But its ownership of The Walking Dead, the top-rated show on television for five straight years, has become the company's blueprint.
On Thursday at a spacious event at a video screen-filed warehouse on the west side of Manhattan, AMC's Scott Collins, its president of advertising sales, presented a hall of marketers and ad buyers with a slate of new and more recent shows, many of which it has produced on its own. The gathering also marked the first time that AMC held a single advertiser gathering for its annual upfront ad sales for all five of its networks: AMC, SundanceTV, IFC, We TV and BBC America, which is 51% owned by the BBC in London.
Among the featured productions from AMC Studios were new shows The Son, The Terror and Lodge 49. AMC also owns Hap and Leonard, in its second season on SundanceTV, and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency on BBC America, which will start its second season later this year.
Other shows highlighted at the AMC upfront event included Brockmire, a comedy starring Hank Azaria and Amanda Peet that was renewed for a second season before the show premiered on IFC on Wednesday, and a relaunch of a U.S. version of Top Gear on BBC America. And in a bit of a coup, SundanceTV, which has been gaining subscribers at a time when most cable TV networks are losing followers, will begin showing the first season of Amazon's (AMZN) Golden Globe-winning series Transparent starring Jeffrey Tambor later this summer.
But even as CEO Josh Sapan has vowed to rely less on outside studios to fill AMC's five networks, the elephant in the room, for both the company and its stock, has been what happens after The Walking Dead stops being the top-rated show on television. AMC's stock fell 30% last year as the concern that the company is too reliant on its blockbuster series offset speculation that it was a buyout target for a larger media or tech company.
AMC shares were down 0.6% Friday morning to $59.80, although the stock is up 14.3% in 2017.
AMC Networks President Charlie Collier sought to confront that ever-burning question by asking actor Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead to keep a running timer on how minutes he could speak without mentioning the still-popular American horror drama.
"We are so much more than that show," Collier said as Reedus counted out the minutes. Reedus, it should be noted, also is the focus of AMC's Ride With Norman Reedus, a motorcycle travel show.
Yet at a time when traditional cable TV providers are losing subscribers, AMC has been dogged by questions about whether a small cable network owner can continue to thrive in an age when Facebook (FB) and Netflix (NFLX) along with Alphabet's (GOOGL) YouTube are grabbing a larger share of total audience viewing time. Overall subscriptions to cable TV services fell the most ever in 2016, a net loss of about 795,000, according to Leichtman Research Group. In 2015, the loss amounted to a net decline of 445,000.
AMC did prove its mettle earlier this week when it secured a place on YouTube TV, the online pay-TV service that Google launched on Wednesday. Its channels will be included in the service, whose only other participants are the largest media conglomerates, those owning one of the four major broadcast networks.
In fact, AMC Networks has been able to secure a placement on all four of the online pay-TV platforms currently operating as well as a multichannel service that Hulu is expected to start later this spring. By comparison, Viacom (VIAB) , owner of Nickelodeon, MTV and Comedy Central, and Scripps Networks Interactive (SNI) , owner of HGTV, Food Network and Travel Channel, aren't being carried by YouTube TV.
Nonetheless, with a comparatively small studio, AMC continues to rely on other production houses and distribution channels for some of its content. Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul as well as Orphan Black are two such examples.
It's Sapan's hope that by owning more of its content, AMC can even out its big hits with the usual misses. Of course there are risks involved. That's why the studio in its earlier years shared production costs or chose not to make big investments in content by itself.
So when Lions Gate produced Mad Men, it retained the syndication rights. Arguably, the show really began to take off after Netflix agreed to pay $1 million to stream each episode. But much of that money went to Lions Gate. Similarly, AMC and Sony sold the international distribution rights to Breaking Bad, in that instance, to 21st Century Fox (FOXA) . And Netflix, once again, deserves credit for making that show into a megahit.
In the case of The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, AMC retained those distribution rights and the leverage to get placement on new online pay-TV services.
For that reason, AMC posted larger-than-expected revenue in the fourth quarter, with a boost in revenue coming from AT&T's (T) DirecTV Now and Dish Network's (DISH) Sling TV, which carry its networks. AMC is betting that The Walking Dead will continue to generate revenue over various distribution platforms as it rolls out more serials for which its owns 100%.
"It's amazing how long I'm able to go without talking about that show," Collier said.