While Netflix may have once provided a discovery platform that helped AMC original series like Breaking Bad and Mad Men become cultural touchstones, the SVOD service’s original series strategy is now having a corrosive effect on the cable network.
“Average audiences for almost every returning AMC original in 2016 are down double-digits versus 2015,” Pacific Crest analysts Andy Hargreaves and Evan Wingren said in a note to investors. “This highlights the increase in competition for viewer time. In particular, the explosion in high-quality original dramas driven by SVOD companies has commoditized an area of programming that AMC helped popularize and represents the core of the network's brand.”
Indeed, the average audience for AMC’s seven-year-old zombie apocalypse series The Walking Dead dropped 20 percent from 2015 to 2016. Spin-off series Fear the Walking Dead (down 44 percent) and Better Call Saul (off 16 percent) also incurred major audience declines.
With Netflix now spending $6 billion a year to produce original series, and SVOD rivals including Amazon and Hulu making major originals investments of their own, the Pacific Crest analysts believe there is just too much Golden Age of Television competition for AMC to keep up its audience numbers.
Certainly, AMC doesn’t seem to be on the cusp of creating any new watercooler shows, with new series Preacher (averaged only 2.1 million viewers this year) and The Night Manager (1.9 million viewers) not setting the ratings world on fire.
Of course, when AMC’s Breaking Bad debuted in 2008, it had an even smaller audience. But viewers discovered that show en mass on Netflix, binge-watching previous seasons. By the time it signed off in 2012, it was averaging over 10 million linear viewers.
"I think Netflix kept us on the air," Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan said.