AMC Networks Expands Streaming Video Management Duties

AMC Networks has expanded the roles and responsibilities of three executives as the company continues its reorientation around its targeted streaming services, which include more than 6 million subscribers across AMC+, Shudder, Acorn TV, Sundance Now and IFC Films Unlimited.

Courtney Thomasma, who has most recently been executive director of BBC America, is shifting to a new role as general manager of AMC+. She oversaw the network’s programming, including the Peabody-Award winning “Killing Eve,” starring Golden Globe Award winner Sandra Oh and Emmy Award winner Jodie Comer; “Doctor Who”; and natural history series “Seven Worlds,” “One Planet,” among others.

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Thomasma grew the network’s digital and social footprint and was also part of the leadership team responsible for launching micro-net “Wonderstruck,” a weekly 24-hour destination, as well as Wonderstruck.TV, a free digital companion site featuring short-form nature content. Thomasma, who has been with AMC Networks since 2013, reports to Miguel Penella, AMC Networks’ president of SVOD, and former CEO of home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment.

Matt Graham, GM of Acorn TV since 2014, adds oversight responsibility for the Sundance Now streaming service as its GM. Graham now oversees all day-to-day operations and execution of both streaming services. He also continues to report to Penella.

Blake Callaway, who has been executive director of the IFC and SundanceTV television networks since 2011, adds oversight of BBC America as GM of all three networks, working closely with partner BBC Studios. In his new role, Callaway is charged with defining each brands’ direction, maintaining overall business performance, and identifying opportunities to support digital growth across the portfolio. He continues to report to Ed Carroll, chief operating officer of AMC Networks.

“Courtney, Matt and Blake are accomplished leaders who have all made meaningful contributions to the success of our company, particularly through their dynamic oversight of many of our most important brands and businesses,” Carroll said in a statement “We are pleased to recognize their contributions with these expanded roles, as we continue to reorient our company around our targeted streaming services and delivering our high-quality original content to viewers on an expanding array of platforms.”

 

AMC Networks Expects Upwards of 5.5 Million SVOD Subs by Year’s End

AMC Networks Nov. 2 said it expects 5 million to 5.5 million paid subscribers by the end of 2020 for its portfolio of streaming services, which include AMC+, Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now, UMC and IFC Films Unlimited. Shudder, which features horror/thriller based content, just topped one million subs. The company also expanded distribution of AMC+ with launches on Amazon Prime and Apple TV platforms.

“AMC Networks is fast becoming the global leader in SVOD services for targeted audiences,” CEO Josh Sapan said in a statement.

Indeed, since acquiring Acorn TV and UMC as part of its $65 million acquisition of home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment in 2018, AMC has sought to market SVOD services focusing on specific niches of entertainment. Acorn targets fans of British-themed TV shows; UMC offers movies and series for African Americans, while IFC and Sundance target independent films and series.

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SVOD helped AMC’s “international and other” business segment increase third-quarter (ended Sept. 30) revenue 9% to $199 million, from $182.5 million in the previous-year period. Operating income increased $23 million to $11.2 million, from a loss of $11.5 million last year. Adjusted operating income increased $14 million to $28 million, from $13.5 million.

Overall, AMC saw total Q3 revenue decrease 9%, or $65 million, to $654 million compared with the previous-year period. The decline reflected a decrease of 17.3% at “national networks” operating segment, offset by the previously mentioned “international and other” revenue gain. Operating income topped $139 million, a decrease of 17.2%, or $29 million, versus the prior-year period. The decrease reflected a decrease of 28.8% at “national networks” and an increase of $23 million in operating income at “international and other.”

National networks includes AMC, WE tv, BBC America, IFC and SundanceTV; and AMC Studios, the company’s production business.

On Oct. 21, AMC announced the final results of the tender “Dutch Auction” offer and repurchased approximately 10.8 million shares of common stock for $251 million.

 

Soumya Sriraman Steps Down as CEO of Streamer BritBox

Longtime home entertainment executive Soumya Sriraman is stepping down as president and CEO of BritBox, the British-themed subscription VOD service she helped launch in the United States in 2017 with ITV and BBC Studios. No reason was cited for her departure at the end of the month. ITV and BBC are expected to announce new management shortly.

BritBox, which competes against AMC Networks’ Acorn TV, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for fans of British movies and TV shows, had generated more than 1.5 million subscribers.

Soumya Sriraman

“Soumya is a trailblazer. Her experience, leadership, and thorough knowledge of British content has been the perfect fit for BritBox,” Rebecca Glashow, president of BBC Studios Americas, and Martin Goswami, group strategic partnership and distribution director for ITV, said in a joint statement. “We thank Soumya for her passion and commitment in leading the BritBox team and shaping the service into what it is today.”

Sriraman had been key to helping BritBox launch original series such as “The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco” and “There She Goes,” featuring David Tennant and Jessica Hynes, the latter winning a BAFTA Award for her role.

“I have enjoyed writing every minute of the BritBox story — from imagining it six years ago to building and growing it,” Sriraman said. “I am so proud of my team who has worked tirelessly to exceed all expectations. I am grateful to the leadership at the BBC and ITV for their stewardship on this journey and I now look forward to my next chapter.”

Prior to BritBox, Sriraman had been EVP of franchises and digital enterprises at BBC Worldwide, with a stint as CEO of Palisades Tartan Video before that.

AMC Networks Launching Acorn TV in Portugal

Acorn TV, the AMC Networks-owned SVOD service catering to British-themed content, is set to launch in Portugal on Oct. 1 and will also be available on telecoms MEO and NOS. AMC Networks International Southern Europe (AMCNISE) will support Acorn TV in Portugal, providing affiliate sales, marketing, PR and versioning services.

Bowing at 2.99 euros monthly with Portuguese subtitles, Acorn TV has more than 1 million subscribers in North America, Australia, the United Kingdom and Latin America.

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“Acorn TV has become a household name in the U.S. thanks to the excellence of its programming content, including series from major networks, such as BBC, ITV, Channel 4, ABC Australia and RTE, as well as [original] series Acorn TV commissions and co-productions,” Acorn TV GM Matthew Graham said in a statement.

Acorn TV Portugal will include British drama “Doc Martin”; Irish legal drama “Striking Out”; detective drama “Jack Taylor,” starring Iain Glen (“Game of Thrones,” “Downton Abbey”) and based on Ken Bruen’s best-sellers; and “Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime,” an adaptation of Agatha Christie, among others.

According to the Marktest Telecommunications Barometer, about 800,000 Portuguese signed up for streaming video services between February and April 2020, raising the number of SVOD subs in Portugal to 2 million.

AMC Networks Eyes Growth in ‘Targeted’ SVOD Services

AMC Networks’ majority acquisition of RLJ Entertainment continues to pay dividends as the media company expands its subscription streaming video-on-demand profile in an over-the-top ecosystem.

While the media company didn’t disclose new subscriber data, CEO Josh Sapan said SVOD  and ad-supported VOD distribution continued to drive AMC’s second-quarter (ended June 30) “International and Other” business objectives.

“We have made particular progress during this COVID-19 period with strong growth across our targeted SVOD services — Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC — as consumers increasingly subscribe to both our targeted offerings in addition to general entertainment SVOD services,” Sapan said in a statement.

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During the quarter, AMC launched new SVOD bundles AMC+ and WE tv+. The company acquired exclusive streaming rights to “Mad Men.” The company furthered its AVOD strategy with launches on ViacomCBS’s Pluto TV and Dish Networks’ Sling Free services.

Second-quarter revenue primarily reflected an increase at AMC Networks SVOD business, more than offset by a decrease at Levity Entertainment and, to a lesser extent, a decrease at the company’s international programming networks.

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Citing ongoing fiscal impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, AMC reported a $112 million operating loss at the “International and Other” segment. The increased loss was primarily related to $130 million in impairment charges due to the pandemic. Segment revenue for the quarter decreased 10.3% to $161 million.

AMC Networks’ Acorn TV Greenlights Second Season of ‘Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries’

AMC Networks’ British-themed SVOD service Acorn TV July 28 announced it has commissioned the second season of “Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries,” a spinoff of the global hit “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.”

The 1960s-set spinoff features down-to-earth Peregrine Fisher (Logie-nominated Geraldine Hakewill) in the lead role as Phryne Fisher’s niece who inherited a windfall from her famous aunt and sets out to become a world-class private detective in her own right.

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Season one premiered on Acorn TV as four feature-length mysteries in the U.S. and Canada in April 2019. Season two will feature eight one-hour mysteries. The Acorn TV Original Series will begin production in October and premiere on Acorn TV in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and in its home country on Acorn TV Australia in 2021.

“Acorn TV viewers loved the first season, so we’re thrilled to commission even more mysteries for our subscribers around the world,” Don Klees, SVP of programming for the Acorn brands and AMC Networks SVOD, said in a statement.

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The second season will feature returning co-stars Joel Jackson (“Peter Allen: Not The Boy Next Door,” “Deadline Gallipoli”) as smart, ambitious cop Detective James Steed; Catherine McClements (Wentworth) as Birdie, an ex-member of WW2 Special Forces and head of The Adventuresses Club, a group of exceptional women of which Peregrine’s celebrated aunt was a member; and Birdie’s gadget-designing brother, Samuel (Toby Truslove).

BritBox Touts Agatha Christie Content as Rival Collects License Revenue

BritBox, the British-themed SVOD service operating in North America and the United Kingdom and co-owned by the BBC and ITV, has secured rights to what it says is the largest collection of Agatha Christie-themed content.

Rights include myriad seasons of “Poirot,” “Marple,” “Partners in Crime” and “Poirot: Mysterious Affair at Styles,” which bowed May 15 in honor of the 100th anniversary of Christie’s first novel.

“Only BritBox could create this Agatha Christie collection — working together with BBC and ITV to bring together all of these celebrated adaptations,” Soumya Sriraman, CEO of BritBox, said in a statement. “As the home of great British mysteries, we couldn’t be more proud to be the true home of the most beloved portrayals of Christie’s famous characters.”

BritBox is releasing Christie-themed adaptations including, “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” and “The Seven Dials Mystery,” featuring Sir John Gielgud, in addition to “The Secret Adversary.”

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“I am delighted to see all these shows available in North America on BritBox,” said James Prichard, CEO and chairman of Agatha Christie Ltd. (ACL). “They give a real flavor of the depth and quality of my great grandmother’s work, and I am sure audiences will enjoy them.”

Interestingly, AMC Networks, which owns and operates rival British-themed streaming service Acorn TV, is the majority (64%) stakeholder in Agatha Christie Ltd. AMC reported $6 million operating income from ACL in 2019.

Acorn TV launched in the United Kingdom in Q1 — nine years after bowing in the United States as an alternative to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The company expects to generate upwards of 4 million combined paid subscribers for its four SVOD services, which include Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC (Urban Movie Channel) by the end of the year.

U.K. SVOD Market to Double Subs in Five Years

It’s a SVOD market in the United Kingdom — regardless of the coronavirus pandemic. New research from GlobalData contends growth in subscription video-on-demand is set to double over the next five years. The total number of SVOD subscriptions is expected to increase from 22.4 million to 44.6 million. Total market revenue is projected to also double to £3 billion ($3.6 billion) in 2024 from £1.5 billion ($1.8 billion) last year.

While the London-based research firm agrees there will be some positive impact on SVOD adoption from COVID-19, it expects this to be outweighed by a combination of lockdown-driven adoption and consumer take-up of new services such as Disney+, Apple TV+, Acorn TV and BritBox, among others.

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“Prior to COVID-19, the SVOD market in the U.K. was experiencing a high rate of growth, with no sign of plateauing,” Joel Cooper, senior director, telecoms market data and intelligence, said in a statement.

The U.K. market has traditionally been dominated by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, with Comcast-owned Sky’s Now TV in third place. GlobalData now believes Disney+’s impact is expected to be particularly pronounced given its brand power, breadth of premium content and low price.

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In the U.S., Disney+ acquired about 25 million paying subscribers just two months after launching in November 2019, equivalent to around 10% SVOD subscriber market share.

“SVOD in the U.K. is a long way from saturation point,” Cooper said. “The market represents a clear opportunity for existing players as well as potential new entrants.”

AMC Networks Expects 4 Million SVOD Subs by Year-End

AMC Networks May 5 said it expects to generate 3.5 million to 4 million combined paid subscribers for its four SVOD services — Acorn TV, Shudder, Sundance Now and UMC (Urban Movie Channel) — by the end of the year, two years ahead of the company’s original target.

AMC acquired home entertainment distributor RLJ Entertainment in 2018 for $65 million largely for British-centric programming service Acorn TV and UMC. Notably, Acorn TV launched in the United Kingdom in Q1 — nine years after bowing in the United States as an alternative to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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Separately, AMC, whose signature original programming includes “The Walking Dead,” “Killing Eve,” and “Breaking Bad” spin-off “Better Call Saul,” inked a distribution deal with ViacomCBS ad-supported streaming VOD platform Pluto TV.

“We continue to make significant progress on our digital initiatives … is enabling us to navigate this challenging time and will continue to serve us well when this [coronavirus] environment stabilizes,” CEO Josh Sapan said in a statement.

Indeed, as it is worldwide, the impact of COVID-19 and measures to prevent its spread significantly affected AMC Networks’ ad revenue and pay-TV business in the quarter and going forward.

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Revenue in the quarter dropped 6.4% to $735 million, while operating profit plummeted nearly 30% to $173 million compared to the previous-year period. Beginning in mid-March, the company experienced adverse advertising sales impacts and suspended content production, which has led to delays in the creation and availability of some of its television programming.

Operationally, nearly all AMC Networks employees are working remotely, and the company has restricted business travel. AMC expects current second quarter revenue to fall 30%.

“In what has been a unique operating environment, [we] continue to generate significant levels of free cash flow and remain well capitalized with a strong balance sheet and strong liquidity,” Sapan said.

Acorn TV Launching in the U.K. on April 29

Taking a page from rival streaming video service BritBox, AMC Networks’ Acorn TV is slated to launch in the United Kingdom on April 29.

Acorn TV, which owns a majority stake in the Agatha Christie literary estate, bowed in the United States in 2011. It now claims 1 million subscribers in North America.

New subs in the U.K. will get an extended 30-day free trial for a limited time. The service will also be available on a number of devices, including Roku, Fire TV, Android and Apple mobile and Apple TV — with Amazon Channels and Apple TV Channels pending.

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Acorn TV will add new content every subsequent Monday, and all series will include English subtitles. After the free trial, Acorn TV costs £4.99 ($6.18) per month or £49.99 ($61.90) per year.

“The United Kingdom has a long-standing tradition of producing first-rate dramas and mysteries, so we’re thrilled to feature so many popular, award-winning programs in one place like ITV’s ‘Foyle’s War’ and BBC’s ‘Keeping Faith,’ as well as introduce U.K. audiences to the charming, British-produced Acorn TV Original ‘Queens of Mystery,” Matthew Graham, GM at Acorn TV, said in a statement.

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For the last nine years, Acorn TV has curated and produced a diverse mix of shows from Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Scandinavia with a reported focus on older female viewers.

“We continue to greatly expand our commission and co-production slate and are extremely excited for U.K. viewers to get the opportunity to see the wonderful ‘Queens of Mystery’ filmed in the beautiful countryside of Kent as well as several other productions later this year, including Irish period mystery series ‘Dead Still’ and New Zealand thriller ‘The Sounds,’ among many others,” added Catherine Mackin, managing director, Acorn Media Enterprises, the UK-based development division for Acorn TV.