Josh Sapan to ask for more from cable, sat providers

Cable providers, take note: Your sub fee for AMC is probably going up.

“We have a wholesale price that is low compared to what we think we are worth in the market today, and so that leaves some headroom as those affiliation agreements expire,” AMC Networks topper Josh Sapan said Tuesday morning of the group’s flagship net. “It’s quite a different channel in 2011 than it was in 2006, ’07 and ’08.”

Sapan was speaking at the UBS media and communications conference in Gotham. Sapan’s sesh was revealing for a few reasons, including a frank discussion of AMC’s resources in the Q&A that followed his presentation. “We’re comfortable with five originals on AMC,” Sapan said. “(Adding a sixth) does not appear to be necessary to us, so we apply a fairly rigorous standard to anything new,” taking into consideration chiefly how fast a new show would pay for itself.

One way AMC had been able to front so much scripted drama in the first place, Sapan said, was by choosing not to own all of its initial shows, which he admitted he hadn’t expected to succeed to the degree that they did. “We made that decision for the first four shows, and some of them have done frankly better than we thought they would,” he told the aud. “We didn’t think that a rarefied drama about Madison Avenue in the ’60s with no action would have people foaming at the mouth.”

Sapan stressed that he’d grown more savvy. “We thought that zombies would create an appetite among people,” he observed, then, after getting a couple of bloodthirsty chuckles, said, “Right?”

AMC will “go ahead and pilot some (new series) in the not-too-distant future,” he said, though he told the aud that development was a relatively minor proposition for the network in financial terms; as with most questions, Sapan declined to specify specific dollar amounts.

On IFC’s recent transition to a full ad load, Sapan admitted that “we won’t see full realization of the economics for a certain period of time” but said that the anticipated dry spell wasn’t the whole story. “It’s a good playbook,” he said, noting that the company had done something similar with AMC, putting ad revenue directly into programming from a network that was used to functioning without it. Sundance, he said, had become the company’s window to the world — the net’s name recognition gave it a foothold that allows the overseas versions of the net to become a sort-of AMC Networks’ greatest hits.

Answering a question about the after-cablecast life of AMC series, Sapan pointed to the digital realm rather than traditional syndication. “Netflix and Hulu open up the world significantly,” he said. “What qualifies as successful in that world is quite different.” Serialization, he said, works much better on streaming than in the syndie world.

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