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Inside AMC’s Upfront: More 'Walking Dead' for Advertisers

At a time when media buyers are concerned they have fewer buzzy shows to put commercials in because of the shift to streaming and when many programmers are merging to focus their production on direct-to-consumer channels, AMC Networks is offering more zombies, more holiday programming and a new micro-network featuring brand-friendly nature shows.

The biggest headline from AMC’s upfront Monday morning in New York is a third series from its ratings-generating Walking Dead universe, which will be marking a decade on TV.

Once the as yet unnamed series goes on the air, advertisers will no longer have to be worried if they can use The Walking Dead to help launch a brand or open a movie, according Scott Collins, president for ad sales at AMC Networks.

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Episodes of The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead and the new series will run on Sundays from the post-Super Bowl week till Thanksgiving weekend. “We will have it seamless,” Collins said. Among advertisers who’ve already heard the plan “the response has been fantastic, It allows us to have consistency with many brands that that audience speaks to in a big way,” he said.

Details about the show are sparse. It is being created by Scott Gimple, chief content officer for the Walking Dead universe and long-time Dead writer Matt Negrete. Production begins in Virginia this summer on 10 episodes which are scheduled to premiere on AMC in 2020.

The show will focus on two young female characters from the first generation to come of age in the zombie era.

Young female characters have been resonating in the most recent seasons of The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, according to Sarah Barnett, president of the entertainment networks group at AMC Networks. The company, which featured a string of strong women in shows ranging from Orphan Black to Killing Eve to Dr. Who, has launched an initiative called Galaxy of Women dedicated to telling diverse stories about strong, complicated women as well as employing women storytellers behind the camera.

From a business perspective many brands want to be associated with strong women and positive messages of inclusion, Barnett said. “When advertisers have particular female or women’s initiative, it gives us a platform to create resonance around the message they want to deliver and the content we have,” Collins added.

Having more Walking Dead available is good for business as well. Though ratings are down on the original series, it remains to top-rated scripted show on cable and is No.2 to This Is Us in all of TV.

In addition to a big audience, The Walking Dead commands prices as high as broadcast TV hits, generating a lot of revenue for AMC, a relatively small media company. AMC’s ad revenue has been like a wave, cresting when The Walking Dead is on and falling when it’s off the air. With the third show, AMC’s finances should be more stable.

AMC puts premium prices on its other original shows, including Killing Eve, which is back for a second season in which it will be simulcast on both BBC and AMC Network to generate more viewership and take advantage of high scatter pricing

Collins said AMC’s upfront event was designed to show advertisers that its networks offer memorable programming against the sea of sameness they’ll get from other programmers.

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“There are fewer shows where advertisers can put their creative and a huge in shows on streaming services. So we’re pretty confident that we have a show like Killing Eve, which is as buzzy as Stranger Things on Netflix or Game of Thrones, dare I say it, on HBO,” Barnett said.

“Advertisers can come here and partner with us and put their creative and their brands in this premium content,” she added. “There aren’t many places they can be. There’s us and FX. So we’re very confident about the strength of our content. We’ve never moved away from content being the center of what we talk about here at AMC Networks and we believe we continue to have with Killing Eve and The Walking Dead the most resonant and most appealing content for advertisers everywhere.”

Speaking of other appealing content for advertisers, AMC Networks is expanding its Best Christmas Ever franchise, which gets unwrapped as soon as the Dead stop Walking.

Last in its first season, Best Christmas Ever grew ratings among adults 25-54 86% for AMC in the month of December, the kind of boost Hallmark Channel and Freeform see for holiday blocks.

This year while AMC will air holiday programming wall to wall, the company’s other networks will also air holiday programming on designated nights.

“Advertisers can participate in Best Christmas Ever and know they’re getting that family-friendly content,” Collins said.

AMC Networks is also promoting its position as the linear TV home of the BBC’s best natural history programming, specials and events.

One way it’s doing that is by launching in the fourth quarter a “micro network” named for now Project Awe which will take over BBC America on Saturdays starting at 6 am ET 52 weeks a year. Project Awe will feature natural history great hits like Planet Earth, Blue Planet. Frozen Planet, Life, Africa and Dynasties, as well as the installments in those franchises, including One Planet Seven Worlds, Frozen Planet II and Planet Earth III.

Last week Discovery announced it would be starting a streaming service based on BBC Studios nature programming. Barnett said Netflix currently has streaming rights to those season and that BBC America will remain the home of this programming on U.S. television.

Natural history program has a “profound connection for audiences and a profound appeal to our advertiser and affiliate partners,” Barnett said. “We believe there is a very big audience that love this stuff. We believe this kind of content also plays really beautifully on linear.”

“Brands really have an affinity towards this type of content,” added Collins. “They love the ability to run creative in content that attracts a family audience. It’s something you’d watch with your kids and feel good about it,” he said. “We think planting a flag on Saturdays give us a great promotion platform” to promote tentpole nature programming events that will run on all of AMC’s entertainment networks.

In addition to content, AMC Networks offers its data-driven, audience targeting advance advertising businesses. AMC works with analytics companies like Data Plus Math to provide attribution information so advertisers can see how effective their campaigns are.

AMC is also part of the new Project OAR coalition looking to standardize aspect of addressable advertising. Although nascent, addressable advertising is “something that’s very,very important to AMC Networks,” Collins said.

“We see tremendous momentum. The demand has increased threefold for us in clients that are looking to deliver on targeted audiences,” he said. “We are selling audiences and guaranteeing audiences. It certainly is not a fad. I see it growing and evolving and getting deeper and our platform is quite sophisticated and held in very high regard with all of the clients that we’ve worked with.”

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.