AMC Networks And BBC Chiefs On The Future Of BBC America

Don’t be surprised if you see AMC Networks and BBC America collaborating on digital projects, films, or events following AMC’s agreement to pay $200 million in cash for a 49.9% stake in the service. “Because the editorial alignment and point of view is so similar in terms of smart, quality and premium, we think that we will find lots and lots and lots of places to join on things that we are not yet doing today,” AMC chief Josh Sapan tells me.

2014 Summer TCA Tour - Day 2There will be changes at BBC America. General Manager Perry Simon will leave after a transition period that will run for the “coming weeks,” BBC Worldwide CEO Tim Davie says. “We are looking at roles within BBC Worldwide” for Simon. AMC will appoint his replacement, though Sapan says it hasn’t begun the search process yet. He praises the current team, describing it as “an extraordinary group of people whose work speaks for itself there” with several consecutive quarters of ratings growth. “They’ve done a spectacular job.”

Sapan says he has “no prognostication” on how the deal might affect AMC’s earnings. “We think it’s a wise, strategic move for us. It’s economically prudent and puts us – and hopefully BBC America – in a stronger position in the United States” both editorially and for distribution. The AMC chief says he’ll know whether the investment paid off if, over time, ratings and revenues improve at BBC America. The key focus, though, will be content. “You can’t necessarily call that success/failure. But if the material is smart and good and compelling, we will have success.”

Davie adds that the two enterprises “occupy the top four slots of the most affluent audiences watching television” with shows including Mad Men and Doctor Who. They have “a very sensible, growing business plan,” but the venture works, in his view, due to “the electricity of premium content and great collaborations creatively.”

Image (2) bbc-america-logo__130325101911-200x105__130404205248-150x105.jpg for post 681895Why would BBCA want to forge a partnership if it’s doing so well by itself? Davie says his company made the deal “by choice” because it would be easier to work creatively with AMC. In addition, “there’s no doubt about it that scale is a meaningful metric. But we weren’t looking for scale at all costs.”

Sapan also noted that, as digital and on-demand media grow, there will be a place for “the good stuff and the smart stuff.” BBC productions “are heroic on digital platforms.” The partners vow to protect the current pay TV ecosystem. But “we may find opportunities that enhance that or that join to that.” AMC will promote BBC World News, even though it doesn’t own an equity stake in it. “It is, unequivocally, the best news service in the world and the best news service in the United States,” Sapan says.

The companies already have started to talk about new ventures. “They finance movies; we have IFC Films,” Sapan says. “So we have movie sympathy as well as a possibility. They do events of a certain sort, and we have interest in doing events. That’s another possibility.”

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