AMC Networks’ Ed Carroll

PREMIUM: AMC Networks’ COO, Ed Carroll, explains to World Screen how original series featuring unique storytelling and subject matter are attracting viewers around the world.

WS: In the post-Mad Men and post-Breaking Bad world, when a lot of people thought that television just couldn’t get any better, what type of shows do you look for? How do you beat your own success?
CARROLL: Well, it’s nice of you to put it that way, thank you. We are still looking for original stories that have not been told before. We like the cinematic style of storytelling, and then we look for a creator or showrunner who has a vision and a clear sense of story arc, because a writer can take two or three years to draft a beautiful pilot script, but after you greenlight the show, they then have about two or three months to produce nine more scripts. You mentioned Breaking Bad and Mad Men—it was clear from our first conversations with Vince Gilligan and Matt Weiner that these characters were alive in their heads and that they had a pretty clear idea of story arc, which isn’t to say they knew exactly what happened with every character, or when or how it would all end, but they knew the story that they were trying to tell and what the tragic flaws of their leading characters would be. So we look for all of that. It’s still about doing fresh material and breaking the rules of conventional storytelling. Admittedly, the bar has been raised, and that’s what continues to make it fun!

WS: What are the international plans for AMC and Sundance Channel?
CARROLL: We launched Sundance Channel around the world back in 2009. We knew it would be a great brand to take around the world. We’re now in about 80 countries, and we continue to invest in the channel. Films that are high quality and that tell unique stories are finding a receptive audience around the world. It’s nice to have Robert Redford, the founder of the Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Channel, enthusiastic and engaged about the channel’s progress. He continues to be eager to talk to people about the channel and to go to places where we have new distribution. The other part of the mix on Sundance Channel is limited series. We have done and continue to do co-productions with a variety of media partners. With the BBC we partnered on Top of the Lake in the U.S. and we are continuing to co-produce four series that can appear on Sundance Channel throughout the world. Sundance Channel’s most notable original series to date is probably Rectify, which airs not only on Sundance U.S., but Sundance throughout the world.

WS: You recently launched AMC in the U.K.
CARROLL: We did with British Telecom, and we love BT’s passion for high-quality content. We love their enthusiasm for making AMC an exclusive part of their offering. We premiered the companion series to The Walking Dead, called Fear The Walking Dead, on August 23, not only in the U.S., but simultaneously all around the world. We are far along in the conversion of MGM channels to AMC. We’re in over 125 countries, and the great majority of those saw the premiere of Fear The Walking Dead right alongside the U.S.

WS: What are the benefits of having a global rollout, a so-called simulcast?
CARROLL: You benefit from world anticipation. The world has gotten much smaller, and the internet and social media have played a big role in making that happen. When we introduce a trailer for Fear at Comic-Con, that not only becomes an event in San Diego and in the U.S., it can become an event throughout the world. You’re seeing this not only in television, but also in film, with Hollywood studio releases. It seems to be smart, with some types of content, to capitalize on world anticipation. I’d be hard-pressed to identify a companion series that has launched while the first series is the reigning number one series on television, as The Walking Dead is. That’s a unique moment, and so it did seem, for Fear, that a simultaneous launch around the world was a smart thing to do. I wouldn’t say that would be the case for every type of content. But for a show where we think there is broad anticipation and where people really don’t want to encounter spoilers, then I think it does make sense.

WS: Now you have Chellomedia as well. It brings more channels and more viewers into your portfolio, doesn’t it?
CARROLL: The acquisition of Chello allowed us to accelerate our plan to be a major provider of content across the world. One of the things we love about Chello is that they have very strong regional brands that are well in tune with the audiences they serve. For example, you have not one, but three cooking channels: you have Cocina, El Gourmet and Paprika, and they all are practiced at serving their constituencies. We loved the strong, regional feel of Chello, and then we thought [of] the great overlay that we could add to that if we converted MGM to AMC, and so there would be an international channel that hopefully would come to have powerful content. We thought the two of those things together, the local channels with the great legacy and an international brand with powerful international content, could be a strong combination.

WS: If you’re looking to expand your portfolio, will you do it opportunistically, or are there certain territories that you’re targeting?
CARROLL: That is the word we use internally, opportunistic. If we see a channel that becomes available and that fits nicely into our portfolio, [we will consider it]. A recent example was a regional channel in Germany called Kinowelt. We thought they have a great legacy, and strong affection in a region, and they program art-house films. We know that business and have affection for it, so Kinowelt would fit the portfolio. So if we see opportunities to strengthen our overall portfolio, we evaluate them, but opportunistic is really the governing principle.

WS: Looking at AMC Studios, why is it increasingly important for AMC Networks to own more of its content?
CARROLL: First, it gives you a little more control over the sort of shows that you’re programming. We can put into production the kinds of shows that we think are the right next shows to go on AMC throughout the world. If we look back, AMC developed Mad Men. We produced the pilot ourselves at Silvercup Studios in Queens. Then we took the pilot to the major studios and said, do you want to partner with us, so you’ll be the studio and we’ll be the network? We did that because it was a long time ago, we hadn’t done dramatic series television before, and we thought that maybe we should split some risk. It worked out to be great because Lionsgate contributed a lot. They were a good partner and continue to be. We have projects now that we’re working on with them again.

The Walking Dead was the first series that we produced ourselves as the studio, and that worked out fairly well. If The Walking Dead were controlled by a studio, then the studio would control any companion shows, and we could be in the position of bidding for shows that we helped build. Then, of course, as our appetite for global increased, we wanted to control content not only in the U.S., but we wanted to be able to control it around the world.

WS: What was appealing about BBC America and how does it fit into the rest of the portfolio?
CARROLL: The BBC’s programming instincts are similar to ours, which is to say, we’ve been attracted to what we think is smart television—essentially unique, high-quality programming. Our thinking has been that if we make good shows, then good stuff will happen. What that means to us is: don’t try and think about how big the audience might be, or what the casting should be to give a show maximum international appeal, or worry if the content will be too edgy for sponsors. The BBC has also been governed by that because they have a different set of criteria, because of the way the Public Trust in the U.K. is structured. So we thought even though partnerships can be difficult, we probably would work well with each other because we’re an admirer of what they do and the way they do it. We had also had some good examples of working together, as I mentioned Sundance’s Top of the Lake and The Honorable Woman.

In the U.S., we looked at BBC America as a high-quality channel that had challenges being alone. As the industry has consolidated, and distributors get larger and media buying groups get larger, it’s very, very, difficult to be alone. So in the advertising Upfront that just passed, we went to the major advertisers and said, buy Better Call Saul and The Walking Dead and Fear and Rectify and Humans, and also buy Doctor Who and Orphan Black. That can be a compelling offering.

WS: How has viewing on SVOD platforms helped to drive viewers back to AMC Networks’ linear channels?
CARROLL: There are a couple of different pieces to that. One is on-demand viewing, and there I would include cable and satellite VOD, and in a later window, SVOD, because we tend to use that as our syndication window. Our shows tend to go to Netflix or Hulu ten months to a year [after they air on the channel]. Technology has allowed more complicated storytelling to flourish, because not that long ago you would really worry that if there’s a plot with too many twists and turns, by the time you got to season two or season three, the people that hadn’t discovered your show would never discover it. For a while, the Law & Orders and the CSIs would dominate because viewers could come into any episode, and didn’t need to know the backstory. Those shows were certainly well produced, with well-written stories and people [could make a lot of money] on those shows in syndication. But we wanted to do something a little different, and so we found ourselves telling stories that really tended to play out over 10, 12 episodes, or even multiple seasons. So on-demand viewing is really liberating for the storyteller. Then we found that after the current season, people who had not yet experienced The Walking Dead or Breaking Bad had the ability to find it on SVOD. We saw with every successive season of Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, the audience growing, which was really not a phenomenon that was common to television up until some of these digital services came along. It’s been a symbiotic relationship. We have been very careful to make sure that our distributors enjoy a full current season, so they get the show and they get the show on-demand, and it doesn’t come to SVOD until close to the launch of the next season. Hopefully it helps build anticipation for that season.