A little more than a year into his role as general manager of AMC, Charlie Collier is riding high. The network last week won two Golden Globes for its advertising-themed period piece, Mad Men (Best Drama Series and Best Leading Actor in a Drama Series for Jon Hamm). And this past Sunday, it premiered its second original, Breaking Bad, to critical acclaim. Collier checked in with B&C's Anne Becker to talk about the AMC brand, why the network has a leg up during the writers' strike, and when cable will gain the same respect as broadcast from the ad community.
Mad Men's first season wasn't widely viewed compared with other big cable originals, but it received a ton of post-season accolades. Will that bring a season-two bump?
It obviously brings more recognition, and it validates our strategy, which is to combine our great movie library with high-end originals that can complement it. This gives us the opportunity to go at it again. AMC just came off its most watched season ever. We see 2008 as an opportunity to reach new heights.
Your plan is to make one new original and one new miniseries a year. Does the writers' strike hamper that?
The strike is an equal-opportunity interrupter, but we're fortunate that timing let us launch Breaking Bad on the heels of Mad Men's success. That will buy us some time. We want to have at least a series running where one ends and the next begins. We're hoping the strike has a quick resolution, but we feel very good about what's in development. Because we're a quality player more than quantity, we're currently less affected.
Given cable's quality scripted dramas, and broadcast reality faring better than some scripted shows it replaced, when will cable command equal CPMs (cost per thousand impressions)?
CPM parity is a long-term and layered issue. Television is a business of incumbencies, and lack of CPM parity is something present since the dawn of cable. Individual shows like Mad Men and Damages and other high-end scripted cable fare are starting to see more parity against the networks' lower-end fare, but CPM parity for full schedules on cable versus broadcast is still a way off. We've got a lot to overcome. I'm not sure the reality-programming trend is going to level the playing field. Networks like AMC are thriving because there's a void in the marketplace for high-end quality television. The CPM gap won't change until there's a fundamental economic shift.
Your head of programming, Rob Sorcher, recently left for Cartoon Network. What's the status of finding his replacement?
It's going well. We're in no rush. We just want to find the right person.
What, beyond programming the network, are you focused on these days?
To me, it's about building the brand. I've been so focused on showing people how to access the network, use it properly, and partner with us in intelligent ways. Building a television network today is so different from years ago, when you might have been stacking Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days into primetime. We're really focused on looking at every programming asset and trying to market it much more relevantly to the way viewers watch today—not just looking at individual nights, but individual movies and using them as sets. And not just for the linear network, but all the other platforms and using properties we own and those we don't. Now it's much more like building a series of targeted businesses versus a broad-based movie network. In the past, the brand would have been marketed as a general-entertainment movie network, but with all the ways to reach and target people who bond with this content, there are a lot of different opportunities.
Do viewers really see AMC as something other than what American Movie Classics once was?
There are a few metrics we look at that tell us they do. The ratings have never been better against the people we target and monetize. Second, a lot of people are saying through brand tracking that they do see change. And a lot of what I've focused on since I've been here is the future of "classics" as we move forward—why they're personal, why they matter and why classics are enduringly cool.
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