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AMC Networks is looking to advertising to help it grow its streaming business.
The company says it will roll out a less expensive ad-supported tier of AMC+ later this year. Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but the current cost is $8.99 per month, and the new tier is expected by October. The new offering will be sold in the company’s 2023-2024 upfront, which will include a presentation Tuesday evening in New York.
The ad-supported tier will also unlock the ability for advertisers to buy time across specific shows, genres or franchises (like The Walking Dead or Anne Rice universe), whether the programs air on linear TV, on AMC+, or on a free ad-supported streaming (FAST) platform. AMC+ includes programming from AMC, IFC, SundanceTV and BBC America, as well as films and programs from AMC’s niche streamers like Shudder and SundanceNow.
AMC+ is joining a long list of premium subscription streaming products that have opted to embrace advertising alongside their ad-free tiers. In the last six months, both Disney+ and Netflix have launched cheaper ad-supported tiers, while HBO Max launched its ad-supported tier in 2021. Among major streaming services, only Apple TV+ remains completely ad-free (though its Major League Soccer games do have sponsors).
But while those other streaming services are pursuing as broad an audience as possible (look no further than the soon-to-launch “Max” rebranding of HBO Max), AMC+ remains focused on appealing to what it sees as a core audience.
“Since AMC became a content company, I feel like we have had a myopic focus on who our audience is,” says Kim Kelleher, AMC Networks’ chief commercial officer, speaking to The Hollywood Reporter at the company’s New York office. “And the language, ‘Everything to Someone,’ is something that we’re really going to be doubling down on. And it’s in contrast to ‘everything for everyone’ that all the other players are really kind of focused on. They are building out content to ideally delight everyone in the house, from grandma to children and beyond, whoever happens to be there. That’s never been our deal. It’s just not what we do.”
As for the ad-supported tier, Kelleher says that she’s been asking for it to be added as an option for a few years, though the company’s need to build out an audience took priority over the ad-supported option.
“Ultimately, we’re doing it now for the right reason,” Kelleher says. “This is not going to be an enormous amount of inventory, we are targeted. We’re doing it because viewers now have spoken. They want choice. They want a less expensive option, they want to be able to choose between a less expensive ad-supported light-load option and a more expensive [ad-free tier].”
AMC Networks also revealed its new slate for the AMC Content Room, a branded content studio that, previously, focused on shortform content primarily for digital platforms. The company now says it is expanding to longer-format productions, some of which will also run on AMC’s linear channels.
A big one is Cooper’s Bar, the sitcom starring Better Call Saul‘s Rhea Seehorn that launched as a Content Room original series last year. While the show launched as a shortform digital series, the second season will expand to a half hour, and debut new episodes on IFC before moving to digital. Lou Mustillo (Cooper) and Seehorn are returning, with Whitney Cummings and Patrick Fabian among the guest-stars.
Similarly, You Are Here, the travel show starring Fear The Walking Dead‘s Colman Domingo (and produced by Parts Unknown‘s Zero Point Zero), will premiere across AMC, IFC, Sundance and We TV starting on Juneteenth, with Johnnie Walker as the integrated sponsor.
Other projects in the works include an Anne Rice universe series Night Island; More Tales from the TWDU (wt), a shortform series that expands the Walking Dead universe and overseen by Scott Gimple; Jim Chee: Private Eye, a spinoff of Dark Winds; a new season of the behind the scenes series Show Me More; and a cooking/entertaining series tentatively called In The Kitchen with Harry, starring Mayfair Witches‘ Harry Hamlin.
“When we started this strategy, the goal was to create content for the fans with the advertisers, and we are really focusing on the franchises and genres that we know pop the best. And it was sort of experimental at first and it really took off,” says Kim Granito, head of marketing for AMC Networks, specifically calling out the success of Cooper’s Bar as something that did “very well.”
“So we’re like, you know what, there is a linear expression of these shows that can also work, and it was something that our partners were looking for,” Granito adds. “So now we produce with an eye towards being able to use it everywhere, but the shows are formatted in a way that they can be used for shortform social content. They can be built as shortform series, but they can also be made into a single movie moment.”
Kelleher and Granito say that writers and showrunners have embraced the Content Room originals as ways to explore other corners of the Walking Dead or Anne Rice or Dark Winds universes, or to highlight a star with a fresh take on a new genre. The Content Room shows also debut between seasons, giving fans of the shows new content from those universes at an otherwise slow moment, and “a full 52-week opportunity for the advertiser whenever it’s their sale moment or whenever it’s their promotional moment,” Kelleher says.
Also tied to its upfront, AMC Networks announced an advertising insights and data platform for media buyers and advertisers called Audience+, meant to help marketers map out their specific target audiences. For example, a buyer with inventory across the linear channels, AMC+ and AMC’s FAST channels could see who is watching where, and adjust accordingly.
“It also helps us program better as well,” says Evan Adlman, executive vp commercial sales and revenue operations for AMC Networks. “So these insights are telling us where is the show being watched? Where should we be in? How should we be more intentionally curating our fast channels based on the viewership that we’re seeing?”
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