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AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan is a big fan of subscription VOD and social media, giving both platforms credit for boosting the fortunes of Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and other cable shows. And hopefully those technological trends can do likewise to save AMC’s Low Winter Sun, a crime drama that Sapan acknowledges hasn’t yet caught on with audiences since debuting a few months ago.
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“The history of network television,” Sapan said on Thursday at the Guggenheim Securities Symposium in New York, “has generally been one in which decisions are made quite rapidly about performance … so one would see shows get canceled X number of shows into season one, and that’s sensible for that business model.”
But that was then and this is now, Sapan said, so it’s too early to declare Low Winter Sun a hit or a miss just yet, because it hasn’t experienced the “effect of what happens between seasons” yet. Presumably, it will get some buzz in social media, audiences will catch it on SVOD where they can binge-watch several episodes, and then they’ll make it a point to tune in to the linear offering next year. This is how Breaking Bad doubled its audience one season over another, then more than doubled it again, he explained.
“There is, as a consequence of the technology, this new phenomenon that really does seem to be occurring,” he said. “We have to be very careful about not being precipitous in our judgment of TV shows as to whether they can build a head of steam. So as it relates to Low Winter Sun, we’re evaluating.”
He added: “I thought that the last few episodes were quite different and better and more urgent than the first part of the season. I think the backdrop is sort of interesting. We’ll have to evaluate exactly what we do and how much benefit the mid-season/off-season effect can be. But it’s not to be underestimated.”
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The king of SVOD — Netflix, with 40 million worldwide subscribers — is “very much a friend” to AMC, Sapan said, even though the service is also a competitor since delving into content creation with House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and others.
Sapan also spent a lot of time assuring the Wall Street analysts in attendance that AMC can grow just fine without Breaking Bad, which recently ended. He reminded them that The Walking Dead beat NFL programming for several weeks, and that a companion show is in the works. Plus, there are still two more seasons of Mad Men. He’s also enthusiastic about upcoming shows Turn, about the Revolutionary War, and Halt & Catch Fire, about 1980s-era computer visionaries. Better Call Saul, a Breaking Bad spinoff, is also scheduled for 2014.
Sapan also stressed that international expansion is a key commitment, which is why AMC Networks said last month that it would pay $1 billion to acquire European TV company Chellomedia. “The advertising opportunity is underexploited” at Chellomedia, he said.
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