Standing Out With a Storytelling Focus

AMC Networks president of entertainment networks Sarah Barnett is tasked with developing quality content for her stable of channels — including AMC, BBC America, IFC and SundanceTV — that will stand from the crowd of original scripted shows across the broadcast TV, cable and digital streaming platforms. Barnett, who took over the reins in November shortly after former AMC Networks president and general manager Charlie Collier was named Fox Entertainment CEO, spoke with B&C about AMC Networks’ original programming strategy as well as her thoughts on peak TV and the ad-sales upfronts.

B&C:How would you define AMC Networks’ strategy towards creating and developing scripted original content?

Sarah Barnett: There is something unique about the particular attention we pay to telling fresh, original stories. [BBC America’s] Killing Eve has been great for us and we just reupped it for a third season, and we love and adore this unique series. We have Documentary Now! just ending and Brockmire just beginning on IFC. We also have State of the Union which is an innovative format — it’s 10, 10-minute episodes on Sundance TV. It’s really one of the first premium, short-form series that uses the ingredients of a long-form drama but in 10-minute segments. On AMC, we have an embarrassment of riches, including The Terror anthology series coming up later this year, as well as NOS4A2 which is written by the son of Stephen King [Joe Hill] and, like all good horror, is grounded in psychological truth.

B&C:You’re developing all of this content in the midst of a very crowded television marketplace. How do you see AMC Networks remaining competitive and successful in this noisy environment?

SB: The world is certainly changing. AMC Networks isn’t a place that has always had the deepest pockets, but we can see things that other people may pass on. Mad Men and Breaking Bad were scripts that other networks passed on, as well as Killing Eve. I don’t think it’s necessarily about having the deepest pockets, but it’s about spotting talent, knowing the kinds of stories you want to tell and searching for writers who have an original and fresh point of view. That has always been the secret to our success.

B&C:How do you see AMC Networks performing in the upfronts?

SB: I’m very excited about the upfronts. Again, it’s such a changing world, but when you think about how much peak TV is talked about today, ad-supported networks are pulling back on premium dramas and the growth is being fueled by streamers. Advertisers can’t advertise in [HBO’s] Game of Thrones or [Amazon’s] The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or [Netflix’s] Stranger Things or Russian Doll, so there are really just a few premium outlets around that advertisers can put their brands into, and AMC Networks is one of that very small group. We think we have great content, and like everyone else we develop various ways of refining our data tools to allow brands to reach their targeted audiences. But at the heart of it all remains the quality content that we have.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.