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AMC Networks Pushes TV Quality Over Digital Rivals Amid ‘Fake News’ Cloud

AMC Networks and other cablers are preparing for an upfront advertising selling season that comes at a time of turmoil and opportunity for linear TV heavyweights.

The drumbeat of headlines and commentary during the past few months about dangers of “fake news” and other divisive aspects of social media have laid the groundwork for broadcast and cable sellers to reinforce the relative quality and safety of traditional TV advertising. AMC Networks this week is starting a series of dinners with individual media buying agencies to shop its wares.

Scott Collins, president of ad sales for AMC Networks, will push the safety factor in traditional TV as well as the fact that AMC is one of very few ad-supported networks with a consistent track record of high-end series. From Netflix to HBO to Hulu, an increasing percentage of prestige and premium TV is shifting to ad-free streaming platforms. AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” even with its live linear viewership declines in the past two seasons, remains one of the biggest franchises with adults 18-49 across broadcast or cable TV.

“Clients want to put their message in front of content that viewers really care about,” Collins told Variety. “We’ve hung our hat on producing shows that they really care about.”

Broadcast and cable networks typically book advance commitments for as much as 70%-80% of ad inventory for the coming season during the spring upfront selling season. AMC will likely stick with its recent range of 55% to 60% across its five networks: AMC, SundanceTV, IFC, BBC America, and We TV, Collins said.

Collins said his expectation is that buyers want more truly multiplatform options and more data to prove that ad dollars are being optimized among highly targeted audience segments. AMC is looking to expand advertiser use of its AMCN Agility data targeting and planning service, a database that began as an effort by AMC to optimize the placement of promos for original programming on its own air.

The company is also putting some energy into expanding its menu of sponsorship sales for live events, such as We TV’s association with Brooklyn’s Afro Punk Fest in August. Other experiments include a plan to air a new installment of the much-praised natural history documentary franchise that yielded “Planet Earth” and “Blue Planet 2” and as a roadblock on four AMC Networks outlets (AMC, IFC, SundanceTV and BBC America) over six Saturdays in the first quarter of 2019.

“Our business really is expanding beyond linear GRPs,” Collins said. “Live events come on top of digital, social, gaming — all the things we are coming to market with have been evolving. Putting brands in front of clients is the holy grail. That’s what people want.” 

The cloud around the digital realm has a clear silver lining for TV, Collins said. The fake news deluge has marketers concerned about the nature of the content that is associated with their ads. There’s also already been a few years of grousing from buyers and advertisers about the level of fraud and misrepresentation from digital giants. Facebook has had to concede to data-reporting problems and metric miscalculations in recent years.

“There’s an issue with a lot of the programmatic (digital) ads because people have realized ‘I don’t know what I’m airing in,'” Collins said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty there. That positions television and our brands and our content that you know is safe very well in this upfront. We deliver in a much more broad and unique way.”

(Pictured: “Blue Planet 2”)

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