AMC Networks’ James Dolan: Media Can’t Consolidate Until It Figures Out How to Monetize Content

“Without that answer, I don’t get the rationale for pursuing a consolidation strategy,” he told analysts on the entertainment giant’s fourth quarter earnings call Friday

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The leader of a smaller media company — one often talked about as an acquisition target — said he didn’t think the media industry would see consolidation until it can figure out how to monetize content.

“Once they reorganize themselves and start to get a better handle on that and better strategy with that then you could see consolidation because there will be consolidation around building stronger products and stronger offerings to the customers and building business,” AMC Networks interim executive chairman James Dolan told analysts on the entertainment giant’s fourth quarter earnings call Friday. “I don’t see anybody who has the answer to this yet. Without that answer, I don’t get the rationale for pursuing a consolidation strategy.”

He warned that the industry’s “current mechanisms for monetizing content are not working.”

Dolan didn’t pull punches as he described an industry “disrupted by cord cutting” and “changing viewership habits,” along with “a challenged ad market and rising content costs. Now, he said, “We’re seeing this now with most media companies beginning to course correct to better monetize content and improve the economics of their business. We believe large distributors and programmers will lead the way, AMC will follow.”

When asked whether he preferred to see AMC Networks as a standalone entity or combined with another strategic partner, Dolan emphasized that the company’s first concern would always be creating value for its shareholders.

“What form that comes in could be stay the course, it could be M&A, a strategic transaction. We’re very much open to all those ideas,” he explained. “But right now we have the company that we have” and AMC would manage it as a standalone business, he added.

The Wall Street Journal reported that AMC Networks has been approached by multiple companies about potentially being acquired in the past several years. Those potential suitors have included larger media companies like Sony Pictures and Lionsgate; private equity players like Blackstone and Apollo Global; and most recently streaming-tech firm Roku and Providence Equity Partners, according to the Journal.

Representatives for Roku and Lionsgate declined to comment. Representatives for the other companies did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.

When it comes to the possibility of media companies combining forces outside of consolidation, AMC’s Chief Financial Officer Patrick O’Connell said bundling would be a “win-win for programmers, distributors and most importantly consumers” if done properly.

“We like the idea of bundled streaming services. We see some movement towards that,” he said. “We’ve had some interesting beta tests with Verizon around a bundle of AMC+ with Netflix. We think that holds promise. We’re holding multiple conversations with other potential aggregators in the market along these same lines.” 

In order to be successful, O’Connell stressed that any bundle needs to have “a high degree of complementarity.”

“We really want to make sure that as a programmer you’re adding something to the bundle and we think in our case, given how well defined our brands are, given our reputation for the premium programming that we have, given our attractive price point, that we’re a very attractive partner in this regard,” he added. “So the early tests have been positive and we’re leaning in and we’re hoping for more in the coming quarters.”

Moving forward, Dolan said the company is focused on streamlining its organization, “operating more like retailers than wholesalers,” driving cash flow, maintaining a strong balance sheet and making great content.

“We believe this strategy will position AMC Networks well to navigate current industry dynamics and generate long-term shareholder value as an even stronger company,” he added.

Even with a recent bump in its stock, which has risen 54% since the beginning of the year and jumped further Friday after its earnings call, AMC is worth a little over $1 billion, far less than most of its rivals.