AMC Networks Is "Comfortable Going It Alone" Amid Consolidation, Vice Chair Says

Courtesy of AMC Networks
AMC Networks vice chairman Gregg Seibert

But "in a lot of cases, bigger means better," Gregg Seibert tells an investor conference.

"In a lot of cases, bigger means better," but AMC Networks is "very comfortable" with being "a smaller, nimble company that is focused on going it alone," vice chairman Gregg Seibert said Thursday at an investor conference.

Seibert, who was appointed to the then newly created role of vice chair in 2015, told the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference in Beverly Hills in a session that was webcast that Walt Disney, for example, used the acquisition of large parts of Fox to allow it to launch the upcoming Disney+ streaming service. "That's absolutely a case where bigger means better," he said.

The planned CBS-Viacom combination is "probably a positive for potential consolidation in the business," he added. He lauded the successful acquisition of Scripps by Discovery. All that said, though, Seibert reiterated: "We are perfectly comfortable with AMC going it alone."

Seibert mentioned that smaller "tuck-in acquisitions" would remain something AMC Networks would continue to look at, citing its past deals for Robert Johnson's niche streaming-service operator RLJ Entertainment and comedy venue operator Levity Live as examples. The company would consider deals "if they are accretive, if they are in areas of our core competence," he explained.

In his role, Seibert, a former investment banker, has worked with the company's senior management team, led by CEO Josh Sapan, to provide strategic and financial advice on corporate strategy and business initiatives, making Seibert a key player on the cable network company's acquisitions.

AMC Networks is controlled by the Dolan family, which also controls the local sports franchises, venues and networks firm Madison Square Garden Co., where Seibert also serves as vice chairman.

Seibert on Thursday was also asked about a topic of continuing Wall Street debate: the health of AMC's The Walking Dead franchise, whose flagship TV series has seen declining ratings.

The hit show had its strongest season in terms of day-of-airing ratings in season five with an average of about 15 million viewers, Seibert acknowledged. That has come down to 5 million last season, he said, adding that ad rates "have gone up pretty dramatically."

Overall, "that's a pretty significant shift in viewership," he said, adding that the rise of streaming services has affected live and same-day viewing. He argued it was "not so much binge viewing; it's really convenience viewing," which will be "a continuing trend."

One key initiative that can help networks, shows and pay TV operators is full-season stacking, or making more than just five episodes of series available for on-demand viewing at a time. "It hurts the cable operator and the programmer to not be able to have full stacks," he said. "One of the things that we are doing to protect our business on the linear side is try and provide as much full stacking as we can for the operators."

Sapan and his team are "really attuned" to moving the business to benefit from changes in the TV ecosystem," Seibert said during the conference. "AMC is all about content," and it is increasingly working to own more of its content" and intellectual property. While AMC owned "very small percentages" of Mad Men and Breaking Bad, it has "many more rights" and "a much better economic position" in newer shows, such as Killing Eve.