With the imminent end of Breaking Bad and the now-extended end of Mad Men, AMC (AMCX) has a huge problem: a lack of new content.
Back in April, I wrote that AMC probably had enough quality content to stay in good shape once the two hit shows ended. Now, it looks like I was wrong.
The company’s president has said AMC has a “deep backlog,” assuring viewers and investors that the network couldn’t vanish alongside Don Draper. But while we’ve heard about “new” programming, the announcements have been disappointing.
Instead of new, visionary content, we’re getting more of the same. Earlier this month, AMC announced Better Call Saul, a spinoff of Breaking Bad. Sure, spinoffs haven’t traditionally done very well, but for every ten Joeys (spun off from Friends, for those who don’t know), you get a Frasier (spun off from Cheers).
But AMC decided to really push those odds by announcing a Walking Dead spinoff as well, produced by Robert Kirkman, the writer of The Walking Dead comics.
These spinoffs feel less like a natural expansion of AMC’s TV universes, and more like a desperate attempt to cling to the viewers they already have. Why? Because none of its original programming has taken off the way its first three shows did. The Killing got cancelled (twice), as did Rubicon. Both Hell on Wheels and Low Winter Sun are still going, but neither has posted the viewership of its core “trinity” of shows.
Spinoffs of popular shows might be the next-best thing to new, quality programming, but it is not a growth strategy. AMC can’t keep creating spinoffs of its three successful series. (Okay, fine, it can. But it’s almost guaranteed to alienate viewers by the time we get to a reality show based on the sitcom based on Breaking Bad.)
If the network wants to keep attracting viewers — and investors — it has to start producing new hits.
Perhaps AMC’s original three shows were just ahead of their time. There wasn’t anything like Mad Men when it began airing. And there certainly weren’t any zombie-themed shows when The Walking Dead premiered in 2010. (There still aren’t, for that matter.) But murder-filled dramas like The Killing and Low Winter Sun aren’t exactly in short supply.
Will the network’s upcoming period pieces Turn or Halt and Catch Fire break the string of failures? Maybe, if it turns out that people have really been craving a series about spies during the Revolutionary War.
Seem unlikely to me.
For investors, the bottom line is simple: AMC stock may be up 55% in the past year, but the network is losing two of its strongest shows and has little on tap to replace them. Don’t expect that outperformance to continue down the line.
Adam Benjamin is an Assistant Editor of InvestorPlace. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.