AMC is more than just Mad Men. The cable network, not so long ago known for running old movies with no commercials, now boasts a growing roster of award-winning original series—including Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and The Killing—that would make Don Draper proud.
With scripted series scheduled to air in every quarter, Scott Collins, executive VP of ad sales for Rainbow Media’s AMC and WEtv, says that’s led to a change in the network’s approach to the upfront this year.
“As ratings of broadcast shows go down—erosion, as they say—a lot of top-tier cable has taken its place because of the quality of the scripts,” Collins says. “I feel our quality even surpasses broadcast when you consider the response from critics. We have earned being in that consideration set for broadcast-prime replacement.”
AMC used to bundle its original shows with its movies to boost the average ad prices it got for its primetime programming. Now it will allow advertisers to buy its originals only.
“The CPMs that our originals command are far higher than our regular [schedule], but I would say they’re approaching broadcast CPMs,” Collins says. “You can’t go and buy another Mad Men. You can’t go and buy another Walking Dead.”
AMC also used to require that sponsors of its originals buy spots in all of the episodes of a series. This year, it will offer what it calls “bursts” separately. Bursts comprise an original episode and all of its reruns on the network, with the rating based on cumulative viewership.
“We want to be more things to more people, and we’re having a lot more interest in our originals especially in light of people saying they’re worried about the NFL strike,” Collins says. “Who knows what will happen, but we’re part, people are telling me, of possible contingency plans.”
Other Originals Stand in for Delayed ‘Men’
Season five of Mad Men was pushed back til next year because of a contract dispute with creator Matt Weiner. Some ad time had been sold in last year’s upfront. But Collins says “with the wealth of originals that we have, we were able to accommodate that inventory” without refunding money to advertisers.
This season, AMC also is adding original non-scripted shows to its lineup with Inside DHS, about the Department of Homeland Security, and The Pitch, about ad agencies making new-business presentations.
Marc Morse, senior VP for national broadcast at media buyer RJ Palmer, says AMC has enough quality shows to legitimately pitch itself as a network replacement option. “I don’t think they’re going to be able to position themselves the way a USA does or a Turner does as far as dollar volume, but they certainly could make that kind of a pitch and convince people to say, ‘let’s do some more business with AMC.’ They have a lot of original programs,” Morse says.
Last year AMC ranked 23rd among all ad-supported cable networks in adults 18-49. In ad revenue, it ranked 26th at $289 million, up 16% from 2009, according to SNL Kagan,
AMC‘s upfront slogan is “the most original programs on TV,” meaning not that it has the most shows, but that its shows are the most distinctive. Morse sees value in that approach.
The upcoming drama Hell on Wheels, which focuses on a former Confederate soldier working on the transcontinental railroad, could fill that bill. “Hell on Wheels, because it looks so much different than what’s out there, and if they promote it the right way, could do well,” Morse says.
AMC still programs a lot of movies, and it’s looking for new ways to sell them. One approach is creating a new event, Mob Week, which Collins sees as his network’s Shark Week. Mob Week will feature films like Goodfellas, Casino and the Godfather trilogy, which AMC has exclusive rights to for the next nine years.
Though gangster films would hardly seem like an advertiser-friendly environment, Collins says he gets few objections. “Other networks have big movies and big blockbusters and newly released movies, but we get tremendous value from our viewers in super-serving their favorites. And I think because they love these so much, there’s little negativity from clients,” he says.
The network is also running stunts called Can’t Get Enough, in which it runs the same movie, night after night, for a week. It will do 14 or 15 of them this year. “It’s like taking our movies and making an event out if it,” Collins says. It increases the movie’s reach because different people will watch on a Thursday than on a Friday, but they’re from the same demographic that the movie appeals to. A sponsor can present the movie and participate in short-form interstitials and vignettes. “Advertiser response has been phenomenal,” Collins says.
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