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AMC Networks’ contrarian approach to the upfronts pays dividends

AMC Network is tearing down walls for both the viewer and marketer

With the May upfronts just around the corner, AMC Networks is taking a contrarian approach in its linear and data-driven advertising strategies.

To hear AMC Networks tell it, other media companies are building walls around their content and programmatic offerings, while AMC Networks is instead making sure its viewers can watch its shows without any artificial barriers or roadblocks. Similarly, the company is also striking alliances with multiple demand-side platforms, allowing buyers to transact on its inventory through their platform of choice, Evan Adlman, senior VP of advanced advertising and digital partnerships at AMC Networks, tells The Current.

“Our viewer-first strategy, which sits above everything, is our intent to put our content on as many streaming platforms as we possibly can so viewers can decide how they’re going to engage with our shows,” Adlman says. “Our in-market competitors, on the other hand, are putting up walls around their content and defining how viewers can consume a particular show.”

The company’s portfolio includes channels such as WE tv, Sundance TV, BBC America and IFC. It’s also home to several “boutique” streaming services — horror-focused Shudder, Acorn TV, Sundance Now and ALLBLK — which it says serve as a key differentiator when compared to larger rivals who offer a wider scope of content categories, or “something for everyone.”

Meanwhile, the No. 1 cable program for 10 straight seasons — The Walking Dead — which has found the majority of its success with linear audiences — is now reaching an entirely different group of viewers, who mostly consume media through its digital properties.

“We’re reaching net new audiences — folks we don’t really see come through our doors — on these new streaming platforms,” Adlman says. “When you take a series that’s been off live air and put it on a streaming platform, it responds like it’s new content because the audience is new and what they’re consuming is also new.”

Total programmatic footprint

AMC Networks is heading into the upfronts for the first time with 100 percent of its digital inventory available programmatically. And its strategy of making itself available to viewers and marketers across a wide range of platforms seems to be working: The company says streaming will be its largest revenue source by 2025, a target date that was likely accelerated by the pandemic.

“The pandemic has proven for our industry that you can plan, buy and manage CTV inventory through the platforms and machines our industry has been building for two decades,” says Adlman. “And it’s coming to us faster with TV.”

Despite its success with streaming, AMC Networks is also making headway with its linear technology offerings. The company recently announced that it released the first national, linear addressable campaign with Volkswagen, which allowed the automaker to target ads to potential SUV shoppers through Comcast and Charter set-top boxes.

“We’re very lean forward when it comes to the transaction type of programmatic. We believe that it is the future of how people are going to buy television media and we run a programmatic-first approach,” Adlman says. “We want to make sure we’re set up across a hundred percent of our footprint today, rather than putting something in a separate area of our warehouse, where people can only buy our programming in a certain way. They can buy it equally.”

Adlman adds that through the company’s investments in technology, buyers now have the ability to shift ad spend between transaction types without it affecting delivery. “That’s been a big advancement for us and it’s something that gives us a competitive edge in the market as a programmatic-first company,” he says.