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Could More Consolidation Loom? AMC and Viacom Are Rolling Up Leadership to Better Compete

Days after Viacom streamlined its network management structure, AMC Networks placed AMC, SundanceTV, BBC America, and IFC under Sarah Barnett.

Sarah BarnettWomen in Film and Television Muse Awards, New York, America - 10 Dec 2015

Sarah Barnett

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As they gear up for battle in an even more competitive field, mid-sized companies such as AMC Networks and Viacom are consolidating their management structures. The initial goal is strategic: Take advantage of the additional heft and efficiencies that come with a unified infrastructure, rather than having competing interests internally.

At AMC Networks, that means placing AMC, BBC America, SundanceTV and IFC all under the oversight of one executive: Sarah Barnett, who was named to the top role Monday. At Viacom, Chris McCarthy was handed the keys to MTV, VH1, CMT, and Logo, while Kent Alterman expanded his oversight to Comedy Central, Paramount Network, and TV Land, at the end of October.

Because of their smaller size, AMC Networks and Viacom frequently lead the list of potential takeover targets, as Wall Street mulls what might come next in the world of entertainment consolidation. AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner and Disney’s $71 billion purchase of 21st Century Fox’s production assets have created new media behemoths, as those companies bulk up to survive the digital age. The threat of deep-pocketed Netflix, Amazon, Apple and others has led to other mergers as well, including Discovery and Scripps.

Where does that leave standalones like AMC Networks and Viacom? (It doesn’t look like a CBS/Viacom reunion will happen anytime soon.) Their outlets still compete against all of those deeper-pocketed rivals.

Perhaps they’ll eventually become part of larger conglomerates themselves one day. But for now, they can at least appear larger — like prey animals that puff up to look bigger to stay alive.

Hence AMC’s move to bulk up in the wake of Charlie Collier’s departure for Fox. Collier had been president and general manager of AMC, SundanceTV, and AMC Studios. With BBC America head Sarah Barnett, the company had an exec who oversaw the development of buzzy hit “Killing Eve,” and it only made sense to consolidate the company’s suite of scripted networks under her. (AMC’s lifestyle network WE TV will continue to operate separately under Marc Juris.)

As part of the consolidation, David Madden — who oversaw programming for AMC, SundanceTV and AMC Studios under Collier — will now handle content for all four networks and the studio, while Linda Schupack, who oversaw marketing for AMC and SundanceTV, will now serve as president of marketing for all of the channels.

AMC chief operating officer Ed Carroll said one of the goals was a “streamlined” approach to content. “As you can imagine, doing hopefully high-quality scripted at a number of our networks, BBC America, and AMC and SundanceTV, our teams often found themselves with the same creative folks getting the same pitches,” he said.

As for marketing, Carroll said there is “increased efficiency” in placing it all under Schupack and using the combined platform to promote AMC Networks programs. “That made sense, and in the scheduling and acquisitions area as well,” Carroll said. “We think we’ll be more adept at scheduling among the four networks if we have a centralized management group.”

For Barnett, this means being able to give AMC, SundanceTV, IFC and BBC America more distinct personalities. Programming can now be directed to the outlet that makes the most sense from a brand perspective.

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“I think there’s the opportunity when you have shared management to really be sharp and defined, to create true opportunity and space for these brands to be their best expression of themselves,” Barnett said. “From a competitive perspective and marketing perspective, we want to really be efficient in how we drive audiences across our platform. The future is to be as creatively focused as possible and as analytical as possible in how we serve our audience.”

At Viacom, the company said that its streamlined management structure would allow teams to “coordinate scheduling and programming, share production and other resources, and leverage important talent relationships,” CEO Bob Bakish said in a release. “Comedy Central, Paramount Network and TV Land share an original content strategy anchored in scripted programming. And CMT, with its deep roots in music and unscripted programing, is a natural partner for MTV and VH1.”

Of course, these aren’t the only conglomerates that have merged network oversight. At A&E Networks, Rob Sharenow is the president of programming over A&E, Lifetime, History, and the rest of its channels. NBCUniversal’s Frances Berwick oversees Bravo, E!, Oxygen, and Universal Kids, while Chris McCumber handles USA Network and Syfy. Discovery is constantly reshuffling oversight; Henry Schleiff, for example, handles Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, Destination America and American Heroes Channel.

Why keep so many networks in an era where singular outlets like Netflix try to be all things to all people? Some congloms have trimmed their channel offerings in recent years: NBCU shut down Esquire, Chiller, and Cloo.

For one thing, the companies still get subscription fees from each individual network, and if the marketplace is willing to still pay , there’s no reason to shut down channels.

Management consolidation, rather than full-scale shutdown of networks, may be the more immediate tactic as congloms enter the skinny-bundle era. Viacom, for example, has shifted its priorities to a handful of flagship cable networks, but is still keeping smaller outlets like MTV Live alive.

“We always thought it was wise that we don’t have dozens of networks. We only have five, and I think our distributors can even name them all. Which is not necessarily always the case in our industry,” Carroll said. “So it’s been important to us that each of those networks has a distinctive programming mandate and a brand filter.”

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