AMC Networks CEO Touts Originals, Sees More Carriage Disputes

AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan

Josh Sapan says "not everything will hit," but he feels good about the continued investment in original shows, quipping that as far as "The Walking Dead" goes, he hopes zombies live for "at least a decade."

AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan on Thursday touted the continued investment by the cable channels group into original programming and said his team felt it was on a good path even amid the nearing end of AMC hit Breaking Bad.

Sapan also discussed possible channel carriage disruptions as his company continues to push for higher fees from pay TV operators.

"Not everything will hit," but it is a "pretty good moment" in time for the company, he told an earnings conference call Thursday. While he acknowledged that there is a "creative challenge" to keep up the success with original shows, Sapan said he feels "pretty good" about the firm's outlook. He said originals would continue to drive financials more and more over time.

Asked about the future and longevity of AMC hit The Walking Dead, Sapan has in the past quipped that he hopes that zombies live forever. On Thursday, he joked that they may not live forever, but he hoped that they live for "at least a decade."

The CEO touted that there will be three dramas on AMC starting this weekend, the biggest number of dramas airing at the same time ever for the channel. The shows are the final season of Breaking Bad, Low Winter Sun and Hell on Wheels.

Hell on Wheels will air on Saturday, with Sapan saying that "there is a real opportunity to create a new destination night for the network."

Looking further into the future of AMC, Sapan said that it has "several other shows in various stages of development."

Meanwhile, WE tv is entering the scripted show space with The Divide, a drama that explores morality and that is set to premiere some time next year.
With other networks targeting young females relying mostly on reality shows, WE tv has an opportunity to make an impact in the scripted area, Sapan said.

IFC also continues to launch more original content, with Sapan touting upcoming Will Ferrell spoof series The Spoils of Babylon and a new sketch comedy show from LA troupe The Birthday Boys, for which Bob Odenkirk and Ben Stiller are serving as executive producers.

Finally, the Sundance Channel will transition to a traditional advertising model in the fourth quarter, which will provide "a great opportunity," Sapan told analysts. "We are already seeing great advertiser interest in the channel." Following Rectified and other scripted shows, several others are already in production, he highlighted.

Discussing upfront ad market sales, he said AMC Networks sold all four networks for the first time this year and took advantage of ratings gains. Overall, it performed "well" in the upfront amid "significant demand for our scripted series," which helped the firm attract new quality advertisers, increase sales volume and boost ad rates, Sapan said.

The CEO also mentioned that a couple of network carriage deal renewals with smaller pay TV operators are due in the coming months. As his company pushes for rate increases in line with recent deals, there could be "some disruption," he said. But Sapan emphasized that such possible disruptions would not have a major financial impact, because the unnamed pay TV companies are smaller players.

Twitter: @georgszalai