AMC Networks exec: Viewers increasingly set their own ‘appointment TV’

One change ushered in with the advent of streaming is that as the number of distribution points and consumer options for viewing grows, networks less and less are setting the time slot for when people tune in to watch a specific episode or premiere, according to AMC Networks’ executive Evan Adlman.

Speaking at Advertising Week New York on Monday, Adlman, EVP of Commercial Sales & Revenue for AMC Networks, said one thing it’s experienced – which is not unique to AMC but programmers overall – is that “we are no longer setting the appointment for when a consumer watches the show. More and more the consumer is setting the appointment for when their premiere is going to be their premiere.”

That’s a shift from about 10-15 years ago when AMC networks would air one of its top shows on cable and there were around just five distribution endpoints that made up about 75% of national reach, the executive said, making it very easy to get that show in front of “millions and millions of people within one specific endpoint.”

Fast forward and he noted AMC has 18 channels FAST across eight platforms, alongside carriage on traditional MVPDs and satellite distributors (and operators’ TVEverywhere apps), virtual MVPDs, as well as the AMC+ SVOD and newly introduced ad-supported tier.  As a network with roots in linear, AMC+ distribution started in June 2020 with traditional providers Comcast and Dish as its first partners before expanding further on pay TV platforms, followed by streaming partners such as on Prime Video, Apple TV and Roku, and eventually launching its own suite of DTC products. Along with original programming and shows, AMC+ includes a bundle of streaming services such as Shudder, Sundance Now, IFC Films Unlimited and others. Just last month it introduced an ad-supported tier that includes the same content for a lower price at $4.99 per month.Taken together, consumers now have a wide range of choices as to when and where they want to watch something, Adlman commented.

As to what that means for advertisers, the executive said as an industry he thinks “we need to figure out how to be more intelligent and smarter of how we bring our messages across all those platforms, because when you take all those endpoints and you add them together, it should equal what it was 10 years ago.”  

AMC Networks is taking a deliberate approach to expanding its number of distribution endpoints, with what it touts as a “viewer-first strategy” that aims not to put walls around content. It also takes a focused strategy to content - counter to some major media companies’ strategy of being someone for everyone – where the company doesn’t expect to be viewers’ only service, but strives to super serve fans so that it’s the favorite go-to choice for specific audiences and segments, with hit franchises such as The Walking Dead.

Adlman noted AMC for a long time had only a small set of distribution points via traditional providers to consider, but thanks to expanded distribution partnerships now scales across the FAST, AVOD and traditional linear environments.

“It’s always been our goal to make sure that our content is everywhere the viewer is and viewership consumption has changed,” he said, citing it as a driving factor for the aforementioned viewer-first strategy. “We want them to be able to watch it on their terms, on the appointment that they’re setting, which is becoming more and more the norm today.”

Using data to drive insights, targeting for what – not just when – people watch

When it comes to advertisers being able to take advantage of those audience and AMC’s work in bringing addressable TV ads to the linear space, he said so far one lesson learned has been the need for standardization.

On traditional linear, one message was historically amplified to many households, but the aim for AMC was to start delivering messaging to different households - not an easy task, he said in an environment where there’s not one standard protocol among operators and a lack of interoperability between linear distributors.

And with the proliferation of streaming, AMC now gets a plethora of data it didn’t previously have access to, thanks in part to an industry push for more transparency, and two, the expanded number of AMC’s digital distribution points that inherently serve up data the company hadn’t been used to receiving.

One thing it’s done to build on access to that data was the launch of its product Audience Plus, which came out of addressable developments the company undertook, together with digital distribution.  AMC built the product, he said, because it started to see viewers were watching certain pieces of AMC programming on different platforms at different times. The executive described how AMC could see viewership on platform A and investigate what else the viewer was watching, with interesting insights into other programming or genres they were engaging with.

“This [Audience Plus] platform that we built allows us to understand what people are watching, where they’re watching it, and when they’re watching it, and on what platform they’re watching it. And give…those insights to our advertisers to begin to give them the ability to target our consumers and viewers in that way,” Adlman said.

While there are still plenty of challenges to solve for advertising on streaming, he said that TV advertising – traditionally known for its capabilities as a reach mechanism -  continues to hold value but emphasized the need for industry recognition to look at “what people are watching, not just look at when they’re watching something.”

“There’ so much content out there for consumers to engage with, whether it’s a show that comes out today, or is a show that aired a year ago” consumers are still sitting down and tuning in, Adlman commented.

To that end, he thinks advertisers need to think about how to take advantage of advances in targeting capabilities and technologies that have developed in recent years to reach viewers across multiple platforms for what they’re watching, versus the traditional way of buying based on a period of time on particular platform.

Looking ahead the EVP said he’s hopeful for a short-term period of experimentation and testing by advertisers, marketers and agencies in terms of how to reach consumers and leverage different types of verification and measurement that weren’t previously available. However, it’s similar elements - specifically verification and measurement discrepancies - that he called out as the challenges the industry will be looking at this time next year.

“The difference between different platforms and how they score viewership is something will be something we’ll need to better understand,” he said, adding it’s similar to what the digital industry went through with viewability and page load speeds, while also pointing to TV industry efforts on measurement, such as the U.S. Joint Industry Committee, which AMC Networks is involved in.