Outlaw Tactics: Bonnie & Clyde Shoot to Kill with Simulcast

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Bonnie and Clyde Potrait 20.12.13

Ever complained that you have over 500 channels on cable but can’t find anything to watch? Last week, A&E networks took a gamble and lowered those primetime TV surfing options by three – simulcasting its two part miniseries “Bonnie & Clyde” on A&E, History Channel and Lifetime Sunday and Monday nights – a move that has generated significant buzz for the network.  Although the tale of the lawless American couple didn’t break any ratings records, it did put up solid numbers and is generating some broad commentary in the media – and not just because the subject matter lends itself to catchy title lines (see above). If miniseries themselves are a bit of a renegade player in the TV lineup, then simulcasting truly lives outside the law – making the combination of the two…well pretty much the television equivalent of Bonnie & Clyde.

 So what was the strategy behind the move? In part, the simulcast was positioned as an event in and of itself. “We aren’t in sports, we aren’t in live, so for us, events need to be self-made,” said Nancy Dubuc, president and CEO of A&E Networks. Beyond that, however, there are a few other interesting benefits behind the buzz about Bonnie & Clyde.

For A&E, the simulcast positioned the network to grow its somewhat niche target audiences. Lifetime is a channel that skews heavily female (77%), while the History channel has a high percentage of male viewers at 60% (A&E is more evenly distributed). Running the program on all three channels allowed the network (and advertisers) to tap into all those demographics. Not only that, but widening the target audience results in a broader spectrum of press coverage. Had the mini-series run only on the History Channel, it would have felt more like a documentary… meaning People.com likely would not have run this article on Life Lessons Learned from Bonnie & Clyde. Conversely, had it run on Lifetime alone, it may not have gained so much traction in industry press like Variety.

A&E is in an interesting spot of having two networks that skew strongly in opposite directions and that have two targeted personalities, which can be a roadblock in attracting new demographics. Running the same program on both reigns in some of the stereotypes that hinder the networks in  attracting new viewers. For example, for a woman who isn’t drawn in by the melodramas that Lifetime is known for, knowing that the program is also running on the History channel could go a long way in leading her to tune in, and expand her perception of the channel’s content. On the other side, having Lifetime and A&E in its pocket tempers the dry and documentary-heavy History Channel, giving new viewers a reason to take a second look.

Will we be seeing simulcasts regularly from here on out? Unlikely, as it takes a particular type of story to be able to run as a love story and a history piece allowing it to be successful on multiple specialized channels. Which is why so many producers just write the romance into the historical backdrop (Titanic, we’re looking at you). Moreover, running these regularly would take away from the novelty of the event. But the move certainly showcased a creative approach to generating crossover viewership for the networks and opened the door to new demographics for each.

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