AMC Networks is expecting its biggest bounce from advertising this year to hit in the second quarter, thanks to the overlapping airings of “The Walking Dead,” “Fear the Walking Dead” and “Better Call Saul.”
AMC brass were bullish about the outlook for the rest of 2016, based on the busy slate of original series to come and the surge in activity in the marketplace for OTT distribution of cable channels.
During a conference call Thursday to discuss first quarter earnings, AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan did not explicitly say that AMC will be part of the channel bundle that Hulu is putting together. But he noted that AMC is already has an SVOD programming output deal with Hulu and was complimentary about the “superb job” its management team has done in growing the digital video service.
Moreover, Sapan noted that AMC was an early entrant into Sony’s PlayStation Vue OTT service and Dish Network’s Sling TV.
“We have embraced multi-channel video over the top offerings,” Sapan said. “We’re very happy participants in them. We think they are in fact additive to our distribution in the United States.”
Sapan emphasized the industry’s emerging focus on smaller bundles and the strongest TV brands bodes well for AMC’s business because it has a smaller cluster of channels that its competitors and they are “fairly priced.”
“We come up top of the charts in terms of price and value,” he said. “The strength of our channels and brands will be elevated as, by degree, the (pay TV) eco-system has different options in it.”
In the quarter, distribution fee gains drove profits at AMC, which saw net income fall from the year-ago period.
AMC said revenue for the quarter was up 5.7% to $707 million. Adjusted operating income was up 12.2% to $259 million while earnings per share hit $1.99 when adjusted for $48 million in debt refinancing charges taken in the quarter. With those charges, however, net income declined to $113 million compared to $121 million in Q1 2015.
Growth at AMC’s core cable networks wing was driven by a 10.7% rise in distribution, licensing and affiliate fees to $335 million. Advertising was up only 1.3%, despite the heat of the market reflected in the Q1 earnings of other media companies. AMC said the timing of original series airing on its mothership AMC cabler was a factor, as “The Walking Dead” and “Better Call Saul” did not return until midway through the quarter, in contrast to last year.
AMC execs said during the call that advertising revenues at its other networks — We TV, IFC, Sundance and BBC America — were up by double-digits in the quarter, reflecting the strength of the scatter market that has been theme of media earnings reports during the past two weeks. But the 1.3% gain — which actually beat analysts expectations for the quarter — underscores the overwhelming importance of “Walking Dead” and AMC’s contributions to the AMC Networks’ bottom line.
Sapan was pressed about the fate of another AMC series, the Hugh Laurie starrer “The Night Manager.” The show, a co-production with the BBC, has drawn a modest audience that skews older than other AMC dramas. But it has also had a generally rapturous reception from critics.
Sapan did not commit to AMC carrying a second season of the spy drama, which is in the works for the BBC, but he signaled that the network would be patient and evaluate the audience turnout over a longer frame than the instant ratings response.
“The show is superb and that actually matters a lot,” Sapan said. “We have seen time and again, when something is insanely good, it doesn’t necessarily read insanely good from Day 1 but sometimes by Day 33 it reads insanely good.”