Sometimes inspiration comes from the most unexpected places.
Two years ago, AMC Networks executives were impressed with the performance of the first season of a low-profile genre series co-produced in the U.K. with Comcast’s Sky that premiered on AMC’s arthouse-y streaming service Sundance Now in January 2019. “A Discovery of Witches” has become the little engine that could for the streaming service that has been around in one form or another since 2014.
Last year, when the coronavirus outbreak up-ended the entertainment business landscape, the performance of Season 1 of “Discovery” greatly influenced the thinking of AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan and chief operation officer Ed Carroll on how to respond to sudden change in business conditions.
“It’s amazing what a difference a year makes,” Carroll told Variety. “After the year that we’ve had, we’ve decided to heavy-up on our investment in SVOD.”
AMC’s plan for the rollout of “Discovery” Season 2 reflects the new focus on strategic windowing of content on every available AMC platform rather than preserving exclusivity for specific periods of time. “Discovery” will be made available on AMC streaming platforms Sundance Now and Shudder and AMC Plus starting Jan. 9.
Starting today through Jan. 18, Sundance Now, Shudder and AMC Plus will make the first season of “Discovery” available for free. The AMC linear channel will air Season 1 episodes as a marathon on Jan. 24 include extra behind-the-scenes material with cast and producers and Deborah Harkness, author of the “All Souls” book series that spawned “Discovery.”
At present, AMC Networks has a portfolio of five niche subscription streaming services aimed at very specific demos, plus the AMC Plus paid streaming service that aims for a broader audience. The growth trajectories of the streamers have encouraged AMC to invest in original content and acquisitions. Acorn TV focuses on British drama. Shudder is a home for horror and genre fare. Sundance Now is high-end drama and true crime documentaries. UMC, which is soon to be rebranded ALLBLK, focuses on movies for Black audiences while IFC Films Unlimited is the most recent addition.
AMC Networks told investors last year that it expected to have 5 million to 5.5 million subscribers across all of its platform by the end of 2020. Carroll said “we’re very comfortable with the high end of that guidance” although he would not be more specific.
“Discovery” has been a driver of subscriptions for Sundance Now and Shudder. The hope is that making Season 1 more widely available will lead to greater sampling of other shows available on the streamers.
Even with no shortage of options out there on pay and free TV platforms, genre fans looking for a blend of fantasy and romance responded to the tale of American historian Diana Bishop (played by Teresa Palmer) who seeks to learn the truth about her heritage as a witch with help from a geneticist (Matthew Goode) who happens to be a vampire.
The response to “Discovery” has “encouraged us to spend more on originals and co-productions and to move quickly,” Carroll said, pointing to the restructuring of AMC’s senior management ranks. “And we are being more experimental with scheduling.”
Carroll pointed to AMC Networks’ drama co-productions and acquisitions such “Liar,” “Gangs of London,” “The Salisbury Poisonings” and “Riviera” as examples of shows that will travel across various AMC streaming and linear platforms.
“You’re not trying to do a number over a week or two of plays. You’re doing it over 60 days with word-of-mouth and recommendations and more and more people are coming to it,” Carroll said. “Suddenly you’re greenlighting ‘Liar’ Season 2.”
(Pictured: “A Discovery of Witches”)