One knock against AMC Networks as a business is that it may be too small to hold its own when it negotiates deals with cable and satellite distributors. But CEO Josh Sapan says he isn’t worried: With hit series including Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and The Walking Dead, pay TV distributors looking for opportunities to squeeze costs will find that “AMC Networks may have among the highest, if not the highest, value for penny [based] on what we put on the air,” he told investors this morning at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. Indeed, it may be worth questioning programming giants such as Disney, Fox, Time Warner, and Viacom “about where scale goes and whether all scale’s good.” Sapan credits on-demand technologies and services for changing TV viewing habits — especially for dramas — in ways that favor AMC. When someone wants to catch up with a series, “instead of having to find it on Channel 11 at 11 PM, you find it on demand and have the energy, time and attention” to enjoy it. Also, since viewers can tune in when they’re ready, they’re watching television “with more concentration and attention,” he says. As a result, programmers can “pay attention to a more nuanced story.” VOD also enables networks including the ones he controls to stick with shows long enough for them to find an audience. “Historically in broadcast television there has not been a lot of patience for understandable economic reasons….That [new] pattern is baked into a new paradigm of television.”
This is “a new, developing phenomenon,” AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan told investors this morning at the Barclays’ Global Technology, Media and Telecommunications Conference. Although advertisers still crave ratings points, they also increasingly want to reach people who say that “there are only two or three shows I watch and I live and die for them.” The trend is gaining momentum as viewers discover opportunities to binge view shows on pay TV, VOD and streaming services including Netflix and Amazon Prime. In addition, young viewers become obsessive about programs when social networks such as Facebook and Twitter help to connect them with others who share their passion. As a result, “that favorite stuff in media is emerging as the most important [driver] of value,” Sapan says. That’s encouraging for networks such as AMC — which has high-engagement hits with dramas including Mad Men, The Walking Dead, and Breaking Bad. But it’s hard to build a business around the trend: “Good dramatic TV shows aren’t known until they’re on,” he says. And nobody has perfect pitch. “There are many shows that have spectacular television pedigree and the show doesn’t work” while others from untested producers or stars “take off like crazy.” Sapan says he’s encouraged by his upcoming shows including Low Winter Sun (a police drama), Turn (about Revolutionary War spies), Halt & Catch Fire (about the computing boom in the 1980s), and Line Of Sight (a sci-fi drama the AMC chief calls “nuanced and exquisite”).
These look like interesting defensive maneuvers at a time when cable and satellite companies are threatening to drop little-watched channels. Sundance — which only reaches about 52M pay TV households — would seem to be vulnerable in some negotiations, although AMC Networks says it has recently completed long-term deals with Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. But AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan told analysts today that he recognizes the channel “is undernourished, in need of (investment) and rich in opportunities.” While execs offered few specifics, they noted that on April 22 Sundance will introduce its first fully owned scripted series, Rectify (from the producers of Breaking Bad), and that a second one will be coming as soon as next winter. There’ll be at least two scripted series in 2013 vs one in 2012. In addition, the company just announced that beginning March 4 Sundance will show the first four seasons of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Along with the Sundance investments, AMC is researching online distribution opportunities that “shouldn’t be confused with TV Everywhere” — the industry-wide streaming initiative — Sapan says. The goal is to become “educated and smart” in the possibility of distributing shows directly to consumers. “Think iTunes,” he says.
UPDATE, 11:00 AM: AMC Networks tells me that CEO Josh Sapan didn’t mean to leave an impression that he might help digital streaming services – and therefore promote pay TV cord-cutting — if Dish Network drops his channels. He really meant that he would only consider helping another traditional pay TV provider when he responded to a question about how he’ll deal with “other distributors who might want to capture subscribers who want access to (AMC’s) programming.” His answer: “We think that the potential absence of our service and services on any platform by definition creates a sort of competitive opportunity for another platform. It is a very competitive world for multichannel video. So we’ll watch it as it goes. Of course, we’re contemplating it and making all sorts of contingency plans.”
PREVIOUS, 8:40 AM: Talk about Mad Men, or even Walking Dead: AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan vaguely hints this morning that he might promote pay TV cord-cutting if Dish Network follows through with its plan to drop AMC, IFC, WeTV, and Sundance Channel in June. Sapan’s making contingency plans, and they apparently include offering more programming to a streaming service — in effect, encouraging consumers to cancel their pay TV subscriptions. Dish’s decision “creates a competitive opportunity for another platform,” Sapan says. “AMC is among the most critical services one can have to succeed” in pay TV and in the streaming world. “We’re in a fairly strong position.”
It was a pointed rebuttal to Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen’s damaging comment early this week that he plans to drop AMC’s channels because set top box data shows they have low viewership — suggesting that other pay TV providers also might consider them expendable. Sapan says that’s bogus. “We think today AMC in particular is one of the most popular services on the television dial.” The real issue, he says, is that Ergen wants to force AMC to scrap its 4-year-old $2.5B breach of contract suit which involves Dish’s decision
AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan told analysts at the UBS Annual Global Media and Communications Conference that he’s “exploring changing the mix of content on AMC” based on the recent success of its zombiefest The Walking Dead – and four non-fiction series he plans to introduce beginning next year. He wasn’t specific about how a revamped channel would look, though. “We’ll see how it goes,” he says. It’s easy to appreciate why he wants to shake up people’s perception of AMC. Pay TV companies currently pay about 25 cents a month for each home that receives the channel. But Sapan says that, with its many original shows, in a perfect world it’s “at minimum a 75 cent channel. …. We’re way underpaid.” He’s a realist, though, acknowledging that “we’re not necessarily going to get that tomorrow.” As a result, Sapan talked up his company’s efficient management of costs. For example, he says that his development costs are “modest.” Although it owns most of its non-fiction shows — “they’re not that expensive,” he says — for most of the shows on AMC “we have chosen not to 100% own.” Sapan says that ”it’s about risk appetite. … If a studio partner is going to come in and fund 30-odd percent of the cost, it’s sensible to de-risk that transaction.” Of course he has second thoughts about not seizing the chance to own AMC’s hit Mad Men. He wasn’t convinced that AMC would do so well with a talky series about ad execs in the 1950s and ’60s. ”It took everybody by surprise,” he says. But he was more confident about Walking Dead. ”That ownership decision was the wisest and best one,” Sapan says.
Although analysts have high hopes for AMC Networks, the company is having a bumpy start on its first day as a public company. Shares in the owner of AMC, IFC, and We TV are selling for about …
Wall Street has high expectations for AMC Networks as it prepares to begin its new life Friday as an independent, publicly traded company. Most, and possibly all, of the analysts following the owner of AMC, IFC, WeTV and Sundance have a “buy” rating on the stock, which Cablevision Systems is spinning off and will trade on NASDAQ under the symbol “AMCX.”
The company’s going public as its biggest channel, AMC, enjoys a hot streak. Mad Men is bidding to become the first series since NBC’s The West Wing to win the Emmy for Best Drama Series for four straight years. If The Walking Dead and The Killing also are nominated, then AMC could become the first cable network to have three candidates in that category. Another AMC hit, Breaking Bad, isn’t eligible this year.
Maxim Group’s John Tinker says that AMC has “done an exceptional” job of commissioning original series as he projects that AMCX will hit $34 in 12 months. He’s concerned, though, that AMC won’t enjoy most of the financial rewards from its hits. For example, Mad Men producer Lionsgate owns the show’s syndication rights. Tinker also fears that AMC’s collection of older movies compete too directly with Netflix. Cable cord cutting “is here to stay,” he says.
Bethpage, N.Y., March 10, 2011 – Cablevision Systems Corporation (NYSE: CVC) continues to move forward with the spin-off of its Rainbow Media business. The company announced today that longtime Rainbow Media executive Josh Sapan will become president and chief executive officer of the new public company, and that it