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An Interview with Dan Suratt

Executive Vice President, Digital Media and Business Development at A+E Networks

Dan Suratt is responsible for all strategic, operational and editorial functions, business development efforts, digital distribution negotiations, and broadband and mobile elements for A+E Networks® including A&E®, HISTORY®, H2TM, Lifetime®, LMN® and BIOTM. Suratt leads many of A+E Networks’ digital partnerships with content aggregators and digital delivery services including Amazon.com, Hulu and YouTube. He also oversees A+E Networks Consumer ProductsTM division.

Under Suratt’s leadership, A+E Networks tripled its site traffic to more than 33 million unique visitors per month; launched TV Everywhere ® watch apps, which have had nearly 8 million downloads; saw 450 million Facebook plays of Pawn Stars: The Game; established Lifetime’s digital presence; and had incredible growth with A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” consumer products. He has garnered six Emmys®, induction into the Apple iPad Hall of Fame and a Webby nomination.

Suratt held leadership positions at Lifetime Networks until its acquisition by A+E Networks in 2009. Prior to joining Lifetime, he was the vice president of business and new media development at NBC Olympics.

Can you describe your role within the organization?

Dan Suratt: I’m the head of digital media and business development, and most recently consumer products. The role encompasses everything we do from a digital perspective, from our websites to our mobile ads, and from a consumer products perspective in terms of licensing products, whether it’s a t-shirt, coffee cup or our content to a third party like Amazon.com.

Digital is changing daily, but our greatest focus now is on distribution and making our content as available as possible. It involves creating syndication relationships and acquiring global rights, but also making content available through our own apps and websites. What you’ve seen over the past couple of years is the arrival of video online. We have talked about it for years and years, but it’s here now, and you can stream enormous amounts of content online. A+E Networks has been aggressive in putting its content out there to enable our consumers to see it whenever and wherever they want.

How important is mobile video for your brands?

Suratt: We have video apps for each of our top brands—A&E, HISTORY and Lifetime—and they’re available on iOS, Android and Kindle, and will soon be on other platforms. They’ve done incredibly well for us. We launched in December 2012, and we’re now at nearly 8 million app downloads. About 60% of our online viewing comes from the mobile apps. It used to be just the desktop or laptop, but now with the apps, we have made the content that much more available. We need to understand mobile and consumers’ consumption patterns better—it’s a different ballgame.

Is understanding consumers’ multiscreen behavior a profound challenge?

Suratt: Profound is probably the appropriate word. Wacky is the word I use. The engagement is incredible. People are almost twice as engaged on the apps as they are on desktops or laptops. Our apps have essentially given people the ability to watch what they want to watch if, for example, their husband or wife has control of the TV remote.

Can you talk about the business development part of your role?

Suratt: It involves a lot of licensing and partnerships. It might be a partnership with a game manufacturer or something with Google. I oversee those partnerships from a digital perspective.

What are the most important initiatives you have going on in that arena?

Suratt: It’s partnerships with the third-party platforms like Roku, Amazon.com, Apple TV or Samsung—basically all the places content can show up. One of the key points about content delivery to these platforms is the ability to authenticate. We have been in a world where content has either been free or behind a wall. As an industry, we have kind of staggered into TV everywhere. We have deals in place with an array of mobile and cable providers.

What are your three top business priorities?

Suratt: TV everywhere and authentication are No. 1. It’s about making content available on as many platforms as makes sense and getting our consumers to authenticate so they can get the full package. No. 2 is establishing our network brands across the multitude of platforms we currently have or that are available to us. That may mean delving into products that extend the brand and the ability of the brand to kind of travel away from video and into information. In that sense, brand extensions. No. 3 is figuring out the monetization of content across these platforms.

That’s really difficult right now because the consumption is there, but in a lot of instances, the dollars aren’t there yet. I’ve seen the eMarketer chart that shows the consumption level of mobile vs. the ad dollars there now. There’s a huge gap.

Given the challenges you have, how do you and your team tap into eMarketer data to set plans and make decisions?

Suratt: eMarketer provides us with the guideposts. You’re highlighting how things are emerging and how things are moving. For mobile, I looked at all your charts and just didn’t believe how big mobile was going to be. I now believe almost everything else you put out because of the mobile data and content.

My purview is domestic digital, so I look at anything in the database that applies to that. You recently had a report about UK online video consumption. That was an indicator for us because of the success of the BBC iPlayer—the UK was a little ahead of the US in terms of online video consumption. The UK got people there more quickly. It’s always a good thing to see how that market is moving.

When building the business case to deploy more resources against mobile, is it more about increasing budget or redeploying resources?

Suratt: It’s a little bit of both. I think it highlights to senior management the shift that is taking place. We were a traditional cable programming company, and now we’re much more of an overall media company. You have to meet your consumers where they are, and it’s a battle for their time more than anything. They could be playing with a mobile app instead of watching your video. You have to make sure that isn’t because you’re unavailable on platforms that have big audiences.

So how did you make the case for increased mobile investment?

Suratt: eMarketer was making cases for mobile growth in Q3 and Q4 2012. The stats proved that we needed to follow your data and other data much more closely. Again, when you see these mobile numbers you think it’s just not possible—people can’t be spending this much time on mobile. And then you see it and you’re like, “Oh—they can!”

Does senior management understand the need for it?

Suratt: I think having kids is probably the easiest way to demonstrate it to them. If you look at what your kids are doing, that tells you where this is going. I have two boys ages 12 and 9, and for them, there’s no difference between a broadcast network and a cable network. When they want to find something, they go to YouTube. If they want to watch a video to be entertained or learn something, that’s what they do.

What are the implications for your brands?

Suratt: The good news is we have unbelievable brands that really stand out. We have men with HISTORY, women with Lifetime and adults overall with A&E. So we are positioned as a company that spans the divide and can work in any of those demographics. We have a six-brand portfolio: A&E, HISTORY, Lifetime, H2, LMN and BIO. The more you can own your original content—which is critical—and the more brands you have, the better off you’re going to be. There are brands appearing online that are beginning to be real players.

My goal for the next two years is to have H2, LMN and BIO as available as Lifetime, A&E and HISTORY. I’d like to see their content available across as many platforms and consumed as much as the other brands. We need to do more work on that.

What comes to mind when you think of the eMarketer brand?

Suratt: Quality data. I honestly think of it as my morning wakeup. eMarketer’s daily newsletter is one of the most important emails I see in the morning because it gives me a sense of what the trends are and what I should be thinking about. I use the newsletter as a springboard into the database for the content I’m interested in.

What keeps you up at night from a business standpoint?

Suratt: As an industry, we are going through an amazing shift in terms of how content is consumed. What keeps me up at night is that if you’re paying close enough attention, you see there are more devices and platforms launching all the time. It means constant maintenance and updates. Nine months ago, we thought mobile was going to be 10% to 15%, and now it’s 60%.

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