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AMC Networks Isn’t A Studio Yet, But It’s Getting There, CEO Says

Deadline logo Deadline 2/23/2017 David Lieberman
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It’s too early to call AMC Networks a studio — but it “is becoming, and has become, more of a studio as opposed to only a channel operator,” CEO Josh Sapan told analysts today in a call to discuss the company’s Q4 performance.

Asked if AMC might produce shows for others, the CEO says he “wouldn’t rule that out.”

But the company has increased the number of home-made productions its networks carry, which it then sells to streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix and in overseas markets.

“That is essentially standard studio functionality,” Sapan says.

The production side is becoming important as AMC, like other network owners, sees growing opportunities at digital services.

Sapan wouldn’t say whether AMC will be on the live streaming service Hulu plans to launch soon, although “we’re talking to everybody.” The company’s channels are on DirecTV Now, Sling TV and Sony’s PlayStation Vue.

He talked up AMC’s selling points. “We have five channels,” he says. “We have been of the mind for some time that quality matters. Brands matter. Content matters. Engagement matters.” What’s more, “collectively, [AMC’s channels] are underpriced. So we’re uniquely well positioned for the changing nature of the landscape.”

Meanwhile, the company owns or has stakes in five niche, subscription video on demand services including Sundance Now, Shudder, and an upcoming collaboration with BBC and ITV called BritBox that will feature British TV shows.

“It’s early days still for niche SVOD,” Sapan says. But he’s optimistic about them because “they have an immediate consistuency and they’re available with near ubiquity on day one.”

He still sees growth opportunities at his traditional networks — and at AMC’s biggest hit, The Walking Dead, which he says still has “a long life.” Although ratings have weakened, it will “deliver ancillary revenue over different distribution platforms” which is “illustrative of benefits of owned content.”

One analyst asked about whether ratings for AMC’s networks might be affected by viewers’ continuing post-election interest in news — especially with the Trump administration’s multiple daily headlines.

“It’s been filled with surprises,” Sapan says. “Events may have created more sustainability in news ratings than we would have anticipated. I’ll stop there and say: I don’t know.”

AMC’s revenues should increase by a low to mid single digit percentage in 2017, CFO Sean Sullivan says. Distribution revenues will be up “modestly,” and drive the effort at the domestic networks. The profit margin will be consistent with 2016.

He warned, though, that the current quarter will show a drop in ad revenues due to what he calls “unfavorable comparisons” with the period at the beginning of 2016. But that will “turn more favorable in mid-year” and grow for the year.

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