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Week In Review: AMC’s Genius Move; TYT Goes OTT At TVOT

1. AMC’s Genius Move

At the risk of echoing our friend. Variety Editor-in-Chief Andrew Wallenstein, who wrote a stellar recap of why this is such a groundbreaking move, AMC’s decision to offer AMC Premiere, a $5/month commercial-free subscription service exclusively for Comcast subscribers, is indeed the boldest move we’ve seen by a network to date, and we think it’s pretty genius, to boot.

Why It Matters

We’ve come to associate ad-free programming with quality. Shows from HBO, Showtime, Netflix and Amazon are routinely regarded as the best shows on TV, particularly by the sort of upscale, college-educated, blue-state audiences that dominate the media industry.

AMC is one of the few non-premium cable networks that also supports this type of programming and by making the move to an ad-free subscription service, they can help cement their reputation as a purveyor of top shelf programming.

From a dollars-and-cents perspective, they’re also creating an additional revenue stream, creating a way to monetize superfans, who will hopefully start getting even more benefits from the deal than just ad-free viewing, like early access to episodes, original content and behind-the-scenes extras.

NB: Four years ago we actually suggested something in this vein: CBS had struck a deal with Amazon to run episodes of their hit summer series “Under The Dome” commercial-free. The CBS episodes (with ads) ran on Mondays, the Amazon ones (ad free) on Friday. We wondered what would happen if CBS reversed the order, and put the Amazon episodes up first, for a fee, in order to reach superfans.

At the time, the idea was frequently dismissed as a preposterous scheme that would cause an advertiser rebellion, but it seems like the industry is finally catching up.

The only potential flaw in the plan though, is around future ad revenue: AMC is clearly betting that the number of fans taking them up on the ad-free subscription offer will not impact their overall ad revenue, that the audience still watching ad-supported AMC will be close enough to the current audience, both in size and demographics, so as not to severely affect their ad revenue.

(This then brings up another issue, something we’ve talked about here before, the “15,000 Merits” dilemma—after the second episode of “Black Mirror”—that in the near future, people who can afford to will simply opt out of advertising altogether—the cost would not be prohibitively high—which would then completely disrupt the ad industry. And lest you think that’s a complete pipe dream, remember that the broadcast networks are already struggling with the perception that their audiences consist largely of older, poorer and tech-unsavvy viewers.)

The other question on the AMC deal is why just Comcast? Several likely reasons for that, beginning with the fact that Comcast has proven itself more open to innovation than other MVPDs, particularly around its X1 OTT strategy, which now includes Netflix and YouTube. It also gives Comcast a competitive advantage with hardcore AMC fans and opens the door for Comcast striking similar deals with other networks.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re a network, you should look at your current fan base and think about whether they would support an ad-free option and weigh out the pros and cons of this. Hulu is the established pioneer here, as ad-free Hulu has been happening for about two years now without seriously damaging their ad game.

If you’re an MVPD, you should think about the pluses and minuses of striking this sort of deal with AMC.

And if you’re an advertiser, you probably want to continue thinking about how to reach those upscale consumers who are rapidly opting out of advertising altogether.

2. TYT Goes OTT At TVOT

We were at the most excellent TV of Tomorrow Show in San Francisco last week, where the intersection between advertising and OTT was definitely a big focus of many of the conversations—how does TV make money from it, how do we measure it, how do we use the data we collect from it. (VR, and its rapid growth, was another hot topic.)

But if there’s been one consistent theme to the show over the years, it’s the changing face of media, as exemplified this year by Cenk Uygyur and Ben Mankiewicz from The Young Turks.

For those of you living under rocks, The Young Turks (TYT) is a news organization started by Uygur that offers commentary on news, sports and politics, via video programming on its own website and on YouTube, both pre-recorded and live. It’s one of the best known (if not the best known) political sites for Millennials and Gen Z and their YouTube videos frequently get hundreds of thousands, if not millions of views.

Why It Matters

During the session, Uygur pointed out that few Millennials know the names of the anchors of the network evening news shows, which has become completely irrelevant to them. (Even within the room, which largely consisted of forty- and fitfty-somethings working in the media, knowledge of those names was scarce.) TYT, as Uygur pointed out, has much better name recognition.

Despite that, Uygur and his co-founder Ben Mankiewicz (of TCM fame) noted that many well known politicians and news organizations will not talk to them if they mention the YouTube affiliation. But mention that their show is on Sirius radio—where they draw a much smaller audience—and they’re suddenly all ears.

That’s why TYT is looking for OTT distribution, talking to virtual MVPD services about creating an actual TV channel. Pluto.TV is one of their first takers, but TYT is looking to get hooked up with larger services like DirecTV Now or SlingTV or Hulu in order to get access to a much broader audience and to legitimize their position as a top news source for Millennials and Gen Z.

It’s a very smart move in that they have both a sizable audience and a unique voice—they are progressive but maintain a very different tone than other progressive outlets. They also have very strong name recognition with exactly the type of audience that is likely to be on a virtual MVPD service, and given the currently administration, interest in political news has never been higher, making them a welcome addition to any service.

That’s a win all around.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re a network, you should see this as another example of YouTube-as-farm-team. And be a little scared by it, because in this instance the farm team didn’t need a network to go big league, it just needed better distribution.

If you’re a virtual MVPD, you should definitely think about adding The Young Turks to your line-up to help bring in a younger audience and to appease the growing appetite for political news.

If you’re an advertiser, you might think about ways to sponsor or otherwise work with TYT to reach their sizable and passionate fan base on their own site, on YouTube and now, on TV.