AMC Networks Buys 49.9% of BBC America For $200M

AMC Networks, about a year after spending $1 billion to crack the European market with its acquisition of Chellomedia, said it will shell out $200 million for a 49.9% interest in BBC America and enter into a partnership with the network’s parent, BBC Worldwide.

As part of the agreement BBC Worldwide will retain 50.1% in the channel. AMC Networks will have operational control of BBC America, including affiliate and advertising sales, maintain  consistently with BBC’s editorial standards and policies and consolidate the results of the joint venture in its financial statements, the companies said.

AMC Networks had been rumored to be in negotiations with BBC America for months. Speculation that the two were in talks first surfaced in July, with AMC expected to take a less than 50% stake, allowing BBC Worldwide (the commercial arm of U.K. government owned British Broadcasting Corp.) to keep majority ownership of the channel while offloading some advertising sales and marketing functions to AMC.

This is AMC’s second international acquisition since it announced its plan to acquire Chellomedia last October from Liberty Global for about $1 billion. The international channels were renamed AMC Networks International in July.

BBC America is the home of hits like Doctor Who,Orphan Black, Luther and Broadchurch and is available in about 80 million homes in the U.S. AMC Networks is the parent of cable channels AMC, IFC, WeTV, Sundance TV and AMC International and is the television home to such shows as The Walking Dead, Mad Men and Portlandia. AMC’s Oct. 12 premiere of the fifth season of The Walking Deadwas viewed by 17.3 million people, the largest audience in cable TV history for a drama series episode. After three days' of recorded viewings were added in, by Nielsen, the debut episode audience grew to more than 22 million.

BBC America will be managed as a standalone channel within the AMC Networks portfolio, which includes AMC, IFC, WE tv, and SundanceTV, as well as AMC Networks International, a collection of more than 60 channels distributed worldwide.

BBC and AMC Networks have a long partnership history, working together on the award-winning drama series Top of the Lake, drama TheHonourable Woman and the upcoming One Child. As part of the agreement, AMC Networks and BBC Television have agreed to continue to jointly pursue a number of content investment opportunities on a range of future projects, both through BBC America and other AMC Networks channels.

Also included in the partnership is representation of BBC World News in U.S. distribution and domestic advertising sales. Available in over 30 million homes in the U.S., the channel is owned and editorially controlled by BBC Global News Ltd.

 “The BBC is one of the most recognized, trusted and respected brands in the world and we are proud to partner with it to create a content offering unmatched in the industry. I have great respect for what Herb Scannell and his team have achieved over the past four years, elevating BBC America's profile, performance and productions," AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan said in a statement. "A combined AMC Networks-BBC America channel group creates a powerful collection of networks that are among the most critically-acclaimed, with distinct dramas and other potent content that creates a deep connection with viewers. Our content rises to the top on many levels and is particularly well-suited to an era of on-demand viewing and expanding consumer choice."

Tony Hall, BBC Director-General and Chairman of BBC Worldwide, added: “The U.S. is an important market for the BBC’s commercial activities. This partnership brings together the whole BBC and will help us reach new audiences in the U.S., strengthen BBC America’s position for the long term and create opportunities for the UK creative community. We've already worked successfully with AMC Networks on award-winning productions of Top of the Lake and TheHonourable Woman and this partnership means we can produce even more top quality drama together. And I hope this is the beginning of us working together on other future projects too.”

Following completion, BBC Worldwide North America will continue as a wholly owned regional business within BBC Worldwide, focused on program and format sales and co-production relationships, scripted and unscripted production, consumer products, digital and live events.

New York law firm Hughes Hubbard & Reed is advising AMC in the transaction.The firm is advising AMC on tax, antitrust, employee benefits and new media/technology aspects of the venture.