Josh Sapan Talks Streaming Gains, MVPD Partnerships


Josh Sapan, president and CEO of AMC Networks, discussed how the company is driving its streaming businesses while maintaining strong relationships with its MVPD partners at the Paley International Council Summit.

Sapan noted that amid COVID-19, the company has “been converting our top lines to new lines of business. They’ve been moving ahead more successfully than we expected, particularly on the streaming side.”

The pandemic did create challenges, notably the impact on ad revenues. “There are certain categories of advertisers that went quiet. But it did give us the opportunity to accelerate the move into FAST channels, into all forms of advanced video on demand, into working with Twitch and a whole bunch of companies that expanded and extended our footprint. That momentum will continue. [The pandemic] pushed us hard to move into new directions.”

Building upon its portfolio of streaming services—including Shudder, Sundance Now and Acorn TV—AMC Networks recently rolled out AMC+, which is now available on Apple TV, Prime Video Channels, DISH Network, Sling TV and Comcast’s Xfinity. “It includes several of those targeted services as well as content from AMC channels that people are familiar with. It’s blowing past our expectations. We’ll end the year with over 5 million commercial-free subscribers. It’s been striking, amazingly rewarding, and people are engaged. We’re doing triple the time spent on AMC+ than we had anticipated. The trajectory continues.”

Meanwhile, the partnerships with MVPD operators remain “critical and profound,” Sapan said. “We do have a uniquely harmonious relationship with the streaming services and our linear offerings. We’re now able to support [operators] in linear and we’re able to service their broadband-only subscribers. [They can] take advantage of our content, our constituency, our fans, and both of us make money.”

As for the pay-TV landscape overall amid continued cord-cutting, Sapan noted, “This is an ecosystem in which MVPDs can flourish if they are sensitive to the multiple business lines that people are in. It takes some balance and some delicate development.”

On the company’s portfolio of niche services, such as Shudder for horror fans or Acorn TV for aficionados of British and Australian drama, Sapan explained, “The cost base of those services is radically different. We are not out to get 250 million worldwide SVOD subscribers over a period of time. We want to super-serve that constituency. That means the content that is appropriate is different. And it has a different price point. So we can buy it, make it, commission it, co-produce it and develop it, with a better set of economics. Acorn is substantially profitable. Those services in aggregate are all profitable. That’s quite different than the net economics of the larger streaming services with different shares and quantitative ambitions.”

Reflecting on AMC Networks’ signature The Walking Dead franchise, Sapan said, “We take the universe seriously. The mothership will come to a heroic close [with its 11th season]. Fear the Walking Dead is creatively stronger than ever. World Beyond has performed extremely well. [The upcoming series with] Daryl and Carol is going to be big. We have the Rick Grimes movie that creates a monster halo of energy around the franchise as it lives on—I think it’s not silly to say for a decade or decades. We’re now 10, going on 11 years into it. If we respect the creative, the fans, the storylines, we can have decades of life.”