Despite Canceling Upfront, AMC Delivers Buyer-First Messages

Before being forced by the coronavirus spread to cancel it, AMC Networks had invited 800 people to a big upfront event.

Why? “We had a lot to say,” said Kim Kelleher, who was named AMC Networks’s president of commercial networks and partnerships last September.

AMC Networks will now have to tell media buyers and clients in smaller groups about how it remains committed to creating quality scripted dramas for viewers, how it plans to distribute its franchises more broadly to increase reach for advertisers and how it will let buyers choose how they want to transact.

“The show goes on and we’re still feeling really good about the story, and the strategy, and the upfront overall,” said Kelleher, who is bringing a more digital approach to AMC, where ad sales dropped 4.3% to $904 million in 2019.

The virus has wiped out nearly all of the big events and networks are exploring other ways — including virtual and online hubs, where data and programming are to be found — to deliver their messages.

At AMC Networks — which includes AMC, IFC, BBC America, SundanceTV and WE tv — everything starts with a “Viewers First” strategy of creating shows that are “cultural zeitgeist grabbers,” from Better Call Saul and Killing Eve to Life After Lockup, Kelleher said. New shows coming to AMC networks include Soulmates, Pantheon and the new The Walking Dead limited series World Beyond.

In a time of eroding ratings and cord-cutting reducing the ranks of cable-network subscribers, AMC is looking for additional ad-supported platforms where its content can be seen, increasing the reach it can offer advertisers.

As viewership increases for IMDb TV, Pluto TV and Tubi, AMC expects to announce in the spring deals to put library content from franchise shows and series that have already concluded onto ad-supported VOD platforms. It’s worth noting that that’s where younger viewers are watching.

AMC would retain all ad sales, preserving a single point of contact for buyers, who complain about the shift in viewers to the high-profile shows moving to ad-free subscription services like Netflix. “We think that puts us in a pole position if you’re looking for quality,” she said. “We are deep engagement and high impact.”

AMC is also making deals with the social platforms where its viewers congregate after watching shows. As part of its first partnership, AMC will be creating exclusive content for Reddit.

“Reddit lights up on Sunday nights following The Walking Dead with people talking about what just happened and what’s going to happen next,” Kelleher said. More social partnerships are expected to follow.

To help advertiser messages morph from linear to social, AMC has created a studio called the Content Room, with a dozen staffers headed by senior VP Kim Granito.

“Wherever our audiences are convening, we want to keep the engagement going,” Kelleher said.

The third part of AMC’s upfront strategy is a buyers-first approach to transacting. Kelleher noted that with some media companies creating one-size-fits all models, “we’re going to zig while others are zagging. We are going to say we are happy to transact any way you want.”

Last week, AMC joined The Walt Disney Co. in letting buyers use Xandr’s data and platform to target consumers using their ad inventory. AMC has also joined Open AP, the industry consortium looking to create a standardized platform for data-targeted TV advertising.

AMC offers its own targeting system, Mediator, as well as a buying tool, Aurora.

The company is also working on data and advanced advertising approaches with clypd and 605, with more to come. AMC is eager to work with advertisers that want to push the envelope.

On top of that, AMC is looking to move from having separate plans for linear, digital and social ads to bring it all together. While AMC hasn’t solved all the issues involved with doing that, Kelleher said, it has made progress.

“There’s an opportunity for us right now with our focus and lack of distraction to just be great partners,” Kelleher said. “I do believe collaboration is the way forward for the television industry. We’re really leaning into that.”

So far, Kelleher said, the COVID-19 outbreak hasn’t resulted in clients pulling ads. Moving the new James Bond movie to November upset a partnership AMC was doing with the studio, but that’s been an isolated incident. There have been some “what if” calls from buyers trying to assess the situation, and AMC’s answer has been “we will work with you to try to meet your needs and continue our partnership,” she said.

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.