These look like interesting defensive maneuvers at a time when cable and satellite companies are threatening to drop little-watched channels. Sundance — which only reaches about 52M pay TV households — would seem to be vulnerable in some negotiations, although AMC Networks says it has recently completed long-term deals with Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. But AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan told analysts today that he recognizes the channel “is undernourished, in need of (investment) and rich in opportunities.” While execs offered few specifics, they noted that on April 22 Sundance will introduce its first fully owned scripted series, Rectify (from the producers of Breaking Bad), and that a second one will be coming as soon as next winter. There’ll be at least two scripted series in 2013 vs one in 2012. In addition, the company just announced that beginning March 4 Sundance will show the first four seasons of AMC’s Breaking Bad. Along with the Sundance investments, AMC is researching online distribution opportunities that “shouldn’t be confused with TV Everywhere” — the industry-wide streaming initiative — Sapan says. The goal is to become “educated and smart” in the possibility of distributing shows directly to consumers. “Think iTunes,” he says.
The company already has one service, Sundance Now, where consumers can buy and download independent films. The investments come at a time when Sapan says “there’s some tension” in conversations with pay TV distributors who are being hit with programming price increases from broadcast and cable networks, especially those that offer sports. “We think [negotiations] are going OK. It would be nice if they were a little smoother. But they probably can’t be.” At the end of 2012, Time Warner Cable signaled its get-tough stance by dropping Ovation and Current.