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If all goes to plan on Sunday, AMC will flood the world with zombies.
When Fear the Walking Dead, the companion series to the monster hit, premieres Sunday night, it will be a global phenomenon. The show will air in more than 120 countries, the vast majority of them day-and-date with the U.S.
“It’s kind of mind-blowing,” showrunner Dave Erickson told The Hollywood Reporter. “The potential scale and viewership out of the gate is just outstanding.”
For AMC, Fear‘s global rollout is a test of whether the company can truly take its brand global. The station that transformed itself from a basic cable movie channel to a byword for the golden age of television (and delivered the number one show for the 18-49 demographic sweet spot) is looking to Fear to help make it a worldwide television network.
“We want AMC to be a flagship brand as it has become in the US,” says Ed Carroll, COO of AMC. “In an age of fragmented TV viewership, time-shifting and people waiting until a full season is available before watching, there aren’t that many shows which are appointment TV … But we think The Walking Dead franchise offers that opportunity.”
Fear the Walking Dead is the centerpiece for AMC’s international expansion plans, a land grab that has been breathtaking in its speed and ambition. AMC Networks bought Chellomedia, the international channels unit of John Malone‘s cable giant Liberty Global, for about $1 billion in late 2013. Just over a year later, AMC is launching Fear The Walking Dead around the world on what amounts to a truly global TV network.
“We’re a little bit jumping the curve we created,” admits Carroll. “After the first six-episode season of Fear, we have our next owned original, Into the Badlands, which will roll out across AMC Global in mid-November. Then we’ll be back in 2016 with season two of Fear, with at least double the episodes. We’re moving fast.”
Taking a show worldwide simultaneously has an obvious practical appeal: for once a network will be faster out of the gate than the global pirates.
More importantly for the network, however, Fear could be key to establishing the AMC brand among viewers across Asia, Europe and Latin America, the vast majority of which have never heard of the American Movie Channel. While AMC has had success in the past with Breaking Bad and Mad Men — the former in particular also becoming a global phenomenon — the shows did little to help the AMC brand internationally because they were made, and owned, by other companies and sold to a multitude of different networks worldwide. Which is why AMC is pushing to create and own more of its own content. And when it takes it globally, to brand it AMC.
“Establishing the brand, connecting AMC to a certain quality of style of TV programming is extremely important,” says Carroll. “For every new series you feel you are starting from zero to build an audience. If you are able to establish a TV brand, people are more likely to sample shows on AMC; it gives us a springboard for future launches.”
Controlling more of its own content also has major benefits in a world shifting to on-demand viewing, where traditional advertising revenue is coming under pressure. Carroll says he’s perfectly happy with “the ecosystem” they’ve created with SVOD players like Amazon and Netflix for Fear. “It will premiere on pay-TV [in most territories] and then, about a year later, it goes to SVOD,” he says. Because AMC owns the show, they get paid either way.
None of this will work, of course, if people don’t want to watch. The critical reception ahead of Sunday’s premiere has been strong, but showrunner Erickson knows he has to walk a fine line between satisfying the expectations of the world’s Walking Dead army and creating a show that can stand on its own for “the 7 people in the world who haven’t seen TWD.”
For Walking Dead‘s global fan base, one of the biggest changes for the new series will be location. Instead of the backwoods of Georgia, the location of the original show, Fear is set in Los Angeles, one of the most iconic cities in the world.
“Choosing L.A. wasn’t an accident, we picked it because its a place of re-invention, where people come to escape the unseemly, the crimes they committed or were committed against them,” says Erickson. “The character dynamics in the show fit nicely with the city. And there’s this creeping sense of dread in L.A. That’s why noir works so well here. The weather is so perfect, the sun is always shining. You get the feeling there’s got to be something wrong.”
As soon as Fear premieres worldwide, Carroll says he will be “pouring over the numbers” to judge how well its day-and-date experiment has worked. But while the show marks AMC’s first move towards becoming a global channel, he insists the network will not try and change its creative formula.
“Trying to predict what will be a global hit is a hazardous game,” he says. “What we’ve tended not to do in the past is to think to much about what is going to be a hit or get a huge rating. We’ve gone the opposite way, asking what’s an interesting story that hasn’t been told before. That’s what’s worked for us in the past and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”
Fear the Walking Dead premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC, and simultaneously in most places around the world.
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