On Sept. 1, Max began featuring a handful of the most valuable shows from AMC+, making series like Fear of the Walking Dead, Killing Eve, and Dark Winds available for the first time on the larger platform. (The shows appear in a branded “AMC+ Picks on Max” tab for the next two months.) AMC is describing the move as a “terrific opportunity” to promote its shows and drive awareness for AMC+, which it hopes will lead to sign-ups when new seasons of those shows drop. It’s the latest demonstration that all the streamers, of all sizes, have opened the gates to their walled gardens and, to paraphrase Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger’s famous analogy, begun renegotiating with third world content suppliers.
The Max deal, in particular, speaks to the growing desperation of cable network companies that are being squeezed between Pay TV cord-cutting and streaming consolidation. A few years ago, this type of freebie would have raised more eyebrows than it has today. AMC, which once projected that it could have between 20 million and 25 million streaming subscribers by 2025, recently saw its numbers drop for a second quarter in a row, to just 11 million subs. But long term, the AMC-Max partnership seems like it will facilitate attrition, not growth: how large is the market for an AMC streamer when so much top catalog fare is available elsewhere? Most importantly, how likely are those customers to convert to paying AMC+ subscribers for one or two shows? More broadly: who really benefits from licensing and syndication when the market is coalescing around a few mega-scale streamers?
Traditionally, of course, syndication benefited all parties and grew the linear TV ecosystem. The major networks could confidently take the financial risk on a show, in part, because they knew it would enjoy a long monetization tail on lesser channels. Meanwhile, reruns became the coin of the realm for these second-tier networks, whose portfolio of syndication rights made them more valuable to the cable distributors. And since companies like Disney and NBCUniversal owned an emporium of different networks, including high-value offerings like ESPN or Bravo, they could be sold as a larger bundle to, say, Charter or DirecTV customers.