AMC isn't looking for quick hits with its original series after execs at the network watched shows like "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men" slowly blossom in the ratings.
"Good shows have a much greater chance over time in finding an audience that connects with them and stays with them because there is not a compressed time where one must discover them," said Josh Sapan, president and CEO of AMC Networks, at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications and Entertainment Conference on Wednesday in Beverly Hills. "If you haven't seen 'Breaking Bad,' 'Low Winter Sun,' 'Mad Men,' you can catch up, and that's what people are doing and that is giving a huge boost of support for dramas."
IFC, Sundance Channel, WE TV and IFC Films.
During the discussion, Sapan in particular cited VOD platforms on cable and services like Netflix as key in helping a number of AMC shows grow from season to season as more people discover them or are introduced to them. Because of those platforms, "They have a tendency to build over subsequent seasons," he said.
"We don't judge a show in five episodes because that's not how consumers are consuming them," he said. "There's a pattern of consumption and referral that happens over time."
Ratings for "Breaking Bad" (pictured above) and "Mad Men" in their first two seasons "were modest," Sapan said. "The shows were good, but (ratings) grew," with those for "Breaking Bad" up 50% in season four and still climbing in its fifth and final season, airing now. "That's a testament to technology," Sapan said, and the further adoption of streaming services and digital VOD "that's been financially rewarding" for AMC Networks -- especially in other countries.
As a result of those nontraditional platforms, AMC Networks has been able to better compete with broadcasters and cable rivals, especially when it comes to drama.
"It's a better environment to be doing what we're doing, and that's based on technology," Sapan said. "The increasing ubiquity in the availability of these shows and the introduction of them on on-demand platforms has been a fundamental boon to drama and a fundamental boon to the ascendancy of great drama. The competitive frame is more challenging, but we're a more attractive place to be."
Sapan said AMC's "foot is on the pedal" to develop new shows. "We will spend and continue to spend to create new shows," he added.
With "Breaking Bad" ending its five-season run on Sept. 29, AMC is considering ways to further capitalize on the show's popularity with fans.
"It's something we think about a lot," Sapan said of the Vince Gilligan-created series. "We'll explore additional ways to more directly monetize whatever opportunities may come directly from the show. That's an ongoing undertaking and ongoing exploration."
Future moves could include spinning off characters into their own series. Shortly after the Wednesday discussion, AMC announced that, through a licensing deal with Sony Pictures TV, it will spin off the Saul Goodman character into the tentatively titled prequel series "Better Call Saul," which will star Bob Odenkirk.
"We will certainly be happy to do that," Sapan said. "It would be nice if that could occur."
AMC will continue to air the show's episodes across multiple platforms. "Breaking Bad" will "live on for those who have not been introduced to it," Sapan said.
AMC continues to be protective over "The Walking Dead," which AMC owns. The series has enjoyed a ratings surge with each new season; the fourth will debut Oct. 13.
"The show has to continue to be great and has to continue to be well crafted" in order to grow, Sapan said. "We do treat it with great care."
"It really is a great story and is well done," Sapan said. The key to making it work has been its plots, he added. "Story trumps zombie."
"That's why it has the audience that it does," Sapan said.
Because AMC owns the series, "We are the beneficiaries of its consumption on multiple platforms around the globe and on whatever else it may spawn (including licensing deals, consumer products and homevideo releases with lavish packaging)," he said. "We look at every element of it to make sure it is as consistent and true to what 'The Walking Dead' is."