AMC launches ad-free version on Comcast

Comcast video chief Matthew Strauss
Matt Strauss at Comcast says AMC Premiere is the first of what could be many premium, ad-free versions of cable networks.

Taking a step beyond reducing its ad loads, as several cable networks have recently done, AMC is launching an ad-free premium version of its network for Comcast’s Xfinity customers.

The service, called AMC Premiere, will cost $4.99 a month and will feature current episodes of shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Into the Badlands” airing at the same time as the live, ad-supported broadcast. Labeling today’s debut of the service a “soft launch,” the companies promised more content and features would be added over the course of the summer. Those extras will include short-form content, “curated” movies, uncut and bonus scenes and episodes, and exclusive interviews with casts and showrunners.

The move offers parent AMC Networks an opportunity to reduce cord-cutting and resulting erosion of revenue. The company’s ad sales declined 6% in the first quarter. It has good company in the traditional cable network world, as traditional networks confront an unbundling, streaming world in which myriad new platforms are luring away viewers. Turner, Viacom and Crown are other companies to pledge reduced ad loads as a means of shoring up viewership. AMC is the first to go all the way to ad-free.

“With AMC’s engagement at an all-time high, developing more options for viewers to connect with our content is a priority,” said Charlie Collier, president of AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios. “Tens of millions of existing viewers watch our shows through the cable ecosystem, so partnering with Comcast gives us a great opportunity to launch this new idea at scale. We’re excited to make AMC Premiere an available option for Xfinity TV customers, as we continue to build deeper relationships with fan communities across all of our programming and platforms.”

Matt Strauss, executive vice president and general manager, video and entertainment services, called AMC Premiere “a first-of-its-kind experience.” He said it is “a great example of the new and innovative ways programmers can go to market with content and provide viewers with even more choice in how, when and where they access and engage with the network.”

Strauss told The Wall Street Journal the $4.99 price point is reasonable considering many TV series offer single episodes for $3. “There’s always a segment of viewers willing to part with money for a more premium experience,” he said, adding that Comcast is also talking with other networks about creating similar platforms.

For AMC, the offering could be something of a test for an eventual direct-to-consumer service, which could bulk-release shows a la Netflix, Collier told the Journal, though he stressed that the network’s strategy will “evolve.”

Xfinity TV customers can access AMC Premiere through Xfinity set-top boxes and the Xfinity Stream website and mobile app. It will be available on AMC apps and will “over the coming months,” the companies said.