Former Showtime chief Matt Blank will take over on an interim basis, in a one-year appointment designed to maintain stability during a search for a permanent CEO. Sapan will become executive vice chair of the company as of September 8.
The move by Sapan, 70, is a milestone but not entirely a surprise. When he re-upped as CEO in late 2020, his contract included an option to transition to executive vice chairman.
In an SEC filing, the company included some strong hints about what Sapan is planning to do next. Along with working with management to “to support the overall advancement of the company,” per the filing, Sapan is poised to focus on the film business. In 2023 and 2024, it said, AMC Networks has agreed to acquire “at least three films” submitted to them by Sapan and will have exclusive North American rights, including for streaming. The price of each acquisition is capped at $900,000.
As Sapan transitions out, Blank will bring four decades of experience in the media business, including a 20-year run as Showtime’s CEO, which ended in 2015. (He continued as chairman until 2017.) The Showtime OTT service launched under his aegis, as did hit shows like Homeland, Ray Donovan, Shameless, Billions, Dexter, Weeds and The Circus.
AMC Networks, which began as a subsidiary of Cablevision called Rainbow Media, has prospered under Sapan. The company, which went public in 2011, has ushered in successful and culturally significant cable TV shows like The Walking Dead, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. As the cable programming business has become increasingly challenging in recent years, with cord-cutting accelerating, Sapan has presided over a shift to streaming. With niche services like Sundance Now, Acorn TV and Shudder, the company is expecting to have 20 million to 25 million subscribers by 2025 and revenue from those operations will exceed those in the traditional linear business.
The company’s longtime cable portfolio of AMC, BBC America, IFC, SundanceTV and WE tv, plus IFC Films, have made it the longtime subject of M&A speculation. But an ownership structure with shares controlled by the Dolan family has made the wheeling and dealing that has reshaped the media landscape unlikely — at least so far — to involve AMC Networks.
In 2020, according to a regulatory filing, Sapan saw his total compensation drop 40% from 2019, to $11.8 million.
A native of Queens, Sapan had early career stints at Time Warner Cable and Showtime before joining Rainbow Media in 1987. He was involved in a number of successful network rebrands over the years and shepherded breakout shows including Killing Eve, Rectify, The Night Manager, Top of the Lake, Carlos, Portlandia, Documentary Now! and Brockmire.
For all of his progress in the traditional realm, Sapan along the way injected distinctive wit and panache into the transactional, “spots-and-dots” world of ad-supported cable. In 2013, he published a book of collected photographs, The Big Picture: America in Panorama. Profiling him that year, The New Yorker highlighted Sapan’s eclectic mix of what he called “discarded art,” a range of objects he collected, occasionally by “dumpster diving.” In a business focused on earnings and the near term, he supported funding filmmaker Richard Linklater for a protracted, 12-year period as he made Boyhood. The 2014 release wound up getting six Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture, and a win for Patricia Arquette’s supporting turn.
“Over his long career, Josh’s leadership ensured AMC Networks became a force in entertainment, with far-reaching influence throughout the industry, and home to some of the most successful and innovative shows in the history of television,” AMC Networks Chairman James Dolan said. “We are grateful for his vision, creativity and management expertise and look forward to his continued contributions as executive vice chairman.”
Dolan added that Blank’s “wealth of media experience will prove valuable as he works with Josh and the AMC Networks team to support the company’s continued success.”
“This has been the greatest career I could have ever imagined, and I am enormously proud of all that we have accomplished. I am deeply grateful to Charles and Jim Dolan for allowing me this spectacular opportunity,” Sapan said. “There has perhaps been no more exciting time for the company than right now and, as executive vice chairman, I look forward to continuing to work with the outstanding team at AMC Networks, as well as Matt, my great colleague and friend, to focus on how we maximize our unique content to accelerate our streaming goals.”