AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan Talks ‘Walking Dead’ Production Restart, Upfront Ad Outlook

The Walking Dead

AMC Networks said it plans to restart production on the second half of Season 6 of Fear the Walking Dead in Texas in late August, on new series Kevin Can F*** Himself in Boston at the end of September, and on Season 11 of The Walking Dead in Georgia in October. “Our ability to resume in the safest possible way is something we are closely focused on,” said CEO Josh Sapan on a conference call Tuesday. “We will continue to monitor and adjust accordingly depending on local circumstances.”

Sapan and COO Ed Carroll while delving into the company’s surprisingly upbeat quarterly results acknowledged challenges of scheduling and ad revenue amid shifts caused by COVID-19. The Walking Dead Season 10 finale will air October 4, ahead of the third series in TWD universe, The Walking Dead: World Beyond. Both had been set to premiere April 12.

The first season of Soul Mates, the new sci-fi series completed before the pandemic hit in March, will premiere this fall. The anthology series stars Strangers Things’ Charlie Heaton, Billions’ Malin Akerman, Breaking Bad’s Betsy Brandt and Turn’s JJ Feild, Succession’s Sarah Snook, Billions’ David Costabile and Lodge 49’s Sonya Cassidy.

AMC Networks — with AMC, BBC America, IFC, SundanceTV, and WE tv in the fold — saw U.S. ad sales dip 14%, less than anticipated, in part on lower demand and timing of original programming.

The report was a bit of victory lap for the company, which just received 18 Emmy nods, including two out of the eight for Outstanding Drama for Better Call Saul and Killing Eve. It continues to develop new series and roll them out across platforms including DTC. It continues to insisted that it doesn’t have to be as big or compete with major players to succeed, an assertion that’s been met with varying degrees of skepticism by Wall Street as it cord cutting accelerates.

“SVOD is an increasing area of focus. Several big players are leading the charge but we decided there’s also room for premium, niche, genre focused services [that] fit with our company’s structure and our size,” said Sapan. AMC is moderating its sales of content to third parties “by degrees,” he said.

Streaming services Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC “delivered impressive year-over-year growth in revenues and subscribers” the company said, not breaking them out but confirming that total subs would end the year at the high end of a previously anticipated 3.5 to 4 million range. AMC also touted its new SVOD bundle called AMC+, currently carried by Dish and Comcast’s Xfinity, and channel deals with Pluto and Sling TV and said more will be coming.

On the upfronts, the company is “having “productive conversations with all the major agencies,” Carroll said. “This will be a different upfront than in the past. It’s clearly slower [but] the agencies are … aware of tightening inventory concerns.”

“The issue they have is [that] not all their clients have revealed what their budgets will be. We just don’t have visibility” into volume,” said Carroll. But “I think 3Q will be healthy. I think in 4Q we will be in full swing. We feel very good about where 2020 [will end] and [it] sets us up well in 2021, when we’re hopeful for normalized business conditions.”

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