A+E Networks is closing the book on its long-running BIO network and replacing it this summer with FYI, a lifestyle-focused cabler the company said was meant to inspire younger viewers, in its first large-scale maneuver since Nancy Dubuc took over as chief executive of the company in June.
“The transition to FYI is the next phase in our strategy to bolster the A+E Networks portfolio by evolving and maturing our brands to allow for future growth in the rapidly changing media landscape,” said Dubuc in a prepared statement. “FYI will be an upscale network with a younger and more modern sensibility than what we’ve seen on traditional lifestyle networks, in an effort to appeal to an audience that has been underserved on linear but thrives online.”
By many accounts, Bio, which got its start as a home for the popular “Biography” series that ran on A&E, was thriving. At about this time last year, A+E issued a press announcement touting 2012 as Bio’s “best year ever across all demos.” The company said Bio saw its total viewers grow by 25% compared with 2011, while viewers between 18 and 49 increased 37% and viewers between 25 and 54 increased 30%.
But executives see a new opportunity. FYI is expected to lure a more upscale viewer and the company may see more room for growth in that demographic than it did for viewers of signature Bio programs such as “Celebrity Ghost Stories,” “The Haunting Of…” or “Citizen Hearst,” a documentary about William Randolph Hearst the network ran last April. The company said the Bio name would “continue to exist on various platforms throughout the United States,” while details about international networks running Bio programs would be released “market by market.”
A lifestyle network “could be a whole new space to occupy, and creatively very interesting.” said Jana Bennett, a former BBC executive tapped by Dubuc in June to run both Bio and Lifetime Movie Network and who will oversee FYI. Bio’s audience overlapped somewhat with other networks in the company’s portfolio, she suggested, while operating FYI will allow for “new types of programs that we wouldn’t otherwise do.” The maneuver will allow A+E to court new advertisers as well, she said.
The decision to shutter Bio comes as the company’s flagship outlets, A&E and History are top-tier cablers and its female-focused Lifetime is seeing audience growth. H2, an emerging network in the portfolio, is also building. Yet among rival non-fiction programmers, such as Discovery Communications, Discovery ID has had a rocketship ride over the last two years, which may have prompted A+E executives to consider whether investing in new content for Bio made sense when other opportunities to grow a different audience lay in the offing.
A+E said FYI is in “active development” on more than 30 potential new series , details of which would be made in 2014. Bennett said FYI would stretch across a number of topics, including travel, home, gardening, food and fashion. The network “is approaching availability in 70 million homes,” the company said.