AMC moves forward

Net unveils more contempo slate, extra ads

AMC has made it official: The network is marching forward into the 1980s and ’90s, dumping black-and-white golden oldies in favor of pictures like “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Speed” and “Predator.”

But AMC will continue to air movies from the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s on a new, commercial-free digital cable network, AMC’s Hollywood Classics, which will make its debut in October.

That’s the good news for movie fans. The bad news is that AMC will double its number of commercials, from four to eight minutes an hour.

Kate McEnroe, president of AMC Networks, said she had to stuff extra blurbs into the schedule for two reasons:

  • Cable operators, groaning under the weight of the huge license fees they pay for ESPN, TNT, Disney Channel and regional sports nets, are refusing to pony up anything more than minuscule cost-of-living increases to networks like AMC.

  • This cable-operator reluctance has forced AMC to harvest more of its revenues from advertising to pay the bills for newer movies and for the movie-related informational programming that will be a big part of the new strategy. To get the rights to more recent titles, AMC has to go up against aggressive bidders like TBS, TNT, USA, FX and TNN.

McEnroe said that even though AMC is doubling its current commercial load, eight minutes is still far less than the average of 12 minutes an hour that most ad-supported cable nets shoehorn into their lineups.

The cost of the older movies that will fill the schedule of Hollywood Classics is modest enough that cable operators who take the network in a digital tier will pay monthly license fees of less than 10¢ per subscriber. No cable operator has signed for Hollywood Classics yet, although McEnroe said there’ll be some carriage announcements in the near future.

One of AMC’s fiercest competitors, Tom Karsch, exec VP and general manager of the commercial-free Turner Classic Movies, said AMC has made a devil’s bargain by accepting advertising.

Karsch said ad agencies are dictating AMC’s push to schedule more recent movies, which attract younger viewers whose brand loyalties are not fully formed, making them susceptible to enticing advertiser messages.

The older viewers who dote on vintage movies are much less likely to change, say, their brand of toothpaste. Many advertisers, Karsch said, find it a waste of time and money to pitch products to older people who are set in their ways.