AMC Networks, BBC America Deal Is About Premium Content, Executives Say

Adam Kraus
AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan

Josh Sapan and BBC Worldwide CEO Tim Davie want to collaborate on smart, unmissable dramas but also comedy and news

AMC Networks late Thursday said that it had agreed to acquire a 49.9 percent stake in BBC Worldwide's BBC America for $200 million.

Observers see upside opportunities for the cable networks company and the commercial arm of U.K. public broadcaster BBC from increased scale in program development, advertising sales and carriage fees.

AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan and BBC Worldwide CEO Tim Davie explained the rationale for the deal and their vision in a conversation with The Hollywood Reporter.

What are the key benefits and drivers of the deal? It seems like it will strengthen you in carriage-fee talks with pay TV giants…

Josh Sapan: What really brought us together when I started speaking with Tim was first and foremost editorial alignment and a real interest in and a belief that there could be greater strength and upside in spectacular premium video content. That is what really underlies this partnership. Their list of achievements speaks for themselves programmatically — Planet Earth, Frozen Planet, Doctor Who, Top Gear, Orphan Black and on and on and on. We thought that that material that is so consistently produced is really what we admired and what we wanted to be a part of and part owner of. And we thought if we joined that with what we do, we could form something that was greater than what we were doing and provide mutual benefits. So the real underpinning to this marriage is an alignment and a belief in premium content for the current era and an increasingly digital world. The way that manifests itself in a more pragmatic business environment is that it is highly desirable — it finds an audience that is specialized and valuable.

Tim Davie: More than anything, this is a partnership driven by editorial alignment and a common vision around premium content. In the American market, there is nothing like what AMC have done. The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Mad Men — all those things are absolutely speaking to editorial of the highest quality. We quickly saw the key strategic rationale for this deal being a company in America that really was the home of smart television. There is a real fit between our teams and how they can work together.

You have collaborated on Top Lake, The Honorable Woman and One Child. Are there any more joint productions to announce at this stage?

Davie: There is nothing specific today. Let's just say there are amazing things that can happen, the level of creative quality you can get when the two organizations come together. Part of what is driving this deal is our ambition to do more of that at a greater scale and turbocharge that work.

Sapan: I find [joint projects between the companies so far] emblematic of what the BBC brings forward. The appreciation and the profile they brought to us on our channels is just a great symptom of what has already been done. What we are going to do together in the future is an awful lot. In my mind, the more the better and the richer the better. And the more we get to cooperate with and tap into the great resource that is the BBC, the better.

Should we expect any shows to move from BBC America to AMC Networks or the other way around? Are there any plans for reruns of high-profile shows on other networks?

Sapan: Our greatest interest is in what we can do that's new together and what can be commanding and interesting that's not yet made. BBC America has 80 million homes, a spectacular record of growth, a spectacular record of critical achievement on every front. The benefits beyond that is what we can do together when we are the distributors in the U.S. and representative of what we think is unequivocally the best news service in the world and what we can do for production and editorial across all our channels in drama, comedy and everything else. We are admirers of all they do in each of those areas.

Davie: The real driver of this partnership is original, innovative content that is groundbreaking, fresh and creates the kind of fan love that we see for shows like The Walking Dead or Doctor Who. It's the heartbeat of this enterprise.

Will this deal give AMC Networks a more British influence or tone and can it, on the reverse side, bring some U.S. shows back to the BBC in Britain?

Sapan: Anything that is BBC are things that interest us. We are interested in the quality of all the genres and material they do. I am not so sure I'd characterize it as pointedly British. I would simply say it is just great, intelligent, smart, it's wonderfully produced. And that is true for BBC news, comedy and what BBC does in miniseries, in continuing drama series; it's what they do in period pieces. They sure line up as perhaps the best television being made in the world today. So, yes, we want more of that, and we want to be a part of more of that.

Davie: Josh put it perfectly. More than anything, the heartbeat of this partnership is smart television. We never look down on the audience. We give them the finest characters, the best storylines. For me, it is not as simple as American stuff moving to the U.K. or vice versa. It is about creating compelling television that is unmissable and that is absolutely the best in the world.