AMC Networks’ stock price staggered today following the release of dreary ratings numbers for the second episode of the new season of The Walking Dead, and words of warning from a Wall Street analyst initiating coverage of the company.
AMC closed down 6.3%. It had a similar drop last week after the zombie series opened the sixth season to disappointing ratings. The latest episode, on Sunday, attracted 12.2 million live and same-day viewers, down 16% from last week, and 7.8 million 18-to-49 year olds, down 17%.
That’s not the last word: Last week the total audience grew 33% and viewers in the target rose 36% when viewers who time-shifted the show were folded in. My colleague Dominic Patten notes that this week’s tally “could see rises close to those numbers” later this week when the supplemented numbers come in.
Nomura analyst Anthony DiClemente also wants to wait and see — calling today’s selloff “modestly overdone.” Walking Dead is “a powerful asset that continues to drive advertising and affiliate monetization,” which is why he plans to “keep an eye on time-shifted TWD ratings.”
Sunday’s episode also faced unusually tough competition, he adds. Sunday Night Football had the “deflate-gate” rematch between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. And baseball fans in the first and third biggest markets were tuned into the NLCS matchup between the New York Mets and the Chicago Cubs.
But Cowen and Co.’s Doug Creutz urged investors today to stay on the sidelines. He expects the stock to stay around $72 over the next year, just slightly higher than today’s closing price of $69.38.
Walking Dead and other shows in the franchise — including Fear The Walking Dead and Talking Dead — account for about a quarter of the AMC channel’s total primetime audience.
“This is a very comparable figure to American Idol‘s contribution to the Fox broadcast network’s total season viewership as recently as 2011,” he says. “Idol’s ratings declines since then were, we believe, the primary driver of the fact that Fox’s TV segment EBITDA [cash flow] has declined over the last four years despite the addition of ~$800 million in high-margin retransmission revenue. We believe that AMC could find itself in an even more difficult position than Fox has been in if The Walking Dead were to start suffering a significant loss of viewer interest.”
Creutz also warns that AMC’s vulnerable if audiences and advertisers continue to shift from cable and satellite to online services. The AMC channel accounts for more than half of the parent company’s National Networks revenues, followed by WeTV at 16%.
The small scale of the channels puts the company “at somewhat of a negotiating disadvantage with distributors in terms of fully monetizing its cable networks though affiliate fees, particularly since the company has only a small amount of owned original programming and no sports.”
Creutz says there’s about a 20% possibility that AMC will be acquired over the next few years. But the analyst is doesn’t particularly like media mergers “given the track record of value destruction in the space” and would rather see it invest in its own content and services.