AMC Hopes 'Fear the Walking Dead' Paves Way for Foreign Success

Justin Lubin/AMC
'Fear the Walking Dead'

The massive global series debut serves as a test for the company's ambitious overseas growth strategy, helped out by deals with Chellomedia and BBC America.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Counting on zombies to protect you from a global financial apocalypse might seem an odd strategy, but AMC is betting its walkers can save the company as the stock market teeters. Fear the Walking Dead, the companion series to AMC's horror hit, premiered Aug. 23 on the U.S. channel to more than 10 million same-day viewers and, within 24 hours, had aired in 125 countries. It was the largest day-and-date broadcast for a drama series and the biggest test yet of whether AMC can take its brand global.

"Its success is critical [for AMC] given current concerns around the TV bundle and the sustainability of AMC Networks' outsized growth/content cycle," wrote analysts Amy Yong and Andrew DeGasperi of Macquarie Research in a recent investors note. International returns for Fear could be particularly lucrative for AMC, wrote Macquarie, citing the rapid global growth of The Walking Dead, which saw ratings for season five jump 65 percent across Europe, Latin America and Asia. International SVOD rights alone could plow $12 million to AMC, they estimate. AMC has signed big SVOD deals for Fear, including one with Amazon for German-speaking Europe.

AMC's ambitions go well beyond those of a typical U.S. network, as seen in its $1 billion purchase in 2013 of Liberty Global's international channels unit Chellomedia — since rebranded AMC Networks International — and its $200 million deal for 49.9 percent of BBC America in 2014.

The Chellomedia deal gave AMC an overseas network of channels it has remade in the image of its U.S. flagship. Over time, says AMC COO Ed Carroll, the global outlets, including a U.K. channel set to launch Aug. 28, "will mirror AMC U.S. pretty closely. … It's important that we establish AMC as a TV brand worldwide that stands for a certain quality, a certain style." Fear's performance will be key to that effort because the network has received little credit outside the U.S. for such hits as Breaking Bad and Mad Men because they are owned and sold by Sony and Lionsgate, respectively.

Now, with a stake in BBC America, AMC has bought access to such high-end British dramas as Doctor Who, Luther and Orphan Black. AMC and BBC have cooperated on the Emmy-nominated miniseries The Honorable Woman, which was co-produced by the AMC-owned SundanceTV. Says analyst Tuna Amobi, "The BBC America and Chellomedia transactions could provide the company with potentially significant upside over the coming year."