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History’s Still in the Making for Dubuc

5/09/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

History is hoping to build on its 30% first-quarter 2011 ratings increase with a slate of new original series and
specials announced last week during its New York upfront presentation. Nancy Dubuc, president and general
manager for History and Lifetime Networks, talked with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas
Umstead about History’s ratings success, led by top hit Pawn Stars.

Dubuc also addressed Lifetime’s new slate of shows as well as the network’s strategy to turn around its ratings
woes and ward off competitors trying to reach the network’s core female viewer base.

MCN: There’s no question that History is on a ratings roll,
having posted a 30% total audience increase during firstquarter
2011, compared to the same period last year. Why
is the channel connecting so well with viewers?

Nancy Dubuc: This has been an endurance race for History
— it’s not one show or one year, but we’re at a moment where
the performance is so undeniable that we’re getting a lot of
attention for that. This has been a slow and steady climb
over the past four or five years, and we’re doing that on the
backs of our programming. We have the largest amount of
original programming among the top echelon of cable networks,
and we challenge ourselves over and over to offer our
viewers something that they aren’t seeing elsewhere. We
really tapped into the authenticity of our voice by showing
people shows that they can’t get elsewhere, and that’s created
one hit after the next.

MCN: While viewers may not be able to actually see Pawn
Stars elsewhere, are you concerned about all the History
copycat shows on other networks?

ND: There is a lot of copycat programming — it’s a problem
and a challenge in our industry right now. I understand
there’s a business strategy to copying, and it’s a valid one
for some, but I don’t think it’s good for us to be doing that as
an industry. I don’t think it’s good for the production community,
the audiences or for our business overall — and it’s
boring. All I can do is my part and forge ahead and define
the landscape, set trends and create genre-defining and
appointment-viewing programming.

We challenge ourselves to not copy ourselves. If I were a different
cable executive and had Pawn Stars, it wouldn’t be uncommon
to see 14 versions of the same show on the network.
But shame on us if we can’t learn from history — we’ve seen
that mistake being made over and
over again by our competitors and
networks where you take a good
thing and beat it to death. We’ve
always made sure that we’re talking
to as many different constituents
who are passionate about
History as we are. That’s been evidenced
by growing every segment
of the audience.

MCN: Given History’s current ratings
success, are you concerned
about being able to match that
success with the new lineup of
content coming out?

ND: Of course. We’re all in the
year-over-year gains game, and
it’s a tricky one. I don’t think
we’re on a trajectory that will
continue to grow 10%, 20% or
30%, like we’ve seen in the last 18
months or so, but in some ways
the biggest challenge is staying
on top. In that respect, I take a
lot of inspiration from A&E [Network]
in that they’ve had seven
straight years of growth, which
is phenomenal. It can be done,
but it has to be done methodically
and strategically. But first
and foremost, it has to be done
creatively, and I think we do that
with the breadth and depth
of what we do.

MCN: What I don’t see on
the development list are
scripted series. Given your
experience with The Kennedys
[History commissioned
the miniseries but opted
not to air it; ReelzChannel
recently premiered it], will
you look to get back into the
scripted arena?

ND: Absolutely. We’re getting
close on some things,
but I’m not ready to announce
right now.

MCN: Were you surprised
with how The Kennedys
eventually performed on
[ReelzChannel]?

ND: No, not at all.


MCN:
Let’s turn to Lifetime.
The network’s upcoming
slate of programming will triple the amount of unscripted
hours for the women’s-themed network. Do you feel
that, under your oversight, reality and unscripted fare is
where Lifetime will live, more so than scripted?

ND: No, I don’t think that’s where we live. The programming
team has basically been in place for 10 months,
and to push almost 200 hours
of new programming into the
pipeline in that time — not
one thing on any of the lists
was in development when
we joined — is pretty outstanding.
I think scripted
development is a longer-lead
genre that’s obviously more
economically challenged, not
only in the program [development]
area, but in the amount
of marketing you have to
build around the programming.

Unscripted has a faster
production cycle to it, so I
think you’re seeing a heavier
amount of that on this
pickup. It’s undeniable that
women — especially those
18 to 49 — are watching a tremendous
amount of unscripted
programming, so I think if
we’re going to be able to offer
women the breadth and depth
of the variety that they want,
then we’re going to have to play
here. We have one of the top reality
shows on cable in Project
Runway
and we would not be
responsible if we didn’t look for
ways to build on that.

But scripted has always
been our heritage and scripted
needs to be our legacy — it’s the
genre-defining element of our
schedule that will differentiate
us from our competitors.
We’ve been known for scripted; we’ve been very successful
in this area. We also have three of the most-watched
movie premieres of the year, as well as the No. 1 drama in
cable with Army Wives, so we’re really excited about building
on that success. We’re also doing more movies than
we’ve ever done before.

MCN: If we were talking at this time next year, what type
of ratings expectations would you have for Lifetime?


ND:
I look for absolute numbers that show the network is
trending in the right direction. I’m looking for stability
and consistency over anything.

MCN: A lot of networks are targeting female viewers.
Do you feel that, given Lifetime’s new development
slate, the network can remain the leading network
among female audiences?

ND: There is a lot of competition out there, but we’re aggressively
building on the triple-threat programming
approach — scripted, movies and reality. This is a brand
that has one of the most loyal, passionate and determined
audiences out there. We have an advantage in
that we have that brand and we have that heritage with
the viewer, and we know that when we put great product
out there, she comes and she comes in big numbers. We
just have to make sure the volume is there.

September