours" on A&E.
THR: You're not concerned that Lifetime's image has become a little too bland or middle of the road? After all, you took A&E and History by the scruff of the neck and rethought them from top to bottom.
Raven: Lifetime already has taken a really strong direction and laid a great foundation with shows like "Drop Dead Diva," "Army Wives" and "Project Runway." Frankly, they have more of a platform to grow than what I had five years ago when we began that resurgence at A&E.
THR: You've got a talented executive at Lifetime in Andrea Wong. On what would you like to see her focus?
Raven: I think Andrea has done a terrific job in putting building blocks together to have a resurgence of Lifetime, and I think you see that in the past few weeks as shows have debuted. I absolutely expect her to continue to drive that resurgence.
THR: Is there anything about the NBC or ABC cable clusters or programming mix that could be of value in rethinking your own enlarged bouquet?
Raven: One of the beauties of a large bouquet is that you have the opportunity to cross-promote. I think that has benefited those networks. So now we come with three of the top 12 cable networks under one umbrella -- how powerful is that! We also have the opportunity to expand internationally. AETN is in more than 140 countries, and we have a very strong international business.
THR: Given the recent problems VH1 has had on the reality front, do you think anything needs to be done to rein in those risks?
Raven: Internally, you need to have strict standards and practices. I think one of the reasons that we've been so successful is that we take that very seriously. And we're very careful about how we deal with real life. I'm extremely proud that "Intervention" won the Emmy for best reality show. There's a real social message in a program like that. Out of all the people that we have profiled, 115 have remained clean or sober, and we have shed a really strong light on addiction that has changed people's lives.
THR: What's the biggest challenge facing the American cable industry?
Raven: Protecting our content and making sure our programming efforts are profitable and that we're not just giving away programming but rather looking at what revenue streams are applicable. For us at AETN, it's all about telling great stories, and the brands will absolutely stay specific to their own mission. Our brands will be enhanced, we'll have fabulous shows, we'll have expanded internationally and we'll have enhanced our consumer products business. There's a lot we can accomplish.
THR: You have a big History Channel project coming up. What's going to be different about yet another World War II doc?
Raven: This is WWII in HD. We found footage that has never been seen; we went to museums and historical societies, and in some cases they had reels and reels of film in their basement that they couldn't afford to digitize. We said we will digitize it and we will give you a copy to keep in your library or museum, but we will use this and share it with the American public.