AMC doubles down on 'Walking Dead' with another spin-off
Heading into its 10th season, “The Walking Dead” will continue to be a focal point for AMC Networks in its annual pitch to advertisers as it preps a third series in the franchise.
There’s been plenty of speculation that another “Walking Dead” spin-off was in the works, and AMC confirmed today that the show will bow in 2020. It will center on two young females who are among the first generation to come of age in the apocalypse.
The addition of yet another “Walking Dead” series (there’s also the spin-off “Fear the Walking Dead,” as well as the talk show “Talking Dead”) comes as the original starts to show its age.
The ninth season of the zombie drama posted record low ratings, averaging 4.95 million total viewers and a 2.0 rating in the 18-49 demographic in commercial ratings within the three days after it airs (C3). That marked a 39 percent decline over season eight, and a 74 percent drop from in its height in season 4.
But despite the declines, “The Walking Dead” is still TV’s No. 2 drama, behind only NBC’s “This Is Us.” And it’s still a powerful marketing tool for AMC.
Sarah Barnett, who was elevated to president of the entertainment networks following the departure of president and general manager Charlie Collier in October, says the newest addition to the franchise means there will be a “Walking Dead” show airing from the Super Bowl through Thanksgiving. This will give the network a lead-in to new programming through most of the year.
While Barnett acknowledges the ratings declines for “Walking Dead” have been dramatic, she notes that it comes as the entire cable TV universe is dealing with viewer erosion.
“The show continues to be a bloody powerhouse and a huge marketing tool for other shows we launch on AMC or across the portfolio,” she says.
One of Barnett’s priorities is to better align the company’s audiences and content across its networks, which aside from the flagship channel also include IFC, SundanceTV, WeTV and BBC America.
It will do this with the season 2 premiere of the BBC America series “Killing Eve.” The entire sophomore season of the show, starring Sandra Oh, will be simulcast on AMC. The goal is to generate greater scale for the show within AMC Networks’ own ecosystem. AMC will do something similar with “Discovery of Witches,” a streaming show on SundanceNow that will air on the network.
While the number of scripted shows continues to balloon, Barnett says the majority of the growth is happening on streaming platforms, while scripted content on ad-supported cable is shrinking. “Really AMC and FX... are really the only places in town where advertisers can put their content in really premium, hour-long TV that audiences are engaged with and immersed with in ways that are very different to other kinds of TV, however great that might be,” she says.
As the industry prepares to enter the annual ad haggle following Walt Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox assets and AT&T’s deal for WarnerMedia (formerly Time Warner), AMC Networks remains one of the few cable channels with just a handful of networks in its arsenal.
“We feel we are the right size,” says Scott Collins, president of advertising, AMC Networks. “We have five distinct brands that are very well-defined.”
“Our approach has always been sticking to what we are known for best. And it is our content... Lots of folks are talking about getting bigger and bigger and getting scale for scale's sake, we feel like we don’t need to do that. Bigger is not necessarily better,” he adds.
While plenty of conversations during the spring hoopla will center around how networks are using data to more precisely target audiences beyond age and gender and guarantee business outcomes, Collins says the focal point at AMC Networks will be content.
Collins says AMC's audience-buying business has “tripled” over the past year and the company is experimenting with attribution, but he prefers to “guarantee what I know I can guarantee.”
At BBC America, the network will be turning over Saturdays to nature programming. Dubbed “Project Awe,” the so-called “micro-net,” which will debut in the fourth quarter, will feature 24-hours of nature and wildlife content.
It’s also doubling down on its holiday programming, expanding its “Best Christmas Ever” event to all five of its networks. AMC’s C3 ratings inched up 1 percent in the fourth-quarter (after a run of sequential double-digit fourth-quarter declines) thanks in large part to its strong Christmas movie slate.
AMC will host agencies and clients over three nights this week at its “Hideaway,” a speakeasy-type event where it will showcase its new programming.
Contributing: Anthony Crupi