AMC builds on success of 'Better Call Saul,' 'The Walking Dead' franchise

AMC Networks is riding high off the success of its “Better Call Saul” and “The Walking Dead” series, both of which are in their final seasons. To maintain engagement, AMC aims to keep those fan bases with fresh slates of content, interim CEO Matt Blank said on the second quarter earnings call.

“This is the biggest original programming year in our history,” he stated. “Strategically, we want to make sure we are always bridging audiences for various genres of programming and always have something to give them.”

“The Walking Dead” has a few spin-offs in the works for next year, Blank said. And though he didn’t name any plans to continue “Better Call Saul,” actors Bob Odenkirk and Giancarlo Esposito will be starring in two currently-in-production AMC shows: “Straight Man” and “Parish,” respectively.

Other major streaming players are also focusing on developing franchises to better retain audiences. Netflix recently announced spin-off plans for both the “Stranger Things” series and its new spy thriller movie “The Gray Man.”

Disney, which already owns expansive franchises like Marvel Cinematic Universe and “Star Wars,” is reportedly looking to scoop up streaming rights for BBC’s “Doctor Who.”

Blank added “Better Call Saul” ranks as the third most watched show in key demos for the current broadcast season – just behind Paramount’s “Yellowstone” and “The Walking Dead.” While the second part of “The Walking Dead’s” eleventh season finished the quarter as “the most watched season on AMC+ to date.”

“Our strong streaming performance underscores our ability to not just make the kind of high-quality content that’s always been a key pillar for our brand,” he said, “but to make true hits that break through and make a mark in the popular culture.”

AMC reported net revenues of $738 million – down 4% year-on-year. Streaming revenues jumped 20%, with AMC’s streaming services reaching 10.8 million paid subscribers – a net add of 1.3 million subs in Q2.

The subscriber count encompasses AMC’s Acorn TV, AMC+, ALLBLK, Shudder and Sundance Now platforms. Blank noted the company remains on track to reach its long-term goal of 20-25 million subscribers by 2025.

Adjusted operating income decreased 22% year-on-year to $196 million.

International expansion is another way AMC is growing its audience. AMC+ this quarter launched a premium streaming bundle in Spain, in partnership with Orange and Vodafone. The SVOD service is also now available in India via Amazon’s Prime Video channels.

AMC’s global roadmap includes eventual AMC+ expansion in New Zealand and Latin America. Christina Spade, COO and CFO at AMC Networks, said AMC aims to enter markets offering a “strong value proposition.”

“We’re not going to put our subs out on a package basis where we don’t feel we’re going to have a strong market foothold,” she said. “We don’t want to be out there on our own offering our à la carte service and not have a strong partner to kind of see how the market takes shape.”

The reason the AMC+ bundle in Spain worked out, Spade explained, “really came out of relationships we’ve already established.” And AMC will continue chasing partnerships in countries where it has a solid linear TV presence.

AMC earlier this year said it’s taking a “deliberate” approach to its streaming strategy, by factoring the impact of linear TV reach.

Kim Kelleher, president of commercial revenue and partnerships at AMC Networks, said combining streaming and linear networks enables AMC to “strategically move programming around on the different places viewers watch.”

She pointed to AMC’s multi-platform windowing approach, which promotes programming both on linear and streaming. AMC+, for instance, gives viewers the opportunity to watch the next episode of a series a week ahead of its linear TV airing. This was the case with “The Walking Dead” as well as the new original series “Dark Winds.”

Conversely, viewers watching via cable are prompted to watch the next episode of a show on AMC+. This multi-platform strategy, Kelleher pointed out, is a “huge advantage in this fragmented environment, and one that we’re fully leveraging.”

AMC rounded out the call with a couple of personnel announcements. Spade will assume the role of CEO effective September 9. Blank is stepping down after serving as interim chief since September 2021.

Patrick O’Connell, EVP at CBS and managing director at Goldman Sachs, is to replace Spade as CFO.