Wall Street is spooked after seeing ratings slide for the first four episodes of the sixth season for the zombie series, one of AMC’s biggest profit drivers.
Yet Sapan says he’s “quite pleased,” especially since “the competition for live viewing has been particularly intense.” The NFL matches on Sundays have been stronger than last year’s, and the show was up against the baseball playoffs.
What’s more “we treat The Walking Dead in the broadest sense as a franchise” that includes the recent sequel Fear The Walking Dead. “It’s delicate to do what’s commonly called a spin off. They have a checkered history.” But he’s “extremely pleased” by FTWD‘s launch as one of the most watched shows on cable.
Next year there’ll be 15 episodes, up from six this year.
As the centerpiece for a franchise, “the key to The Walking Dead is for us to treat it as carefully as we can” with “an insistent focus on creative excellence.” By that measure, “all of the people have over-delivered.”
Sapan steered a middle course on one the industry’s most important strategic questions: whether cable networks should reduce syndication sales of hit shows from their ad-supported channels to services led by Netflix that are ad-free and encourage cord cutting. Yesterday Time Warner said that it would pull back on these deals, even though it will hurt earnings.
AMC’s strategy to license shows a year after they first broadcast “was right against a backdrop that was emerging and unknowable,” Sapan says. “Our view today is that our approach was a measured one and an appropriate one. I don’t know if ‘perfect’ is the right answer….We’ve watched the data and think our approach has been appropriate. We’ll continue to monitor it.”
He’s not worried yet that shows will become lost as consumers juggle traditional and new digital video services. “A spasmodic reaction is to retreat and go with the familiar” cable and satellite providers. But with social media “you have a tuned up consumer population that’s discussing [shows] more than they have in the past. That’s a damned rich opportunity….We look at it as both a challenge and a huge opportunity because you’re playing to an interested audience.”