AMC Networks CEO Defends "Modestly" Lower 'Walking Dead' Ratings

Gene Page/AMC

Josh Sapan cites "particularly intense" competition, says the company is "quite pleased" and lauds the hit drama for again being the top show among adults 18-49 and having "growing viewership in the most recent weeks."

Wall Street on Thursday lauded AMC Networks for beating third-quarter earnings, but continued discussing the outlook for hit drama The Walking Dead amid lower ratings so far this season.

AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan addressed the issue at the start of the company's earnings conference call. “We continue to be quite pleased with its performance," he said about the hit show. 

"For the fourth consecutive season, it holds the top spot as the number one show on TV among the key demo adults 18-49," he said. "The competition for live viewing has been particularly intense this season," Sapan added, citing competition from NFL games and baseball playoffs. Overall, that has meant this season that ratings have been "modestly down versus the prior year."

But Sapan also emphasized that this season, “which we think is one of the most creatively ambitious, is quickly becoming one of the most talked about with growing viewership in the most recent weeks three and four." Overall, it "broadly ... met" and is meeting the company's expectations, he said. And the company has been "extremely pleased" with the ratings for the new Fear the Walking Dead, he said.

"We treat the Walking Dead in the broadest sense as a franchise," Sapan said during the Q&A portion of the call. He said that means a focus on creative excellence and also led the company to launch Fear the Walking Dead. The company is treating the franchise "as carefully as we can," he said, adding AMC and the creators are committed to making the shows "as rich, as sustainable, as enduring and as character-driven" as possible.

Sapan also lauded Fear the Walking Dead, saying the original also helped with carriage abroad. He cited the recent launch of AMC in the U.K. exclusively on BT, saying Britain was a "fairly mature" and "hard to crack" market.

Asked if there was "too much" TV available these days as FX Networks CEO John Landgraf has suggested, Sapan reiterated it was an opportunity as much as a risk. "A liability is that you’re up against more entrants," he said. "And a benefit is that you’ve got a tuned-up consumer population that’s discussing it more in social conversation." He concluded: "There’s as much upside as there is challenge in the current environment."

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