MIPCOM: AMC Networks CEO Talks Courting A-List Talent, Digital Disruption

Noam Galai/WireImage
Josh Sapan

Josh Sapan, speaking in Cannes, said strong talent relationships are key to the success of his cable channels group.

AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan on Tuesday touted the continued investment and efforts by the cable channels group to get its high-end content noticed amid industry consolidation and disruption, and yet still treat A-list talent and TV series as "precious" assets.

During a keynote address at MIPCOM, the exec said bigger players like Netflix and Amazon naturally want scale to reach audiences everywhere and more effectively. "They want to bring their good mouse trap to everybody, and there's nothing wrong with that. But some material can get lost in that mouse trap," he warned.

But AMC, Sapan added, offered an alternative for A-list creators to the volume of deep-pocketed streaming giants, which have at times faced criticism that their pricey content splurges can mean that their films and series can get lost on their services without major marketing campaigns.

"At AMC, we do have a belief that we will bring the work forward in a way that will give it the best showcase and the best illumination," he argued. Sapan added strong talent relationships are key to the success of the cable channels group as it expands internationally and into streaming and other digital platforms.

"We have always believed that content is precious, that storytelling can't be compromised, and that being big is fine, if you want to be a facilitator, but we want to bring the finest and the best everyone associates within their expectations," Sapan told the Cannes audience.

He also discussed how the company behind The Walking Dead home AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel and WE tv has become more of a studio in an age of skinny bundles, streaming content and virtual distributors.

"Technology invites different ways of telling stories and if we can marry that with the best storytelling, and curate them against the backdrop of many more options, the world will pay attention," Sapan argued.

Success also comes from taking risks, the exec added. He recalled when first weighing the idea of doing The Walking Dead a decade ago that he was skeptical, so he visited comic book stores in New York City to ask fan boys about zombies.

"This seemed like a questionable idea, so I talked to a lot of people who loved comic books and asked them about zombies and their favorite zombies, and it all worked out," Sapan recalled.

Colman Domingo, a star of Fear the Walking Dead and an accomplished playwright with years of experience in theater, said during his onstage session with Sapan that he came to TV reluctantly.

"I'll be very honest," he said. "Theater actors look down on film actors, and film actors look down on TV actors, but at some point it starts to blend because of the incredible storytelling now happening in television."

Added Domingo: "People weren't pandering and believing audiences were not adept at grappling with deep emotion in storytelling. That's why you see actors making their way from film to television."