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AMC Networks CEO on the Return to Bundling in Linear and Streaming

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AMC Networks CEO Kristin Dolan grew up in the cable TV business. She was a senior executive at Cablevision when that company was at the peak of its power as a cable operator in the nation’s largest TV market.

Given her background, it’s no surprise that Dolan sees signs of hope for programmers in linear cable, a sector that has all been written off for dead by Wall Street and other media market watchers. Dolan, who just marked her one-year anniversary at the helm of the owner of AMC, SundanceTV, WeTV, IFC and BBC America, tells Variety podcast “Strictly Business” that she’s encouraged by the efforts by Comcast and Charter, the two largest operators, to address consumer needs by offering more low-cost channel packages on one hand and by embracing options such as the new Xumo stream box on the other.

“There’s still vast portions of the U.S. that aren’t necessarily passed by broadband in a way that their primary mode of consumption is streaming. And so I think there’s still room to kind of reconnect everything together where we can get to a place where linear [cable] levels out, because people just habitually watch that way,” Dolan says.

The rise of free, ad-supported streaming channels are essentially replicating the basic cable packages of old, she notes. “It’s a grid with a bunch of channels — like thousands of channels. So what you’re doing [as a viewer] hasn’t changed, it’s just how you’re receiving it, whether you’re seeing it through satellite, through terrestrial or through [streaming]. It’s just about, how do we organize it in a way that allows people to get what they want?”

Moreover, experimentation is the name of the game right now for an industry in the throes of digital transition. AMC Networks recently pacted with Warner Bros. Discovery’s Max streaming platform to make the AMC+ streaming platform available for a few months on what Dolan described as a “pop-up” basis. The pact was short-term by design. But it’s clear that the industry is starting to lean toward the creation of bigger bundles of content encompassing multiple corporate owners. That’s good news for AMC Networks. Dolan is realistic about its status as a boutique programmer.

“We always say, we’ll be the french fries for anybody’s Happy Meal,” Dolan jokes. “We’re not huge. We’re not 20 bucks a month. We range below $9.99 or $8.99 a month. And we have ad-supported versions that are less expensive,” Dolan says. “We think the value is there for what we do. So it’s a matter of focusing more on retention, telling our story, targeting people and saying, ‘You loved this, you should try this.’ And having a great product on the street allows that to be so much easier. So it’s just a matter of serving up people what they want in a way that helps them discover and appreciate what they have and then reasonably priced for good stuff. Ideally, that should work.”

The conversation also delves into the future of IFC Films, the industry-wide advertising slump and how AMC Networks is embracing advanced advertising technology to make the most of its linear and digital inventory.

“Strictly Business” is Variety‘s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. (Please click here to subscribe to our free newsletter.) New episodes debut every Wednesday and can be downloaded at Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, Google Play, SoundCloud and more.

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