AMC Networks (NASDAQ: AMCX ) may well be the most widely admired cable-television network in the United States today because of the daring manner in which it is rewriting the rules about storytelling on the small screen.
Over time, television networks tend to trundle out the same "stuff" to their viewers, with predictable storylines about cops, lawyers, doctors, and spies. After a while, it all starts to sound the same to the audience watching at home, wishing for something imaginative.
Who else but AMC would dare to shake up the accepted blueprint for drama -- a likable hero giving us all at home a moving life lesson at the end of the hour -- by showing a series about mythical Madison Avenue fixture Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) and other archetypal white-collar advertising men and women in the 1960s (Mad Men)? And what about a series like Breaking Bad, about Walter White (portrayed by Bryan Cranston, previously known for, among other things, acting as a quirky dentist named Tim Whatley on Seinfeld), a down-and-out high school chemistry instructor who is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer (as the series launched). To take care of his family's finances, he turns to a life of crime by dealing crystal meth with one of his students.
The television critics understandably heap lavish praise on AMC for its boldness and ingenuity, but how is the lauded network faring these days on Wall Street?
Much of AMC's success in his gut-real environment depends on the success and durability of its new series Low Winter Sun as well as the fourth-quarter return of The Walking Dead, another of its extremely well received TV series.
Television is a notoriously unpredictable business because viewers' tastes can change so drastically from one episode to the next. If the folks at home don't like one episode, they may well turn the channel to a competitor and not come back. The entertainment industry can be brutal on the ego for the players.
Wall Street was pleased when AMC's second-quarter revenue figure of $379 million topped projections of roughly $367 million to $368 million. But its adjusted earnings per share of $0.74 failed to surpass the expectation of about $0.79. This was linked to the costs related to the introduction of the new programming.
Likely, AMC's future looks bright.
Walking Dead looks like as much of a sure thing as one can have in the topsy-turvy industry of television programming. Just ask The Fool's Tim Beyers, who wrote here on July 28:
If history holds, The Walking Dead will once again set record ratings for AMC Networks when Season 4 makes its debut this October.
How can I be sure? Because, as is his style in the comics, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman has a way of making sure the next story is more gruesome, more awful, and more terrifying than the last. Season 4 will be another adrenaline-booster.
"Things are definitely going to be WAY crazier. It's an escalation. I mean, the world is getting worse, the people are getting more ragged, there's more terrible things happening," Kirkman said in a ... panel discussion at San Diego Comic-Con. "Things are going to keep progressing, if you can believe that."
Analysts last quarter were encouraged because advertising had a robust top line, as ad revenue at the national network jumped 14%, on top of the 13% progress compared with the year-before span. Mad Men produced strong results in what critics and analysts have pointed out is a highly desired demographic of young adults.
Echoing the Fool's Beyers, Barclays analysts are looking forward to the rest of the year, telling investors, "We are modeling 15% Y/Y growth for the full year as we would not be surprised to see Walking Dead draw record viewership numbers yet again when it returns in October."
Beyond October, AMC's success on Wall Street will hinge on its ability to come up with more dynamic hit shows. The good news for AMC in this area is that it has achieved what every network longs to do: create a positive buzz among its viewers. It's as if the public and the influential television critics, thrilled with Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Walking Dead, are quite willing to give AMC the benefit of the doubt when it rolls out a new series.
AMC must focus on keeping the costs related to developing new series under control, to keep Wall Street on its side.
As long as the hits keep on coming, it's all breaking good now for AMC.