Is AMC Networks (NASDAQ:AMCX) breaking bad? After months of preparing fans and investors for the return of Bob Odenkirk as crooked lawyer Saul Goodman, the network this week revealed plans to push Better Call Saul to 2015. The good news? We'll get at least two seasons: a 10-episode inaugural followed by a 13-episode follow-up in 2016.
I'll understand if that feels like a bittersweet outcome. AMC has long touted a November premiere for Better Call Saul, timing it close to the annual return of The Walking Dead and setting the stage for a blowout fourth quarter. Now we'll have to wait till spring to see what Saul has up his sleeve.
Still waiting to catch fire
In the meantime, it's fair to say that AMC is still searching for its next blockbuster. Breaking Bad ruined the curve. The series finale drew more than 10 million live viewers after reaching at least 5 million in each of the three prior episodes. Turn broke the 2 million mark once, with the series premiere. Halt and Catch Fire, which gets strong reviews, has suffered in the shadow of Game of Thrones. June 15's episode drew just 770,000 live viewers -- down from 1.19 million for the series premiere.
That's troubling when you consider what Wall Street is expecting from this business. Analysts project 35.4% year-over-year revenue growth in the July quarter and 30.7% growth in the September quarter. Earnings are expected to rise 16.4% and 8.8%, respectively, over the same period. AMC won't be able to meet or maintain these heady growth rates without new programming that hits the mark in the same ways that Breaking Bad and Mad Men have.
Contrast that with how HBO is performing. Operating income improved 11% in the latest quarter, partly because parent Time Warner (NYSE:TWX.DL) is supplying the funding needed to create new shows that hit the mark. This year's notable winners include the anthology True Detective and the comedy Silicon Valley, arriving just as True Blood and Boardwalk Empire head for the exits.
The barren road to Comic-Con
Meanwhile, AMC's only remaining genre programming is the unscripted series Comic Book Men, leaving it as one of the few networks without much to say heading into next month's San Diego Comic Con, an annual Hollywood rite of passage in which new shows take turns wooing hundreds of thousands of tastemaking nerds like yours truly.
Breaking Bad was that kind of show, regularly drawing a packed house at the con's famed Hall H, as you can see from the footage below. Better Call Saul could be that kind of show. Too bad for us -- fans and investors alike -- that it'll be at least a year before we get to find out.