AMC streaming strategy helped offset linear networks revenue loss in Q1

AMC Networks says it added 500,000 paying streaming customers during its most-recent financial quarter to end the period with around 9.5 million subscribers.

The figure was disclosed Thursday morning as part of the company's quarterly earnings release, with AMC saying it hopes to have between 20 million and 25 million streaming customers for flagship streaming service AMC+ and its foreign content-focused streamer Acorn TV by 2025.

"We continue to advance our differentiated strategy of offering streaming services that appeal to audiences with distinct affinities and passions, which is leading to strong consumer loyalty and low churn," Matt Blank, AMC Networks' interim chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The AMC+ app launched two years ago. At first, the streaming service was only available as an add-on package through Comcast's Xfinity, Amazon Prime Video Channels and the Apple TV app, but it has since expanded to other platforms and now offers its own direct-to-consumer subscription, which starts at around $7 a month.

Blank said the recent debut of the final season of "Better Call Saul," the network's spin-off of its popular "Breaking Bad" series, helped drive record customer growth to AMC+. That, coupled with some of its other original shows, have helped the streamer attract and retain subscribers throughout the year.

AMC is also hoping its library of movies from its sister brands will help spur interest in AMC+: Last week, the company said it would offer exclusive film premieres of movies from its IFC and Shudder brands, with many of the movies debuting on the service at the same time they're released in theaters. The first movie released under this strategy will debut on AMC+ later this week, executives said.

That strategy mirrors one adopted by rivals Warner Bros and Walt Disney, which released new theatrical films on their own direct-to-consumer streaming services at the same time the movies appeared in theaters. That move, which was largely attributed to disruptions caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, helped drive growth at HBO Max (now part of Warner Bros. Discovery since Discovery and WarnerMedia merged) and Disney+.

On a conference call with investors, AMC executives said it will continue to grow AMC+ internationally. The service is already available in the United Kingdom and India, and the company intends to roll it out in Europe and Latin America over the next year.

In addition to AMC+, the company operates Acorn TV, which offers a deep category of licensed foreign TV shows and movies. AMC Networks did not break out separate subscription figures for AMC+ and Acorn TV. Acorn TV costs $6 a month or $60 a year.

Along with its subscription streaming services, the company programs and distributes a number of free, ad-supported (FAST) linear channels that are distributed on services like the Roku Channel and Pluto TV. Last month, the company said it would add six new ad-supported streaming channels to its portfolio, including two that offer content in Spanish.

The network's subscription and ad-supported streaming strategy helped the company offset a decrease in revenue earned from its traditional cable networks. Subscription revenue grew 8% over the previous quarter, while revenue from its linear channels decreased by a "low-single digit" amount. On cable and satellite, AMC Networks offers its flagship AMC channel along with IFC, We TV, Sundance and BBC America; the company also serves as the domestic distributor of the BBC World News channel.

Overall, the company's net revenues increased 3% to $712 million, which executives said was spurred by a growth in streaming and advertising revenues. Its operating income increased by 3% to $175 million as the company sought to market and improve AMC+ and its other streaming products.

Company executives expressed delight over the revenue figures released on Thursday, noting that they feel confident they're on track to meet their subscriber goals within the next few years.

When asked by an analyst if the company would consider adding cheaper, ad-supported packages to their streaming services, Blank rebuffed the suggestion.

"It's funny, when you hear one other large player have some problems in their growth, all of a sudden an ad tier is going to solve their problems," Blank said, in a likely reference to Netflix.  "We don't necessarily think that's true, but we'll monitor the market, and we'll see what happens."