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AMC Chief Josh Sapan: Content, Not Scale, Matters Most in Social Media Age

CAMBRIDGE, England — Josh Sapan, the president and CEO of AMC Networks, told a conference for U.K. television industry leaders Thursday that scale was less of an issue in the content business, despite recent rumors that AMC is looking to merge with rival cable network Starz.

“It does seem that in the U.S. scale on the distribution side – cable, satellite and telco — seems to matter because it allows for advanced resource and engineering that makes for superior user interface,” Sapan said. “I think it is less critical by a long shot on the content side, because — and we’re a bit of a test case — during a period in which there has been massive consolidation on the content side, we’re a small to medium American player, and we’ve had a great run, and the ‘why?’ is because we’ve had good stuff, and the stuff has risen up without us being bigger.”

He said that the “democratizing” effect of social media meant that size mattered less. “I do think there is a simultaneous democratizing trend going on that is probably caused in part by the strength of social media,” he said at the Royal Television Society convention. “You can’t dictate to people what to do, tell them where to go or what to like, and you can’t even use the time slot in the U.S. at 9 P.M. after your big show at 8 to secure victory. You really have to have the show that people really, really want.”

He added: “So you see all these belly flops from big players because they don’t have the right stuff — not to damn them — so you’d better belly up and have the goddamn right stuff, and if you don’t no amount of clout, scale, strength or weaponry will secure your investment, because you’d better be the people’s candidate.”

Sapan said that the plunge in the value of media stocks in August was “probably a bit of an over-reaction,” but it did reflect some of challenges in the U.S. media market.

He listed the issues that had led to the market adjustment: “There is some maturity in the market in terms of total subscriber count; there is a move to more consumption of streaming material away from linear consumption, that’s not insubstantial; and people have the means to defeat advertising because they can bypass it if the material is recorded on their DVR. It is possible that wasn’t adequately reflected in stock prices.”

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