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To say that A+E Networks is one of the biggest global entertainment media companies in the world is an understatement. The company, founded in 1984, owns six original cable television brands, including A&E®, HISTORY® and Lifetime®. The company reaches 330 million people worldwide, can be found in eight out of 10 American homes, and 500 million digital users are subscribed to the company’s networks.

Like all media companies, A+E Networks is under constant pressure to innovate. A+E Networks has found a strategic advantage by engaging its audience for innovation insight.

In a meetup hosted last week by Vision Critical in New York City, dozens of professionals who specialize in innovation, customer experience and marketing heard firsthand how A+E Networks uses customer intelligence to develop compelling products for its subscribers.

Representing the network at the meetup was Mariel Estrada, vice president of strategic insights, who joined me for an informal discussion. Mariel and I explored the big challenges facing the media industry and how A+E Networks uses a branded community of subscribers to make better business decisions.

A+E Networks at Vision Critical's New York meetup

Here are three business lessons shared by Mariel at the meetup.

  1. Listen to your audience community to get ahead of disruption.

The media business has faced tremendous disruption in the last decade as technologies like video streaming and mobile have changed consumer behavior. A+E Networks is acutely aware that it needs to listen to the wants and needs of this empowered audience and shape programming and distribution strategy accordingly.

One way A+E Networks gets closer to today’s consumers is by using A+E Viewer Community, an insight community of almost 15,000 subscribers. Mariel says that this five-year old “mega community” connects three targeted subportals for each of the company’s individual networks: A&E®, HISTORY® and Lifetime®. This approach means the company’s research department is able to conduct research within each of the individual portals or across the entire A+E portfolio, depending on the business objective.

The insight community allows A+E Networks to have an open dialogue with its audience in an effort to understand their habits, behaviors and attitudes—critical audience intelligence that helps inform the company to make more informed business decisions.

RELATED:   For more on how A+E Networks uses its insight community, check out the video Marketing 2.0: Lessons from A+E Networks, MarriotDigital and ESPN.
  1. Use audience intelligence in many aspects of your business.

Mariel revealed that A+E Networks’ insight community was first established as an ad sales tool. The ad sales custom research team uses the community to support initiatives for internal and external clients, whether helping to pitch new business or measuring the efficacy of sponsorships.

Eventually the insight community’s usefulness became evident to other departments in the company.  In the last year, the community has been instrumental in delivering insights for A+E’s digital product teams through usability testing. The company’s UX team has engaged with the community to test new products and updates to existing websites and apps.

Overall, the insight community is now integrated into the product team’s workflow, informing design, content and business decisions for the development of digital products across the A+E portfolio.

  1. Work with your audience to find new revenue streams.

To keep up with viewer fragmentation, media companies need to create and innovate around changing consumer behavior, ensuring their content carries across the viewing spectrum in ways they can monetize.

Last July, A+E launched the Lifetime Movie Club, a stand-alone subscription product for the Lifetime. Viewers subscribe to the Lifetime Movie Club for a monthly fee to access Lifetime Movies on their iPhone, iPad or Roku device. Viewers don’t need a cable subscription to use this product. The Lifetime Loyals insight community played an integral role in concept and product testing this idea. By engaging with its insight community, the company was able to answer key questions like “Is this something our viewers would be interested in?” “What do they expect to get out of it?” and “How much would they be willing to pay for it?”

Prior to launch, A+E invited Lifetime Loyalists to test the product and offer important feedback. The Lifetime Movie Club has been a great success—a new revenue stream helping the company monetize existing content that has been sitting in its library for years. It is paving the way for similar initiatives for other brands within the company’s portfolio, according to Mariel.


Just like many industries, the media business needs to innovate in order to keep audience members engaged and generate revenue from their content. In this dynamic business, A+E Networks knows that it needs to put the audience at the center of what it does in order to keep its edge.

“We’ve always been a customer-centric organization, so it’s important for us to understand consumer behavior and mindset,” Mariel said at the meetup. “Our insight community allows us to keep up with change and the expectations of our customers with invaluable data-backed decisions."

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