AMC To Move In New Direction

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After adding a slow but steady infusion of modern films over the past two years, American Movie Classics will abandon its classic pedigree this fall to offer more contemporary and younger-skewing movies.

The programming transformation, announced officially on Friday, will include more original series and specials. It also will be accompanied by additional advertising breaks for the once commercial-free network — and "minimal" rate fee increases, AMC Networks president Kate McEnroe said.

For classic movie aficionados, AMC will debut a commercial-free, digital service, AMC Hollywood Classics, in October featuring films from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

The network also will debut a new on-air look in October and no longer refer to itself as American Movie Classics, but rather AMC. The changes reflect the network's desire to adjust to the changing mood of Hollywood, which is reaching younger audiences and embracing more independent films, as well as blockbusters.

The exclusive home for older film titles when it launched in 1984, the network now competes with commercial-free Turner Classic Movies. TCM controls over 3,300 classic film libraries from such major studios as Warner Bros. and RKO, as well as pre-1986 titles from MGM. That has stymied AMC's efforts to acquire many older films.

TCM senior vice president and general manager Tom Karsch said AMC's decision "liberates" TCM as the major player in the classic movie space. "They've abandoned the niche at a time when classic movies have never been so mainstream and important," he said. "It now provides us with ownership of the niche.

For its part, AMC has been presenting more contemporary fare like The Godfather, Predator
and Courage Under Fire, and has added commercial time between features.

"It's more of a redefining of the American movie experience and recognizing how consumers are changing their consumption of movies today," said McEnroe. "It's not like October 1 you'll be seeing a whole new AMC — we've been morphing toward this for the last two years."

McEnroe said the network has been acquiring movie packages since 2000, including library fare from Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount with films from the 1940s through the 1990s. She also said the network would announce a major studio deal "within the next two weeks."

What AMC won't do is get involved in bidding wars with general-entertainment channels like Turner Network Television and TBS Superstation, USA Network and FX for windows to recent blockbuster films.

The network will boost its original programming lineup via the launch of several new series, including DVD TV, a behind-the-scenes look at a different movie each week.

AMC also plans a fall premiere for its first animated series Monsters Wanted, which focuses on 'real monsters' applying for roles in horror flicks.

"We've occasionally done one or two series a year, but we will really expand that significantly," she said.

The network, which started running four minutes per hour of commercial "interruptions" earlier this year, will double its advertising inventory to eight minutes in October, McEnroe said. That inventory will still be 40 percent below traditional network ad time, she added.

According to McEnroe, it is too early to determine how successful the network's attempt at acquiring new advertisers will be, but AMC has been aggressively touting the changes during its upfront presentations.

She doesn't believe the move will generate an operator backlash, since the change to more modern movies has been in place for a while. "If we hadn't moved that way over the last two or three years it might have been difficult, but we've been showing Predator
and Godfather," McEnroe. "When you look at AMC's definition of 60 years of filmmaking, it covers the whole gamut."

While McEnroe would not reveal the network's financial war chest for both acquired and original series, she did said that the network would seek "minimal rate increases" from operators when its deals come up for renewal.

Meanwhile, the network plans to launch AMC Hollywood Classics, late in 2002.

McEnroe said the commercial-free service would provide operators with programming to draw older viewers to digital. She added industry surveys have shown that the main resisters to digital are subscribers aged 55 and older.

"It's really the old AMC of five years ago that will be available on digital," she said.

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