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AMC Networks Chief Josh Sapan Talks International Growth, ‘Killing Eve’ and ‘Precious’ Content

CANNES — AMC Networks has tripled in size during the past few years since it began expanding overseas with international channels and a revved-up studio operation. But the company has worked hard to maintain its focus on quality over quantity, AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan told the Mipcom audience on Tuesday.

“We’ve always believed that content is precious and storytelling can’t be compromised,” Sapan said during his keynote address at the international TV sales conference.

The conversation among Sapan, “Fear the Walking Dead” star Colman Domingo and moderator Anna Carugati touched on the massive shifts in the global media marketplace, as the advent of streaming up-ends the old order and the FAANG behemoths barrel into the video business.

Despite the pressures, Sapan said the expansion of the marketplace through streaming has only enhanced AMC Networks’ ability to deliver high-end content, even with its boutique status. He pointed to the strong traction in the U.S. and worldwide this year for BBC America’s sleeper drama series hit “Killing Eve.”

“Technology invites different ways of telling stories,” Sapan said. “If we can marry that with the best storytellers and curate them against a backdrop of many options (from competitors), the world will pay attention. We just saw that with ‘Killing Eve.’ “

Sapan also gave a big plug to “Lodge 49,” the quirky new AMC drama that has been bubbling up with critics. Sapan introduced a lengthy clip of the show, calling it in the vein of “The Big Lebowski.” AMC just renewed the series for a sophomore year.

Sapan credited the expansion of the content marketplace for making it possible for AMC to produce an offbeat show like “Lodge 49” through its AMC Studios arm and make it profitable through international sales. AMC now has about 1,000 staffers around the world working on international channels, sales and distribution, Sapan said.

AMC Networks’ pitch to the creative community at a time of intense competition for top-tier talent is that shows will get a higher level of white-glove treatment on one of AMC’s five cablers — AMC, SundanceTV, IFC, WeTV and BBC America — than might be possible a larger platform. He didn’t cite Netflix by name by the reference was clear as he likened TV distribution to a storefront retail display.

“You’ll be in the front window of the stores we operate, not on the shelf somewhere where it maybe will be suggested to (a viewer),” Sapan said. “The front window is important. You need to be in the front window for a period of time for everybody to see it.”

Domingo wowed the crowd with his range of work as an actor and playwright. He’s the writer behind the Donna Summer jukebox musical, “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical,” that opened on Broadway last November. And he has penned the bio tuner on Nat “King” Cole that is set to open in February at Los Angeles’ Geffen Playhouse, “Lights Out: Nat ‘King’ Cole,” with Dule Hill in the lead role.

Domingo acknowledged that a drama series about the coming of the zombie apocalypse was a creative detour for him. He was recommended for the role in “Fear the Walking Dead” after Sapan was impressed by his work in the Off Broadway play “Dot,” which Domingo also wrote (and is now developing as a series for AMC). Domingo was ready to dismiss the offer, but the pilot script was too good to ignore.

“I just wanted to be part of great storytelling,” Domingo said. “As I read the script, I saw it was about human behavior. It was about survival.”

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