AMC Networks CEO Dismisses Ratings Concerns About 'Walking Dead'

'The Walking Dead' S07E16 Still Maggie - H 2017
Gene Page/AMC

Despite a ratings stumble, Josh Sapan told Wall Street watchers his zombie drama will have a long life on AMC.

AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan on Thursday sought to ease concerns among Wall Street analysts about ratings erosion for The Walking Dead after the No. 1 show on TV ended its seventh season.

"It's pretty alive and vital and there's a long time that we're going to be playing with The Walking Dead," Sapan told the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York City during a session that was webcast. He conceded the seventh season ended with "some minor erosion" in overall audience ratings, but the zombie drama remains strong creatively.

After a seventh season that parted ways with four series regulars — Steven Yeun's Glenn, Michael Cudlitz's Abraham, Austin Nichols' Spencer and Sonequa Martin-Green's Sasha — the AMC series recently promoted Steven Ogg (Simon), Katelyn Nacon (Enid) and Pollyanna McIntosh (Jadis) to full-time roles for the upcoming eighth season.

And Sapan insisted the audience for Walking Dead far outranks viewership for the next most popular TV series like Empire and The Big Bang Theory. The show returns in October.

Sapan was also asked about even more dramatic recent erosion in pay TV subscriber numbers in the cable TV universe. He answered that the loss of higher-paying cable TV subscribers will be offset by consumers increasingly migrating to online video services and other virtual distributors.

"We're seeing an offset of subscriber decline through internet TV subscription, I think it's likely to accelerate ... as prices adjust, as packages adjust, as offerings are customized and so-called disrupters enter the market and offer varieties of packages that may take hold," Sapan argued.

The AMC Networks boss also talked up his company becoming more of a studio, intent on owning more of the original shows on his channel brands, and diversifying where AMC content shows up in an age of skinny bundles.

"We have a great bias to own our own content. If we don't own it, if we lease and rent from Sony [as with Better Call Saul], it makes it tougher for us to have success," Sapan said.