4A's Conference

AMC President Talks About His Network's Transformation

Charlie Collier Also Makes a 'Pitch' for Agencies to Take Part in Reality Show

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Unexpected, unconventional and uncompromising.

Those words represent the criteria AMC uses to judge which shows -- scripted and unscripted -- are worthy of appearing on the network, said AMC Networks President Charlie Collier, under whom the network greenlit the ad business' favorite show, "Mad Men."

Charlie Collier
Charlie Collier

Mr. Collier, speaking to Ad Age Editor Abbey Klaassen during an afternoon session at the 4A's convention in Los Angeles, said that by unexpected, the network means that each show should look different than the one before it. That's in contrast to other networks, such as HGTV, where the priority isn't so much knowing the name of the show as it is providing a bucket of content that is of interest to a single demographic.

Staying "unexpected" is also why the network plays "Walking Dead" and "Mad Men" immediately after.

Mr. Collier said that even when AMC approaches a genre that 's been done before -- such as crime, in the case of its series "The Killing" -- it looks broadly at core mystery and how it affects the world around the victim rather than just solving the case.

AMC is also studying how viewers are using time-shifting devices and watching the network's shows on Netflix or via DVR. Mr. Collier hinted that AMC is working on content for viewers who aren't watching its shows in real time. He asked the audience to clap if they're doing more time-shifting today than they were a year ago. As the applause died down, he said: "We have to find better ways of serving you well."

The network has undergone a transformation since Mr. Collier joined it in 2006 (Ms. Klaassen said, "AMC was a little sleepy at the time") but has become a place to watch classic movies such as "Cool Hand Luke" and premium, award-winning TV, such as "Breaking Bad" and "Prisoner," in addition to "The Walking Dead," "The Killing" and "Mad Men."

Five years ago, AMC "needed distinction," Mr. Collier said. It also was being asked to deliver more quality original programming.

"So often in listening to marketers, they would talk about the quality they were looking for to put their brands next to." He conceded that for inspiration AMC looked at HBO for its ability to run award-winning shows, including "The Sopranos" and "Sex and the City," that appealed to different audiences.

So where do reality shows and the rights to "CSI: Miami" fit in? It's part of a diversification strategy, said Mr. Collier. The transformation of the network involved some failures, he said, but that 's part of the learning process.

During the panel discussion, Mr. Collier screened a trailer of "The Pitch," AMC's reality show about advertising. The short film was dramatic about the agency-pitch process. One ad exec from the Ad Store told the camera the shop could close in three months if it didn't reel in any large accounts, and a McKinney executive was portrayed as uber-competitive, explaining that she loves pitching against big-city agencies and using expletives to explain how obsessed she is obsessed with winning.

AMC also handed out DVDs of the first episode of the show to all conference attendees in the hopes of marketing the show to the agency community -- both for viewership and to urge agencies to consider participation if there is a second season. (Mr. Collier asked the attendees not to tweet who wins the first episode since it hasn't yet aired.)

It's a show that many of the best-known agencies in the business passed up, while marketers were paid and permitted to do product integrations with the show.

Ad folks have so much to be bragging about and proud of , Mr. Collier told the audience. "It's a business people are going to be fascinated by ."

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