As it prepares for its first combined upfront event on Thursday night, AMC Networks is taking an unconventional approach to connect with buyers this year. The company is going to let the quality of its shows do most of the talking.
So, instead of unveiling new brand messaging or network refreshes at New York’s Skylight Clarkson North that night, AMC Networks is putting its series and their stars front and center.
“We think the focus should be on the content that is delivering those passionate fans,” said Scott Collins, president, advertising sales, AMC Networks. “That is more important now than ever before. It seems like it’s almost uncool to talk about programs. Everyone’s talking about other things.”
But Collins said the shows and their passionate fans on AMC, SundanceTV, IFC, BBC America and WE tv, should be more important than ever to advertisers, as brands pull their ads from YouTube over concerns about brand safety.
Collins, who was named AMC Networks’ ad sales chief last September and is overseeing his first upfront event, said that after two years of agency dinners, the company was ready to hold a united event. “I want to reach out to a wider swath of people in the ad community because not everyone was able to go to the dinner,” he said. “But even more importantly, it was the right moment for us to come together as AMC Networks.” Collins added that the five brands have now “crystallized.”
Thursday will be the first time AMC Networks is spotlighting BBC America, which it made a 49.9 percent investment in two and a half years ago. “It was a good moment to showcase that as part of the larger AMC company,” said Ed Carroll, COO, AMC Networks.
The presentation will also enable the company to showcase the strength of its five networks when others are eliminating their least popular channels. “We have five networks that do very specific things and complement each other, whereas not every group can say that,” said Charlie Collier, president of AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios. “We’re firing on all cylinders from a brand point of view, and it’s very relevant to the marketplace.”
The event’s focus on shows doesn’t mean AMC doesn’t care about data. In fact, Collins is bringing a new data platform to the upfront market for a handful of clients, though he might not even mention it Thursday. “To sit there and wax poetic about data isn’t the best use of anyone’s time,” he said.
Added Carroll of the company’s still unnamed, Nielsen-based data offering, “We haven’t been pounding our chest about it, but we are quietly working with a handful of Fortune 500 companies. We have been testing it for over a year, and it works.”
The biggest difference from other networks’ data platforms is that AMC isn’t just optimizing its own portfolio’s inventory for marketers. “A lot of companies have gone, ‘This is how to buy me and optimize me and my 17 networks.’ What we’re doing is looking at an advertiser’s entire television buy. We look back and we see optimization opportunities that could have happened [in the past],” said Collins. “We take those learnings and apply them to the future, and that’s really where the value comes in.”
Thursday’s upfront event and sit-down dinner will be “a combination of scale and intimacy,” said Collins. Each of the network chiefs will speak and air clips of upcoming shows, while talent from all five networks will rotate around the various dinner tables. Collins said the approach echoes the last upfront presentation AMC held as an individual network three years ago, an event clients still rave about.
While all five networks will get their spotlight, the king of the portfolio remains AMC, home to The Walking Dead, which despite losing some ratings momentum after the Season 7 premiere, is still the No. 1 entertainment show on cable or broadcast, averaging 15.5 million total viewers and 9.7 million in the 18-49 demo in live-plus-3, not including Sunday’s season finale.
Collins has big plans for the Season 8 premiere this fall, which will be a huge event to celebrate the show’s 100th episode. “There’s a lot of buzz and excitement and conversations we’re having around that,” he said.
AMC boasts a 34 percent share of all original drama impressions on ad-supported cable (among 18- to 49-year-olds in live-plus-3). Collier said the network would have the No. 1 share in that category even without The Walking Dead thanks to shows like Fear the Walking Dead (returning June 3 for Season 3), Preacher (Season 2 debuts on June 25), Better Call Saul (returning April 10 for Season 3) and Into the Badlands.
The network’s new series this year are The Son (a western starring Pierce Brosnan, which debuts April 8), The Terror (its first anthology series, which will blend real-life historical events with a supernatural element) and Lodge 49 (about an underdog who stumbles upon a lodge, which becomes “the mystical center of his universe,” said Collier).
Upfront highlights from the rest of AMC Networks’ portfolio:
- IFC has the new comedy Brockmire, starring Hank Azaria as a baseball announcer trying to get back on his feet, which premieres Wednesday night. Later this year, it will air the final season of Portlandia, as well as Season 2 of its horror-comedy Stan Against Evil.
- WE tv just had its biggest series premiere ever in total viewers and women demos with Mama June: From Not to Hot, which also made the network No. 1 in March on Friday nights among women 18-49 and 25-54 (in live-plus-3). It just launched Doctor Miami, about a Snapchatting plastic surgeon, and will be expanding two franchises with Growing Up Hip Hop Atlanta and Marriage Boot Camp: Reality Stars Family Edition. Later this year, We tv will air Season 2 of Million Dollar Matchmaker, with Patti Stanger.
- Planet Earth II helped BBC America become the No. 1 ratings gainer year over year among entertainment networks in the first quarter, topping all competitors in the 25-54 target demo (up 27 percent) and total viewers (up 41 percent). Next up is the return of Doctor Who on April 15, with spinoff series Class. Top Gear spinoff Top Gear America will air later this year, the final season of Orphan Black kicks off on June 10 and the sophomore season of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency will air this fall.
- In addition to Hap and Leonard’s second season, SundanceTV has Top of the Lake: China Girl coming later this year, with Elisabeth Moss returning, joined by Nicole Kidman and Gwendoline Christie. New drama Liar, starring Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt, “is really the quintessential Sundance show,” said Collier, who noted, “when we started working with the network, Robert Redford talked about moving us into original programming that felt like it was organic to what the brand does, and I feel like we’re hitting our stride.”