Why Niche Audiences Are Golden for AMC

Better Call Saul S01E05 Still - H 2015
Ursula Coyote/AMC

Better Call Saul S01E05 Still - H 2015

"We will take a show for a small passionate audience than the one that is 'for everybody,' " AMC programming exec Joel Stillerman tells the INtv conference in Jerusalem.

Traditionally, television drama has been a format-driven business, with copycat cop, hospital and legal shows dominating the industry worldwide. But AMC has built its business by betting on the niche — whether its the stumbling zombies of The Walking Dead, the 1960s copywriters of Mad Men or Albuquerque criminal lowlifes that populate Breaking Bad and its prequel Better Call Saul.

"We will (always) take a show for a small passionate audience over one that is 'for everybody,' " Joel Stillerman, EVP of original programming, production and digital content at AMC told the industry audience at the INtv media conference in Jerusalem. "These days, nothing is more important than passion to making a show [a] success."

Stillerman argued that AMC's success has come from serving the underserved audience. “We knew that there was an audience for horror, but there was nothing on TV for them, which is why we made The Walking Dead,” said Stillerman. “There was nothing on TV for Western fans, so we made Hell on Wheels.”

It's that same approach that led AMC's to greenlight its upcoming martial arts series Into the Badlands.

AMC is now looking to scale its niche approach globally. The company's $1 billion acquisition of Liberty Global's Chellomedia network, now rebranded AMC Global, has extended AMC's reach to some 390 million homes in 138 countries.

In what could prove a key strategic deal, AMC recently acquired international rights to pick up two seasons of the as-yet-unnamed The Walking Dead spinoff series. AMC plans to air each episode of the series on its channels worldwide within 24 hours of its U.S. premiere.

While AMC is still betting on the niche, Stillerman says when it comes to distribution, “size still matters — you have to access the largest possible global audience with your shows if you want to reap the return on your investment."