As 'The Walking Dead' comes to an end, AMC looks ahead to the company's digital future
AMC Networks will head into this year’s annual upfront ad haggle selling ad inventory for the final seasons of three of its biggest hits: “The Walking Dead,” “Better Call Saul” and “Killing Eve.” With these network-defining series coming to an end, the cable programmer, whose channels include AMC, We TV, BBC America, IFC and SundanceTV, is leaning heavily into its digital partnership efforts.
As competitors focus on building or purchasing streaming platforms, AMC is instead looking to make sure its content is available everywhere its fans want to watch it. This means putting hit shows on platforms like IMDb TV, Plex, Pluto TV, Sing TV, Samsung TV Plus and Vizio Smartcast.
“As we saw peers building walls around content or buying platforms telling consumers where they have to go to watch their content … we have the ability to take what we are known for and put it on any platform people want to consume it,” says Kim Kelleher, president of commercial revenue and partnerships for AMC Networks.
Being connected to a plethora of streaming platforms has helped AMC glean insights into consumer behavior on each of these platforms, like what they watch, where, engagement on each and when they are watching, Kelleher says.
“We are limited in what we can do with linear audience challenges, but we can build out our digital audiences,” she adds.
To this end, the company is developing a slate of digital original programming through its studio arm the Content Room that will live on its streaming platform partners, digital partners and owned and operated channels. In this way, Kelleher says advertisers will be able to expand the opportunity to connect with AMC’s franchises.
This isn’t necessarily a new concept; AMC and its competitors have built digital-only extensions of current programming and other types of digitally native content for years. But AMC will look to extend its distribution of those to fresh ad-supported video-on-demand and subscription streaming platforms, as well as livestreaming channels like Twitch.
“Cable has always been an incredible efficiency buy at scale with a layer of originals,” Kelleher says. “We believe it can be a similar model in the ad-supported digital space. There is so much data about new viewers coming through these platforms, how they are watching, where they are watching, that to not use it the development pipeline for new shows would be a huge miss.”
A model for these originals is “Bottomless Brunch at Colman’s,” which was created and hosted by “Fear the Walking Dead” star Colman Domingo. It began as a digital short in the early days of quarantine and is sponsored by Diageo. The show later aired on SundanceTV.
New digital projects in development include a new season of “Better Call Saul Employee Training”; animated series “Slippin’ Jimmy,” also from the world of “Better Call Saul”; “Dead in the Water,” a scripted series that ties into the sixth season of “Fear the Walking Dead;” and “Cooper’s Bar,” about a neighborhood backyard bar and its owner.
The Content Room also entered into three purpose-driven partnerships with Conservation International, SeeHer and Save Our Stages with the goal of encouraging change and advocacy through storytelling. The company will take these partnerships out to the marketplace to find brands to align with nature conservation, representation in media and accessibility to the creative arts.
AMC also struck a deal with Complex Networks that will allow advertisers the opportunity to partner with the cable programmer's content alongside the fan communities of Complex. The first planned execution combines “The Walking Dead” universe with Complex’s series “First We Feast” for an apocalypse-inspired cooking show called “Run The Dish.” It will feature “The Walking Dead” star alongside Complex celebrity chefs.
End of ‘Dead’
This investment in digital comes as its most popular series, “The Walking Dead,” will start a two-year farewell tour later this year. AMC will certainly be looking to strike high-profile sponsorship and integration opportunities with brands, which historically has been a draw for major marketers like Mtn Dew, Microsoft and Bud Light.
Once the darling of the TV world, “The Walking Dead” has seen steady declines since it peaked around 17 million viewers in its fifth season. The current season is averaging about 3.4 million total viewers, down nearly 34% from season nine's average of 5.2 million viewers per episode.
AMC is looking to build up its content slate on the linear side with shows like “Gangs of London,” which tells the story of a city being torn apart by international gangs that control it; “The Secrets She Keeps,” based on the novel by Michael Robotham, which centers around a chance encounter between two pregnant women; “Too Close,” a three-part psychological thriller; and “Pantheon,” AMC’s first hour-long animated drama.
Addressable will also be an important part of AMC’s upfront pitch, after the company completed its first national linear addressable test earlier this year. The goal is for 100% of ad inventory to be addressable, says Evan Adlman, senior VP, advanced advertising and digital partnerships, AMC Networks. It will get to that place “as fast as these operators will work with us,” he adds.
AMC has spent the last year partnering with various platforms to integrate with many different buying technologies, Adlman says, noting Xandr’s platform Invest TV, and OpenAP.
"With so many different buying technologies an advertiser or agency can chose to work with—and in a land where fragmentation is at its highest—we want to be integrated with all the programs out there," Adlman says. "This is a great path for us and [has] enabled us to work with clients we haven’t worked with before."
AMC is also making sure all of its digital inventory can be transacted programmatically, Adlman says.
AMC Networks will begin hosting conversations with holding companies and their clients the week of April 5. These presentations will include custom elements, including appearances by network stars, and unique gift boxes.
“If the word of last year was ‘flexibility’ with a lean toward clients and agencies, this year it is ‘flexibility’ with a lean toward what we can do to make TV work better for you,” Kelleher says.
As it relates to the push by cable programmers like A+E Networks, looking to strike deals against the 18-plus demographic, Kelleher says she doesn’t think that metric is a fix for all clients. “We need to get them into the digital space.”