AMC Upfront: Scripted Hits Reach Fans on Linear, Digital

AMC Networks Upfront
AMC's advertisers can check out programming on its Upfront Connect portal (Image credit: AMC Networks)

Scripted programming is getting harder to find for advertisers, between a pandemic that curtailed production and media companies pivoting from pay-TV to streaming services, most of which have limited to now ads.

In this year’s upfront AMC Networks want buyers to know it's got the good stuff, and lots of it.

It is also continuing its “buyers first” philosophy of making its ad inventory easier to buy however clients want to transact, and making its linear advertising smarter and more addressable. At this same time it is following a “viewers first” path by adding digital programming and distribution to capture cord-cutters viewers watching on other platforms.

“Last year in the upfront there were a lot of moving parts because we weren’t sure what was going to stock because of production challenges around COVID,” said Kim Kelleher, president of commercial revenue and partnerships. “This year we have an abundance to sell.”

Between the pandemic, the recession and cord cutting, AMC’s ad revenue was down 11,3% to $802 million last year. Kelleher notes that AMC’s performance has improved quarter by quarter, and that the company’s digital programming effort should help close the game.

“We’re taking the onus upon ourselves to follow the viewer to their preferred destinations and it’s on us to figure out how to monetize that,” she said.

AMC will aim to make it as easy as possible for advertisers to follow as well, Kelleher said. She said that after last year’s drawn-out upfront, some advertisers are looking to move early to get their money down before the best inventory is sold out.

“Coming off of the broadcast upfront into calendar [upfronts] which wrapped up in early January, it just feels like one continued up front at this point."

AMC is known for several big franchises, some of which are nearing series finales. The Walking Dead, long cable’s most watched series, is heading into an extended final season that advertisers can buy into this upfront. Three other series in the Walking Dead universe continue with a fifth in the works.

Better Call Saul and Killing Eve are also ending and their conclusions should also draw the kind of engaged viewers advertisers prize.

AMC also has a long list of 40 new and continuing series coming that it will be selling in the upfront, including Gangs of London, The Secrets She Keeps, Too Close, Kevin Can F**k Himself, The Beast Must Die, Ultra City Smiths, Ragdoll, Pantheon, 61st Street, and Beacon 23, which will run on AMC after an exclusive run on Spectrum.

This year, AMC is approaching the upfront by making customized presentations to each of the big media buying agencies the week of April. 5. 

During last year’s upfront, AMC found that it had more conversations with buyers and advertisers despite having to cancel its big, in-person upfront event because of the pandemic. 

“What we learned is that as the fragmentation of the marketplace continues, we have to be more surgical about the solutions we’re putting forward,” Kelleher said. “One size fits all doesn’t fit anyone.”

With Zoom fatigue setting in, AMC’s 30 to 40 minute presentations include some interactivity and some talent with Colman Domingo from Fear the Walking Dead and Bottomless Brunch at Colman’s. Attendees will also be sent a kit to make a cocktail with Domingo. AMC is also working with Save Our Stages to let clients buy concert memorabilia from local venues.

To give clients access to programming and other materials, AMC is bedding up its Upfront Connect online portal. Buyers and sponsors will be able to watch AMC’s original shows in a virtual screening room, check their schedules and last minute changes on AMC’s networks.

Kelleher said hundreds of clients used Upfront Connect last year. Because it’s digital, “we were able to see where they spent time, what they watched, what they downloaded. Big Brother, oh yeah. But we were able to really learn from that."

Clients will be able to go from Upfront Connect to contact account execs or to automated buying tools AMC Is developing.

“We spent the last year building all of our programmatic capabilities to make sure that 100% of our digital inventory is able to be transacted programmatically with full transparency,” said Evan Adlman, senior VP of advanced advertising and digital partnerships at AMC.

AMC works with Xandr’s Invest TV, Open AP and has its own Mediator platform. The company is also working on making more of its linear and VOD inventory available programmatically.

AMC has made deals to put its content on streaming platforms including ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV, Amazon’s IMDb, Samsung TV, Vizio, Plex and Dish’s Sling TV. AMC maintained exclusive sales rights to the ad inventory in its channels and shows on those platforms so the message stays consistent, Adlman said.

At the same time, AMC has worked to make its linear ad inventory smarter by making more of it addressable. “We see it as another way for clients to work with linear advertising in a performance or out-come based way, rather than the pure reach vehicle that it’s always been, “ Adlman said.

Kelleher added that AMC advanced advertising dollars doubled year over year “and we’re looking at doubling that again in this upfront.”

AMC is also creating more original digital content, often working off of popular programs or personalities in its linear programming.

The digital show Bottomless Brunch at Colman’s, sponsored by Diageo, is going into its third season and appears on some of AMC’s linear channels.

AMC also has two shows based on Better Call Saul. Better Call Saul Employee Training is going into a second season and Slipping Jimmy, an animated series is in development.

Dead in the Water is a scripted series that ties into season six of Fear The Walking Dead and Cooper’s Bar, set in a backyard in L.A., features Louis Mustillo and Better Call Saul’s Rhea Seehorn.

AMC and its advertisers will also look to follow its show’s fans through an agreement with Complex Networks. The companies’ first collaboration, a cooking show called Run The Dish, is a combination of The Walking Dead Universe with First We Feast. Each episode will feature apocalypse-inspired dishes created by Complex celebrity chefs and Walking Dead talent.

“We have original programming franchises that break through in popular culture and are focal points of vibrant and active fan communities,” said Kim Granito, executive VP of AMC Networks’ Content Room and integrated marketing. “This is a powerful combination for our advertising partners to tap into, and another point of quality and distinction The Content Room offers as we approach this year’s advertising upfront.”

Last year AMC formed similar partnerships with Reddit and Twitch.

Granito said AMC can help marketers looking to add purpose to their marketing efforts.

AMC Networks and Conservation International are joining forces to help educate viewers about the world around them, while inspiring all to be a force of good in protecting the planet. Brands can work with AMC to create messaging that encourages viewers to protect the planet. The messages could run in BBC America’s nature shows. 

AMC is also working with the Association of National Advertisers’ #SeeHer movement. Brands can highlight both WE tv’s roster of women as well as everyday women doing amazing things in their communities.

Brands can work with Save Our Stages through AMC as well and support more than 300 live event venues across the country.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.