Amid Industry Upheaval, AMC Networks’ Stability Will Be an Upfront Asset

After a combined upfront event last year, the company returns to agency lunches and dinners

Julianna Margulies, who stars in the upcoming AMC drama Dietland, is among the talent attending this week's upfront gatherings. Patrick Harbron/AMC
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Between just-completed acquisitions, mergers in the making and departing CEOs, almost every media company is going into the upfront with major questions about what they will look like in a year. One of the few places without such uncertainty, AMC Networks, says its stability amidst a chaos-filled industry will be an asset in this year’s market.

After holding its first combined upfront event for its entire portfolio last year (AMC, IFC, SundanceTV, WE tv and BBC America), AMC Networks has reverted to its previous upfront approach of agency lunches and dinners at the Chef’s Club in New York, beginning today for the next three days. The company will also make a stop in Chicago next week.

“I think the agencies enjoy this because they’re amongst their peers, they can speak more freely,” said Scott Collins, president of advertising sales for AMC Networks. “There’s a lot of uncertainty in the media landscape these days and it feels more appropriate to have a more intimate setting.”

And with all the questions swirling about the futures of competitors like Disney, 21st Century Fox, Discovery and A+E Networks, “we do offer a level of stability that seems to be increasingly rare these days,” said Collins. “We have five very well-defined brands. It’s not like 17”—the number of Discovery Inc. networks after acquiring Scripps—“and I’m not sure what show is on what [network]. There’s consistency: They know what they’re getting, and they know who they’re getting it from.”

Collins noted that while Peak TV is the talk of the industry, “this explosion of television is not really happening on ad-supported TV,” but on outlets like Netflix, Showtime and HBO. “It makes what we have that much more precious, going into a marketplace where people are looking to invest in breakthrough content and reaching viewers.”

That’s why storytelling will be a major theme of AMC Networks’ upfront messaging with successful shows on each network: The Walking Dead (which remained last year’s number obe show in the 18–49 demo, ahead of every scripted series on broadcast and cable) and Better Call Saul on AMC, Brockmire (which has already been renewed for two more seasons) on IFC, Killing Eve on BBC America, Love After Lockup on WE tv and Hap and Leonard on SundanceTV.

The upfront lunches and dinners will include execs and a rotating roster of talent from the company’s shows, including The Walking Dead’s Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride, Julianna Margulies and Joy Nash from the upcoming AMC drama Dietland and Giancarlo Esposito from Better Call Saul.

One of Collins’ biggest offerings to marketers in the upfront will be the ability to take part in the simulcast of Dynasty—the tentative title of the next installment in the Planet Earth franchise—across AMC, IFC, SundanceTV and BBC America for six Saturdays early next year.

January’s Blue Planet II premiere was simulcast on all five networks, with the subsequent episodes airing as usual on BBC America. “We want to make it an even bigger event, and we feel we can accomplish that by putting it across four networks for the entire run,” said Collins.

And as one of the first cable networks to introduce six-second ads in the fall, during The Walking Dead and continuing with Fear the Walking Dead’s return last night, Collins will be taking that ad format into the upfront for the first time. “We even spoke to some folks about buying them out long-term, so we’ll see how that marketplace develops. We can do it where we want to do it, based on demand,” he said.

Last month, the company created a stand-alone data sales group, called AMCN Agility, to oversee its data offerings for clients, beginning with the upfront. The group features its Aurora Video Targeting Solutions platform for advanced audience segmenting and targeting, which AMC Networks first brought to market during last year’s upfront.

Collins said the cloud-based audience targeting offering is more transparent than the “black boxes” from competitors. “It’s transparent and is on a client’s desktop. You have the full ability to look at the entire television landscape, not just, this is how you optimize for us,” he said.

AMC hopes to forge more partnerships in the upfront like last year’s deal with Mountain Dew and The Walking Dead, which included an augmented-reality app and featured the show’s most famous characters on more than 100 million Mountain Dew products. Collins said that campaign delivered almost $10 million in additional Mountain Dew sales.

“Not a lot of brands can create that level of excitement. We have lots of content that people really care about, and we’re looking to expand those types of partnerships definitely in this upfront and beyond,” Collins said.

The company is joining many networks in moving beyond linear TV and offering brands opportunities in the live event space. For the second year, SundanceTV is partnering with Rooftop Films on The Rooftop Summer Series in New York, an outdoor series for independent films. WE tv will be a part of Afropunk Fest Brooklyn this August, while BBC America continues to sponsor the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.

Collins is also going to market with the upcoming Walking Dead augmented reality game, Our World. “Think of it like Pokemon Go, where we can drive players to retail locations or QSRs,” he said.

There could also be additional Walking Dead-related opportunities for brands since AMC has officially created a Walking Dead universe and will continue building that out in the coming year.

@jasonlynch Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.