AMC Networks CEO Says 'Walking Dead' Franchise Has "Decades of Life Left"

The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 16 - Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon  2 - H 2019
Gene Page/AMC

While appearing at an investors conference, Josh Sapan also talked about his genre streaming strategy to create SVODs complementary to Netflix and Amazon.

AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan on Thursday said The Walking Dead franchise is hardly dead, despite lower ratings in recent seasons.

"We have an awful lot of life left in The Walking Dead — I mean decades and decades of life left," Sapan told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in New York City during a session that was webcast.

The AMC Networks boss, inevitably asked by investors about the popular zombie drama's projected life cycle, said TV franchises, if managed properly, can run over generations. AMC Networks has tripled-down on The Walking Dead franchise with a third series and has partnered with Universal Pictures on a feature.

"That's an indication of a vital heartbeat in the franchise," Sapan added. He also discussed how the company behind AMC, IFC, Sundance Channel and WE tv has adopted a genre streaming strategy on the distribution front to battle Netflix and Amazon Prime in an age of skinny bundles, streaming content and virtual distributors.

Sapan pointed to AMC owning and controlling its own content, distributing that content on multiple platforms while also selling it to third parties and now increasingly putting it on AMC-owned streaming video on-demand services. "We're very well positioned to leverage content expertise into new distribution opportunities," Sapan argued of his four niche streamers: Shudder, Sundance Now, Acorn TV and Urban Movie Channel.

AMC's SVODs are forecast to end 2019 with around 2 million in overall streaming subscribers. The company is looking to grow that to 4 million total subscribers by 2022 and between 5 million and 7 million subscribers by 2024, with part of that as international expansion.

That growth is expected because AMC SVODs are deliberately "radically different" than more general video streaming giants. "Our offerings are designed to super-serve a specific segment of the population," Sapan explained, in contrast to upcoming studio-based direct-to-consumer services from Disney, WarnerMedia and Comcast targeting everyone in a household to battle Netflix and Amazon Prime for streaming supremacy.

He added AMC's genre streamers reduce content acquisition costs and have "favorable" subscriber acquisition and churn performance. "We don't bid for Friends or Seinfeld. We're not trying to compete with or replace Netflix, Amazon, Disney, HBO Max. But rather our offerings are complementary," Sapan told the investors conference.

AMC Networks' Acorn TV has surpassed 1 million North American subscribers. It specializes in dramas, comedies and other TV fare from the U.K. and other English-speaking international markets. AMC also has Shudder, a horror genre streamer aiming for an international rollout beyond North America.