A+E International Boss Sean Cohan Touts "Strong Brands" in Pay TV Bundles

Sean Cohan, President of International, Digital A+E Networks
A+E Networks

He told the Banff World Media Festival that cord-cutting can be fought with TV content that breaks through the clutter.

Sean Cohan, president of international and digital media at A+E Networks, said on Monday TV viewers will prize strong brands and content that breaks through as the industry pushes towards skinnier pay TV bundles.

"If you make great content and your brands are part of the cultural conversation, then you will be highly visible and valuable to consumers and part of the key distribution bundles and platforms, including skinny," Cohan told the Banff World Media Festival during a panel on navigating a fast-changing digital media universe.

Hulu recently unveiled a new service with programming from CBS, Fox, Disney and Turner, Sling offers a rival service with around 30 channels, and AT&T offers the DirecTV Now service with more than 100 channels as part of its own effort to mitigate TV subscriber erosion. 

It's part of an industry-wide push to target consumers with no access to pay TV, have cut or want to cut the cord, or have no interest in signing up for linear pay TV. Against that industry backdrop, Cohan argued creating and delivering strong brands like his A&E History and Lifetime channels was key to engaging and retaining audiences.

"When you are part of the cultural conversation, you get your screen and you know that brand. It jumps out at you," he said of changing viewer habits. His comments came as TV execs in Banff this week debated how best to succeed amid an ever-growing maze of networks, streaming services and international producers getting into the TV game.

Jim Packer, president of worldwide TV and digital distribution at Lionsgate Entertainment, said his own and other content producers have to work harder to find the best programming and platforms to reach consumers as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon, and more recently Facebook and Apple, offer consumers their own original series or rival services.

"We will be able to continue to continue to grow our company and our creative, in spite of the fact that there's 500 shows being made. Of the 500, there's a lot of bad ones," Packer countered.

Raja Khanna, CEO of television and digital at Blue Ant Media, said Amazon and Hulu were following Netflix in offering cable TV-style content via online apps. "That's inevitable to me. It's just going to the same pay TV bundle, and it will be a better viewer experience and it will be integrated. And then it will be annoying to go to Netflix and they'll end up being integrated into these services," he predicted.

The Banff World Media Festival continues through June 14.