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AMC's Josh Sapan Is a Little Excited -- And a Little Terrified -- By the New Apple TV (Video)

"You have to be more clever," the AMC CEO said. "And you probably have to spend more money" promoting shows than ever before.

Alex Ulreich for Re/code

AMC Networks CEO Josh Sapan says the coming update to Apple TV is “more exciting than terrifying” for the network behind “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”

“It’s a little of both,” he said in an onstage interview with Peter Kafka at An Evening With Code/Media at the Steelcase WorkLife Center in New York, implying that AMC will likely have to roll with whatever changes the new device brings.

Apple introduced a new version of Apple TV at an event in San Francisco today. The new box includes a version of Siri that allows users to search by show instead of by network through deep linking, and an App Store for third parties to develop their own apps, which is exactly the sort of thing that a network like AMC might like to do someday, or maybe not.

Streaming presents something of an existential threat to traditional networks like AMC when consumers go looking for programming they like with less direct involvement by the networks.

“All of this technology means you can chose more and be dictated less by a bunch of people who work in television programming,” Sapan said. “I think that world largely is upon us [before] the Apple announcement.”

AMC is the network behind several recent TV hits, including “The Walking Dead,” and it has experienced this success at a moment when the business of TV is going through numerous fundamental changes concerning how programming is delivered and consumed.

Getting people to watch in what he called a “nonlinear world,” where people no longer park their TVs on a single channel all night long, is a more complicated problem, Sapan said. “You have to work harder. You have to be more clever, and you probably have to spend more money” promoting shows, he said.

The old rules no longer apply. Launching a new show used to involve a traditional premiere, he said. Now it’s common to hold a “premiere before the premiere,” using social media to generate buzz. “The amount of foreplay that occurs makes the television event itself seem kind of minor.”

Revisiting a prior comment on how “old tactics don’t work” in the TV business, Sapan has acted accordingly. One recent surprise was AMC’s decision to join Dish Networks’s Sling TV service earlier this year. About that, he said the service is “off to a reasonable start,” without being specific.

So-called “skinny bundles,” where companies like Dish and potentially Apple sell between 10 and 20 channels over the Internet instead of 100 over cable, have become attractive, especially as fewer younger viewers sign up for pay TV.

“I think consumers want what they want with the least friction and the least intermediation possible,” Sapan said. “Who wants to be hassled by some sequence of wholesalers?”

Even in a world where TV programmers end up having to negotiate with companies like Apple or Amazon for distribution, the quality of the content still matters and will thrive.

“The better stuff will rise to the top,” Sapan said.

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