A+E Networks CEO Sees Room for Two-Hour Drama Episodes Each Week

Nancy Dubuc - H 2015
Courtesy of A&E

Nancy Dubuc - H 2015

"I know that when I'm watching a drama that I love, I'm disappointed when it's over at the end of an hour," Nancy Dubuc told THR.

Cable TV already does two-hour movie events as season premieres and finales.

But A+E Networks president and CEO Nancy Dubuc now sees room for two-hour drama episodes airing week-to-week in an age of binge-viewing. "I know that when I'm watching a drama that I love, I'm disappointed when it's over at the end of an hour," Dubuc told The Hollywood Reporter after giving a keynote address at the Banff World Media Festival.

"Storytelling takes many forms and even feature-length storytelling is often 90 minutes or two hours. There's nothing stopping us from trying to do that on a week-to-week basis," she added.

Binge-viewing is widely considered the domain of Netflix and other streamers. But Dubuc said cable TV created the phenomenon by airing repeats and marathon runs of popular shows. "Other businesses saw that behavior and understood it," she noted.

Dubuc said it's early days for A+E Networks to consider two-hour drama episodes, with no defined creative storytelling structure yet in mind. "You would see story arcs go over two hours, so it would put more pressure on the A story being truly A, but the B story would have a chance to be as elaborate as the A story, and you could work on multiple storylines over a longer period of time," she said.

Dubuc said a two-hour drama episode would enable screenwriters to avoid shoe-horning what might be 60 minutes of content into 44 minutes driven by the clock. The A+E Networks head, who oversees top U.S. TV brands such as History, A&E, Lifetime and LMN, also discussed their role in the global scripted and unscripted TV landscape at the Canadian Rockies media festival, with cable unbundling threatening on the horizon.

"You have to follow the consumer, and the consumer will be in control," Dubuc said. But given the value of the current cable offering, she predicted a "rebundling" of programming content, rather than wholesale cable unbundling.

Top A+E series on those channel brands include Vikings, Bates Motel, Pawn Stars, Storage Wars, Dance Moms, Duck Dynasty and The Bible.

At the same time, cable unbundling or rebundling will spur an industry shakeout. "Some portfolios will end up winning and some portfolios will not. There are channels that are going to go away, no question," Dubuc said.

As a result, A+E Networks is working to ensure top brands like History and Lifetime are in every cable package and growing brands like FYI, H2 and LMN will appeal to subscribers that eventually choose skinny basic packages. The Banff World Media Festival continues through Wednesday in the Canadian Rockies.