The Walking Dead Season

Will the new season of the The Walking Dead tease the now-greenlit spinoff pilot? Credit: Courtesy of AMC.

Fans and investors hoping that AMC Networks (NASDAQ:AMCX) would make good on promises to bring us more of The Walking Dead are getting their wish. The network greenlit a pilot last week.

Details are scarce at this point. All we know for sure is that production is slated to begin in late 2014. Zombies in a winter wonderland, perhaps? Whatever the setting or storyline, AMC rightly sees the spinoff as a rare opportunity. Of AMC's top three franchises, only Breaking Bad has accelerated viewership as fast or faster than The Walking Dead.

Show
2013
(High-Low Viewers)
2012
(High-Low Viewers)
2011
(High-Low Viewers)

The Walking Dead

16.11 million-11.29 million

12.42 million-9.21 million

8.99 million-6.08 million

Breaking Bad

4.41 million-10.28 million

2.98 million-2.20 million

2.58 million-1.55 million

Mad Men

1.88 million-3.37 million

1.92 million-3.54 million

2.04 million-2.92 million*

Source: TV by the Numbers, via Wikipedia.
* Mad Men's fourth season aired in 2010 rather than 2011.

Cashing in on a monster property
"Obviously, we all take our stewardship of the original franchise incredibly seriously and we, along with Robert [Kirkman], Gale [Anne Hurd], David [Alpert] and now Dave [Erickson], are all proceeding with extreme care in order to ensure that we are offering fans something truly compelling, engaging, and distinct, " network president Charlie Collier said in a press release announcing the order.

How will he manifest that strategy? Here are five things we know about AMC's approach to The Walking Dead franchise:

1. Even more than the main series, the spinoff will comprise an entirely new set of stories. While Robert Kirkman introduced The Walking Dead comic book back in 2003, the stories everyday fans are seeing on television vary widely from what's been published in the years since. AMC has exposed viewers to new characters, new plot twists, and new locales. The spinoff will go further and introduce entirely new corners of the world of The Walking Dead.

As Kirkman put it in the press release: "There are many corners of The Walking Dead universe that remain unseen in the shadows. Being given the opportunity to shine a light into those corners and see what lurks out there is an absolute thrill."

2. AMC's incentive is to create characters independent of The Walking Dead comic book. While the studio doesn't own The Walking Dead -- Kirkman's Skybound Entertainment does -- AMC retains the right to cash in on properties created in the TV world. Norman Reedus' Daryl Dixon, for example, who headlines The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct strategy game from Activision Blizzard. A spinoff series would introduce a whole range of new characters for AMC to profit from in other media.

The Walking Dead Daryl Dixon Amc

Norman Reedus' Daryl Dixon has never appeared in the comic book version of The Walking Dead. Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC.

3. The Walking Dead franchise is already producing ancillary profits. Obviously, characters unique to the TV series offer the most upside for AMC. Yet there are other opportunities. The network has also struck a deal with McFarlane Toys for collectibles based on the precise likenesses of actors seen in the TV show. Season 5 collectibles just became available, here. A similar deal for the spinoff series seems likely.

4. Netflix is a partner and HBO is a competitor. For as interesting as it must be for AMC to collect merchandising revenue from The Walking Dead, syndication offers an even bigger opportunity. Prior seasons of the show are available for streaming on Netflix and for purchase at iTunes, Amazon.com, and Google Play. Every DVD and digital sale adds to the network's coffers, and the same is sure to be true for the spinoff series.

5. Global acceptance of the AMC brand is key to long-term profits. Finally, it's worth remembering that The Walking Dead isn't the global phenomenon that, say, Game of Thrones is. HBO's worldwide footprint -- over 130 million subscribers strong when you include Cinemax -- no doubt has something to do with that. For its part, AMC purchased international distribution network Chellomedia for $1 billion last November in hopes of selling more original programming in foreign territories.

The Walking Dead won't benefit anytime soon. AMC's zombie drama gets overseas exposure via Netflix and a distribution deal with Fox's (NASDAQ:FOXA) International Channels group. The spinoff may get the same treatment. Or it may cross borders with Chellomedia. Either way, AMC wins if global viewers come to see the brand as a reliable source of quality entertainment.

Tim Beyers has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends AMC Networks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.