Overall, the show thrust AMC ahead of network rivals when it comes to attracting the coveted 18-to-49 adult demographic, as this chart shows:
"In just three seasons, The Walking Dead has become a pop-culture phenomenon, entertaining millions of passionate viewers and obliterating traditional lines between cable and broadcast television," said Charlie Collier, AMC's president, in a recent press release.
He's right. Network television used to command the highest ratings. Now, CBS (NYSE:CBS), Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) subsidiary NBCUniversal, News Corp.'s (NASDAQ:FOXA) Fox, and Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ABC are fighting for every eyeball as AMC, HBO, and Netflix break rules.
AMC's rebellious streak stretches well beyond The Walking Dead. The studio also recently green-lit All-Star Celebrity Bowling, which had been a project for The Nerdist Channel on YouTube created by Talking Dead host Chris Hardwick. (Find the teaser promo here.)
The benefits of ownership
For investors, licensing is where AMC's development of The Walking Dead starts to get particularly interesting. Here's what CEO Josh Sapan had to say when asked about the company's longer-term distribution plans at December's Global Media and Communications Conference, hosted by UBS:
When we make a TV show like The Walking Dead, a decision that we need to make is whether to, I'll put quotes around this, "sell it to ourselves outside of the U.S.," which means put it on the channels that we now operate under the name Sundance in Europe and Asia or -- and WE tv in Asia -- or to sell it to another company. In this case, we sold it to Fox for a price because we, frankly, found it very hard to turn the money down because our footprint of channels was not sufficiently large to justify being our own buyer. Should we come to the point where that footprint is large enough, then we can be our own buyer.
Translation: We've only started to think through the various ways we can monetize The Walking Dead around the world. Expect us to take our time cashing in.
Meanwhile, the comic book series written by co-creator Robert Kirkman is still going strong after more than 100 issues. I've read through Issue 78. The TV show and the comics are different in huge ways, but they're close enough that my reading says the TV series has only explored about a third of the source material.
Thus, AMC could make six more seasons of The Walking Dead right now. Would we still want this show six seasons from now? Would Kirkman still want to be involved? There's no way to know for sure. All we can be certain of is that AMC has what looks to be the richest content wellspring in all of entertainment right now, and it's nowhere near fully tapped.
Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Netflix and Walt Disney at the time of publication. He was also long Jan 2014 $50 Calls on Netflix. Check out Tim's Web home and portfolio holdings, or connect with him on Google+, Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.
The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.