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Listen: Josh Sapan on Why Small Is Beautiful for AMC Networks

Josh Sapan knows that AMC Networks is a small fish swimming in a sea of giants these days. But the CEO of the cable channel group is confident about navigating the choppy waters ahead as the TV marketplace adjusts to the premium-content playbook that has defined AMC’s success for more than a decade.

“We don’t need to dominate the planet in order to be extraordinarily successful,” Sapan says.

Welcome to Strictly Business, Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. In this week’s episode, Sapan talks with Cynthia Littleton, Variety’s managing editor of television, about the company’s transition from a collection of cable channels — AMC, SundanceTV, IFC, WeTV, and BBC America — to a content-focused enterprise that is experimenting with new forms of distribution and expansion overseas.

“We were a cable channel company,” Sapan says. “Today we’re a content company.”

Listen to the full interview here:

Since AMC Networks was spun off from former parent Cablevision in 2011, Sapan has expanded the company’s presence overseas with acquisitions and invested in streaming platforms including Robert Johnson’s Acorn and Urban Movie Channel services. Key to AMC’s revenue base these days is the production activity at the AMC Studios arm, which allows the company to haul in content licensing revenue around the world for wholly owned productions such as “The Walking Dead” and its offshoots. 

Sapan points to the legacy of groundbreaking, high-end content established by the mothership AMC channel with “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” The arm’s race in TV production budgets and talent costs amid the rapid explosion of TV has put a greater premium on the search for distinctive ideas and creative voices. He points to new AMC dramas “Dietland” and “The Terror,” and BBC America’s Emmy-nominated “Killing Eve” as examples of next-wave pillars for the company.

“Our POV has been, as a core principle, to focus on excellent content,” Sapan says. “We didn’t buy our way into creative excellence. We sought creative excellence.”

Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of entertainment. Listen to the podcast above for the full interview, or check out previous “Strictly Business” episodes featuring HBO’s Richard PleplerGroup 9’s Ben Lerer, Bankable Productions’ Tyra Banks, Spotify’s Dawn Ostroff, Entertainment Studios’ Byron Allen, among others. A new episode debuts each Tuesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, and SoundCloud.

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